I dial the number. The phone is ringing. It keeps ringing. And ringing. Click. A woman answers. It’s a youngish voice. We exchange greetings.
“Am I too late?” I ask.
“Nope, right on time, Miller is right here, waiting for you with his pen and notepad ready.”
I’ll admit it upfront. I’m not having the greatest day today. I didn’t sleep well last night. Also, we ran out of coffee and had only decaf in the house. That’s what I’m drinking now. Worthless decaf.
But I promised a young man I’d do a phone interview for his homeschool assignment. So there you are.
I don’t know anything about him, but his email seemed so sincere.
I hear the sound of a little kid breathing on the phone. “Hello?”
“Hi, Miller. Sorry I’m a little late calling, I got tied up this morning.”
“You did? Doing what?”
“Well, if you must know, I was walking my dog and she ate something funky. And then I discovered that all we had was decaf. Not the greatest day. It’s a long story. Do you have a dog, Miller?”
“Well, no, but my grandma has a cat, Jilly Billy, we named her that ‘cause we don’t know if she’s a boy or a girl.” Then the kid changes gears. “I’m gonna record this interview with your permission. But before we start, I just wanna say thank you.”
“For, I dunno, just talking to me.”
Next, I hear the sound of a soda can cracking open. And the noise of a satisfying slurp.
“Let’s begin,” says Miller.
“What’s it like to be a writer?”
This is probably not a good day to answer this question. I’m a little too decaffeinated. Also lately I’ve been a rollercoaster of emotions when I think of how turbulent the world is right now. “It’s great.”
I hear the noise of a young person scribbling notes and saying under his breath, “It’s… Great…”
“Thank you,” he says. “Now can you tell me what your inspiration is?”
Inspiration? Hoo, boy. This is definitely not my day. For one thing, I know what my inspiration is, I looked for it all morning and couldn’t find it in the Folgers can. But truthfully, sometimes recently I’ve felt very uninspired. This past year has been—how do I input this?— a psychological disaster.
“My inspiration?” I say. “You mean what motivates me?”
I can’t quite come up with an answer. This is just not my finest hour. So I say, “Gee, I’m not sure, Miller. What about you, what motivates you?”
He pauses. “Oh, lots of stuff. But this is about you.”
So I am desperately trying to rally some thoughts for Little Mister Sunshine, but I discover that, while talking about motivation, today I have none.
He takes another hearty slurp of his beverage. This noise almost ruptures my eardrum.
“Are you drinking Coke?” I ask.
“No. Can’t have that.”
“Your mom won’t let you?”
“Well, all the treatment I’m taking gave me diabetes, can’t eat sweet things anymore because they’ll make things bad, and I don’t have a strong immune system.”
He fires his next question: “How have you handled adversity in your life?”
My life? The short answer is: obviously, not very well. Today I was forced to drink decaf and my world started to fall apart. This kid is on insulin because of some kind of “treatment.” I’m not a good example.
So I say, “How do YOU handle adversity?”
“Me? This interview’s about you.”
“Yeah, well, you seem like an interesting person.” I remove a pad and paper from my desk drawer.
“Well,” he begins. “I handle it by just saying to myself, ‘Miller, it’s not that bad. It’s really not as bad as you think.’”
I make a note. Then I wait for the rest of the story. But this is all there is.
“That’s it?” I say. “You just say, ‘It’s not that bad,’ and, boom, everything goes away?”
He slurps. “No, nothing goes away. Nothing ever goes away, don’t be stupid. But I get through it. Like the one time when they all thought I was gonna die.”
I wait for more. But he is not elaborating.
“You almost died?”
I ask, “Do you ever get mad about… Things?”
“About what? My cancer?”
There it is.
“No. I don’t get mad. My friends understand it, they text me and say they’re praying for me. And my mom helps me. And everyone is awesome..”
I scribble something. “And… My… Mom… Helps… Me…”
He slurps again. This is followed by a refreshed exhalation. He says, “Can we do YOUR interview now?”
“How old are you, Mister Sean?”
But I can’t answer it. Not yet. “Miller, I just have one more teensy little question.”
I say, “You seem so happy. Mind if I ask how you stay so happy after all you’re going through?”
“Well, I just started exercising with my mom, they say that helps since I can’t play with my friends ‘cause of my immune system. I try to, just, I dunno, have fun, even if I’m doing dishes and I help Mom vacuum and stuff.”
“Are you upbeat all the time? Do you ever get sad? Isn’t life kinda hard?”
“Yes. It’s hard.”
“But you’re getting through it okay?”
He laughs. “Well, yeah, I’m not dead.”
There is quiet on the other end of the line, interrupted by occasional slurping from an exceptional child who picked the wrong guy to interview.
“Miller. Thank you.”
“For, I dunno, just talking to me.”
This decaf doesn’t taste so bad anymore.
Norma Den🇿🇦 - October 16, 2021 8:09 am
🇿🇦 Good morning from a sunny South Africa. Thanks for your story today. I sympathise about the decaf, how they can call it coffee is a mystery to me. Gosh Miller sounds like a great kid, I pray he will keep as well as his attitude. We can all learn a lesson from his/your interview with him. I’ve known for some time, there is always someone worse off than ourselves. My husband has advanced Alzheimer’s & I was was feeling downhearted the other day until I read about a lady looking after her very abusive Alzheimer’s husband for close on 15 years, and poor lady just been diagnosed with terminal cancer herself. Talk about a triple whammy. Two things lift me up when I am down, a great voice singing “You Raise Me Up” & the saying about never judging anyone until you’ve walked a mile in his or her moccasins. Get yourself down to the nearest store and get some real coffee, you’ll feel much better for it. Have a great day..
Debbie g - October 16, 2021 8:38 am
Great advice Miller !!! I will try to have as great an attitude as you!!!! Love to all
Linda - October 16, 2021 8:47 am
Wow! What inspires me? Well Miller, it’s you!
Lynn - October 16, 2021 9:39 am
I’ve been totally decaffeinated for the better part of 25 years. Best thing I ever did for myself.
Whenever we felt like complaining as kids, my Dad always told us, “I complained because I had no shoes. Then I saw a man who had no feet.” I think young Mr. Miller was your “man with no feet”.
Joy Jacobs - October 16, 2021 10:16 am
Thanks for sharing. What a great attitude. Make me feel happy and sad at the same time.
Dina voutour - October 16, 2021 11:23 am
Yep new perspective
Ed (Bear) - October 16, 2021 11:34 am
You just never know what you’re going to find on the other side of the day’s time. If we maintain a hopeful outlook, it’s easy to be pleasantly surprised.
Darlene Meader Riggs - October 16, 2021 11:54 am
Oodles of love. I love this kid’s clear cut view on life and it’s struggles. Life is hard, and some have it harder than others. But you have to keep your chin up .. cause “up” is the destination we’re all looking for. I think it’s just past the caffeinated coffee section in the grocery store of life. ❤️
Karen - October 16, 2021 12:41 pm
The “Millers” I come across or meet in my life always help me readjust my attitude. It has been a hard year and I pray yours gets better.
Pilgrim, Jax Fl - October 16, 2021 12:56 pm
Needed to read this, this morning.
Stepped in a small pile of self-pity this morning. Funny thing, self-pity is like a tar ball. If you’re not careful you can really get stuck in it.
Miller helped me shake it off. Thank you, Miller.
Kathy - October 16, 2021 1:22 pm
Ain’t that the truth. I need Miller’s attitude.
Suellen - October 16, 2021 1:27 pm
I’d say people is your motivation. You care about people and what makes them tick. That’s certainly a large part of what makes you a writer worth reading.
Bill Bill - October 16, 2021 1:34 pm
Mostly women respond to Sean, and I love most of the responses. Today I am shocked that apparently not one has noticed that Miller’s Mom is the person who provides much of Miller’s attitude on life. She is one impressive lady! Kudos to her! And a sour apple to each of the “too absorbed” who have not noticed this wonderful Mom.
Nancy Crews - October 16, 2021 1:35 pm
Anita Smith - October 16, 2021 1:41 pm
Sometimes our battles don’t seem as big when we see what others are going through. Thank you for this sweet story.
Cathy - October 16, 2021 2:14 pm
Miller is a brave soldier and God bless his mother. He is teaching all your readers a life lesson. Thank you for sharing . You are a gift to many and you have become a part of my morning each day. I am thankful for you, Sean❤️🙏🏻
Vivian - October 16, 2021 2:18 pm
It’s easy to see why you drew a feather to accompany this uplifting story.
Ruth Mitchell - October 16, 2021 2:57 pm
Wow! I wanna be a Miller when I grow up! If this isn’t inspiration, I don’t know what is!
L G ARNOLD - October 16, 2021 3:01 pm
Thank you. I’ll just leave it at, “I needed to read this today.”
DAVID A WILSON - October 16, 2021 3:36 pm
Your writing sure makes me think; THANKS.
Tom - October 16, 2021 3:55 pm
I’m an old man and I admire Miller and learned a lot from this short interview. He’s an old sage trapped in a kid’s body.
Bill - October 16, 2021 5:47 pm
Linda Moon - October 16, 2021 6:39 pm
Without morning caffeine I could not have penned this comment nor enjoyed some fun earlier today. Caffeine also helps in this psycho-world we’ve all been in. Recently an exceptional young man I love lost his mother, and he’s adapting to his new life without her. I wish you could’ve met him and written his story. So, thank you Miller and Corey, for the life-lessons you’ve given to Sean and me.
Ann Beringer - October 16, 2021 7:46 pm
Needed this today! As my wise mother used to say “If you and all of the people you know sat down in a circle and put all of your problems in the middle, chances are that you would take your own back.” We never know what other people are going through. Thanks Sean! I always look forward to reading your column!
Christina - October 16, 2021 9:28 pm
Gold bless little angels like Miller who inspire us and God have mercy on us when our days are hard with decaf.
Stacey Wallace - October 16, 2021 10:42 pm
Thank you, Sean. God bless Miller.
Carol J - October 17, 2021 12:43 am
Motto for the day – you can dabble your toes in the sea of self pity, but you cannot wallow in it!
Karen Snyder - October 17, 2021 2:44 am
Self-pity is a temptation to nearly everyone at some time or another, so a story like this one is a sweet, gentle reminder that it’s usually not as dire as we think. 😉 May God bless young Miller and his family and keep them strong.
ruthinman - October 17, 2021 12:21 pm
I try to remember that the is always someone who is worse off than me… it usually helps… thanks so much for this.
Ann - October 17, 2021 3:27 pm
Whew….life lesson..thank you
Marilyn M Polen - October 17, 2021 7:28 pm
Lisa K Riley - November 6, 2021 1:49 am
Sean, I love this. My husband passed away on October 16th. I’ve battled cancer, and I had COVID as well in September. He isn’t in pain anymore, and I am still here. It’s not so bad…I am still here and I’m doing ok. Thank you for what you write.
Christi Gibson - November 6, 2021 1:57 am
A man went to God and said, “Lord, I can’t carry this cross any longer. It is just too heavy.” “The Lord said, see that room there, take your cross inside and trade it for another that is more suitable.” “Soon the man came back with a cross on his shoulder. Lord, I think this one will be ok.” ” God said, that’s ok, son. It’s the one you came in with.”