Life Itself

Terry Taylor died recently. You didn’t know him, and frankly neither did I. He was from Waycross, Georgia. His daughter emailed to tell me that he dutifully read my columns daily.

Even when my writing sucked pondwater, Terry read it. He might have read this one, too, if he were still around.

So I’m thinking about him today as I write this. I’m sitting on my front porch, watching the sun heave itself above the rooftops of Birmingham, and I’m thinking about the brevity of life.

For example, throughout this last century, there have been five families who lived in our house before us. And most of the people who lived in this house during its 100-year existence have already inherited their eternal reward in the Great Hereafter.

Which is how old-timey newspapers used to say someone died. Back in the day, newspapers never came out and said So-And-So died. They always flowered it up. It was always: “Sister Such-And-Such was instantaneously called from this present life into the Great Hereafter, singing at the burnished feet of the Maker of Earth, where she shall reside forevermore.”

I love the floral language of my ancestors. And I wonder what my predecessors were like before they met the Maker of Earth personally.

I wonder what kinds of conversations happened within their little rooms. I wonder what photographs hung on their walls. I wonder about their fashions. The young women with finger-waved hair and drop-waisted dresses. Young men clad in knickers and flat caps.

One family in this house endured a Great Depression. I think about them. I think about the mother of this household, wearing her modest house dress and inch-thick nylons, trying to make tomato soup out of ketchup and water.

I think about the young girl with her bobbed haircut, her hand-me-down clothes, and her big dreams. The kid who snuck into Shirley Temple pictures because she couldn’t afford a ticket.

I think about the teenage boy whose bedroom is now my office. I think about how he went off to fight a German war. The same kid who kissed his sweetheart goodbye beneath the oak outside.

And I wonder what it must have been like. What was it like to see a mass of Army boys, dressed in olive drab, congregated at the Birmingham Terminal Station, waiting to board the “Birmingham Special”?

Did some of those soldiers know they weren’t going to return home? Were they frightened? Did they ever cry when nobody was looking?

I also think about the mother who lived in this house. The woman whose heart was broken when the telegram arrived upon this porch, one arrestingly beautiful summer day, informing her that her son’s memory would forever be represented by a triangularly folded flag.

I think about the children who shot marbles on this sidewalk in early April. I think of the innumerable charcoal grills that smoldered in these neighborhood driveways, while happy young dads cradled longneck bottles, telling each other grandiose lies about the fish they’d caught.

I think of each wedding, birth, graduation, anniversary, Fourth of July, Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year. Each triumph, each injury. Each funeral wake. Each homegoing.

Were the people in this home simple people like me? Did they wake up in the mornings, look at sunrises, and ask themselves why life is so short? Did they sip coffee and wonder why, just when you feel like you’re get the hang of living, your life already three quarters finished?

Did these thoughts affect my ancestors in a positive way? Meaning, did they savor each passing moment instead of taking life for granted? Or is it better to take life for granted so that you don’t feel the pressure to try too hard?

These questions are too tough for my little brain to digest. I know so little about life.

In fact, all I know is this: One day, when fate smiles upon me, I will be instantaneously called from this present life to meet the Maker of Earth. And maybe, if I am particularly fortunate, I will get to shake hands with Terry Taylor.


  1. Friends - April 4, 2022 8:06 am

    I believe you know a great deal about life, Sean. I think you are mature beyond your years. And, if your mind weren’t inquisitive, you wouldn’t be such an amazing writer. God bless your “little brain” I believe it’s exactly the correct size.

  2. Debbie - April 4, 2022 9:41 am

    I am glad I am not the only one who wonders about the lives of people that used to live in my house. And you are so right, 3/4ths the way through my life and I’m just now beginning to get a clue.

  3. Bonnie Specchio - April 4, 2022 10:19 am

    Beautiful column as always. I too read you every day and look forward to seeing your name in my inbox. God bless you, Sean!

  4. Marilyn Vance - April 4, 2022 11:03 am

    I don’t know, Sean, I think in those early days, most of them were in survival mode and didn’t think grand thoughts. Our ancestors were tough birds because the times were tough.

  5. Theresa Christy - April 4, 2022 11:15 am

    Love this. We are considering a move back to my husband’s home state of Rhode Island to be closer to his ( and now my) 4 year old great grandson. You just sealed the deal! Keep writing,!!! Thanks Sean, Theresa . Texas girl going home to New England

  6. Jimmy Little - April 4, 2022 11:35 am

    For 71 years my wife & I have lived in the same area of what was once rural North Carolina. For 43 years we have lived in a house I on a piece of wooded North Carolina farm land that has been in my family since 1854. I started this house when we learned my wife was carrying the 6th generation of my family to abide on this land. I know a lot about my family & this land & wonder about all I don’t know. Our only son moved to Tuscaloosa 20 years ago to attend law school at the University of Alabama. Today we are preparing to move there to be with him, a wonderful daughter-in-law & four beautiful granddaughters. I wonder about those who will soon live in the house we built on family land. I wonder if they will wonder about us. Home places on family land. Gone with the wind.

  7. Paul McCutchen - April 4, 2022 12:16 pm

    I am one of those people, as I grow even older, have a list in my mind of the “I wish I had done this when I was younger”,

  8. Vanessa - April 4, 2022 12:23 pm

    Absolutely beautiful, Sean! You were a blessing in Terry’s life as you are in mine. I’ve read this several times, just so I didn’t miss a word of this masterfully crafted piece. Thank you!

  9. Beth Thrift - April 4, 2022 12:33 pm

    I was one of those most privileged who knew and loved Terry Taylor. He would be so humbled to read what you have written, but he would love your thoughts of the lives of those who went before us. And I’m confident you two will shake hands one day.Thank you, Sean, again.

  10. Janet K - April 4, 2022 12:59 pm

    For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wished walls could talk & tell the stories of people who had lived before me. Your email is the first thing I read as part of my spiritual, quiet time every morning. There aren’t enough words to express my gratitude for the gifts of pondering, soul searching, tears and/or laughter you share in your written word every day. God bless you, Sean!

  11. Jan - April 4, 2022 1:04 pm

    Beautiful thoughts and memories all together on this spring morning. Thank you for making me smile, laugh, cry and think about the important things in life!

  12. Gordon Walden - April 4, 2022 1:04 pm

    Another one of your very best!

  13. Mimi - April 4, 2022 1:13 pm

    Perfectly said!

  14. Shirlea - April 4, 2022 1:42 pm

    Love your words so much every day but my heart hurts for Jimmy Little. Sometimes necessary to be with children and grandchildren but oh so sad to leave “home”. I’m praying today for Jimmy Little.

  15. Betty - April 4, 2022 2:10 pm

    Your post today made a real difference in my life! Keep up the great work!❤️

  16. Mike - April 4, 2022 2:16 pm

    Nicely done Sean

  17. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - April 4, 2022 2:18 pm

  18. Penn Wells - April 4, 2022 2:51 pm

    You have, Sean, what is known as a high EQ (empathy quotient). It is probably not something that can be taught, although I guess it’s possible to beat it out of someone. I think some of it is inherited, and some we get from living with good parenting, which is kind of like inheritance. In my humble opinion, we are suffering from a poor EQ in our country, particularly compared to our forebears. We seem to have done a particularly poor job of raising our children to be aware of more than just themselves these days, a problem, unfortunately, that builds on itself a grows even worse over time (“…the child is the father of the man…).
    I have a few bottles of old wine in a my cellar – I wonder what the pickers were thinking in Burgundy in 1988, or in the Russian River Valley in 1998 and what the weather was like. At the same moment that our soldiers were coming ashore in Normandy on June 6, 1944, what was happening with the most beloved members of their families a half-world away.
    At the end of the day, we are all one.

    • Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - April 4, 2022 9:15 pm

      I agree that Sean has the gift of empathy. It can be taught only to a certain degree. He is truly gifted.

  19. Chasity Davis Ritter - April 4, 2022 2:53 pm

    I wonder how old Terry Taylor was? I know more than one person in a world can share a name. You see that if you ever look up someone on Facebook and all sorts of faces pop up representing a name. But I say this because when I was in the 6th grade I had a huge crush on a Terry Taylor. Oh he never knew about it. I stared longingly across the play ground at him and one summer I watched him and his cousin splash around at the local swimming pool. The closest I ever got to him was sitting nearby in the dark backstage during play rehearsals at school. Maybe I was an early form of a stalker lol. Anyway I guess he moved away that next summer because I don’t have a recollection of him in junior high. Or maybe it was because then my attention turned to rock stars and something brand new called music videos. But it’s funny I hadn’t recalled those memories for years and years until I saw that name in the first line of your column today. Yeah it probably wasn’t the same one but I’ll say a prayer for his family all the same. It’s hard to lose a Daddy as we still talk about all the time. And we never know who alls life he touched in some way until they share those stories. I still long to hear stories about my Dad and wish people would still share them. Maybe Terry’s daughter will read this and smile thinking about a girl who chased her daddy in grade school without him ever knowing. I hope lots of people share their stories with her over the coming days and weeks and even years because I still hope for it for myself too.

  20. Karen - April 4, 2022 3:59 pm

    Sean, you always touch my soul in some manner. I too wonder about the lives of those who came before me. As we travel and I see old farms or houses that are no longer housing families, I think about the many families who have lived in them over generations. My heart hurts when I see them deteriorating.

  21. pattymack43 - April 4, 2022 5:57 pm

    Reading today’s blog reminds me of why I read you everyday, as well. I’ll be 79 in a few days, so I really don’t have that many days left compared to others. But I do know that each day I am breathing is a blessing from my Creator and your blogs contribute to the blessings He sends to me, daily. Thank you, Sean!

  22. JACKIE LEON DARNELL - April 4, 2022 6:03 pm

    Life and homes. Yes, many stories I would like to know.

  23. oldandblessed - April 4, 2022 6:23 pm

    well, since we’re supposed to have new bodies in the hereafter, I hope our faces will remain the same How else am I to recognize folks from the last realm? Maybe there’ll be a meet and great?

  24. Debbie - April 4, 2022 7:10 pm

    Our family lives in a house built around 1905. We’ve been here for 32 years. We bought it from one of the daughters who grew up in it. We know some things about the family as this is a small community. What I love is when my grandchildren come in from hunting treasure or digging the back property up for whatever reason, they can’t wait to show me the old bottles, pieces of pottery or glass they find. They are treasures to them and the memories are treasures for me.

  25. Kay Huey - April 4, 2022 8:08 pm

    Did some of those soldiers know they weren’t going to return home? Were they frightened? Did they ever cry when nobody was looking?
    The answer to each question is YES. And if you ask those questions to the family members “keeping the home fires burning,” the answer is another resounding YES.
    Also, we all cried, no matter who was looking. My grandmother had five sons in the military, and all were sent overseas. They all came home, but Jerusha never knew that. She died…the death certificate said “aneurysm,” but she was a victim of the war, just as surely as an enemy bullet had pierced her heart. And the young men who never saw their mother after they were shipped away, cried and were forever affected by the horrors of war.

  26. Linda Moon - April 4, 2022 8:49 pm

    I think about life’s brevity a lot, but not in a morbid or sad way. Usually I savor without trying. Yes, the questions are tough for us who are born-questioners, especially when bad things happen. But the experience of living and wondering and reading daily columns leads to some answers. A couple of my simple questions were answered earlier today: 1. Does Target have coconut yogurt? 2. Does Target have size-small pullover shirts? If only LIFE itself were that easy….

  27. Patricia Gibson - April 4, 2022 9:24 pm

    You remind me of me a little. I always wonder about the people’s lives that live in the homes I pass on the road. What they do? How they happen to be living there? Life is short and should be enjoyed as best you can❤️

  28. MAM - April 4, 2022 11:44 pm

    I hope you get to shake Terry’s hand in the Hereafter, But I also suspect that when you arrive there, you will be mobbed by all of us who read you faithfully every day, making our lives better. But many of us, I’m guessing, will get their before you do, so prepare to be met by a swarm of your fans, Sean!

  29. MAM - April 4, 2022 11:46 pm

    I’m a proofreader, and editor, so there should be a period after Hereafter, and the last their should be there. UGH. I hate it when I don’t read through it before hitting submit!

  30. Rhonda - April 5, 2022 1:35 am


  31. Slimpicker - April 5, 2022 2:42 am

    Your story reminds me of a great song by Laurie Lweis, “Who will watch the home place”.

  32. Linda Moon - April 6, 2022 8:56 pm

    My comments for April 6th won’t post.

  33. Jo Ann Morley - April 8, 2022 5:01 am

    I plan on leaving an envelope with information about us and our house in the rafters in plain site for new owners to find. I saw one of the carpenters had written “God bless” on one of the rafters of our home and it made me feel so happy he had taken the time to be that thoughtful.

  34. Betty - April 8, 2022 9:58 pm

    One past resident of our house used to roll a nerf ball around the floor to play with our pet rabbit. I know which of the former owners it was because the play stopped after his x-wife picked up his handmade furniture.

  35. Alyce Black - April 13, 2022 3:53 pm

    Oh yes, you will share time with Terry. My Mother and her families spoke in the ways of English people. A lilt in the voice and color and pictures in their words. Afraid that it is ending with me. My contemporaries already are not expressive. In my 80’s and not much is as delightful as words. Are you all familiar with Carmen Deedy.

  36. Susan W Fitch - April 23, 2022 9:03 pm

    Our daughter and her husband bought our home 2 years ago. We lived there 35 years, wondering they are wondering about?


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