Life Itself

I got a letter from a man named Mark. Mark is 78 and lives alone with his Chihuahua, Boo Boo, who has a very active bladder.

“I’m always taking Boo Boo outside,” says Mark. “Even at three in the morning, I don’t want him going on my rug.”

Mark has been stuck indoors since the COVID-19 outbreak. His life is a good one.

He gets his groceries delivered. He has a guy cut the lawn once per week. But he feels pretty depressed lately, being stuck in his den. He was so sad that he wrote to me.

Here’s what’s on his mind:

“When I was young,” says Mark, “I always wanted to see Europe, with a backpack, and just live my life, but I never did it, I guess it’s too late now. Isn’t that silly?”

Silly? No. In fact, I got to thinking about all the bucket-list things that I have wanted to do but probably never will. Such as rope a steer, win the lottery, or figure out how to make beer.

Also, I have always wanted to hang glide. One time, I actually got a chance to hang glide with a professional. He gave me a call one morning and asked if I wanted to come. Free of charge. I told him I was busy.

I realized a valuable lesson that day; I do not want to leap off a cliff.

Although I did go bungee jumping once. I do not recommend it. The reason this happened was: My wife called me a wuss in public.

My wife was only taunting me. I am a cautious guy who has a hard time paying a hundred bucks at an amusement park to throw himself off a building. Which is basically what bungee jumping is.

“I am not a wuss,” I insisted.

“Are too,” she said.

The next thing I knew, a few teenage experts were leading me upstairs to the top of an enormous theme-world building. They fit me into a harness and made me sign release forms which all pretty much said the same thing: “Don’t blame us if you die.”

I stood on a ledge, looking downward hundreds of feet. I don’t know if you’ve ever been on the ledge of a tall building, but trust me, jumping is not the first thought that comes to your mind.

After about ten minutes one expert finally said, “You want me to push you? Sometimes people want us to push them.”

I kindly told him to stay the hell away.

I jumped. And when it was all said and done I had proven to my wife that I was not a wuss. Then I went home and changed my pants.

Also, I have always wanted to visit Canada. I want to taste a dish they call “poutine,” which is French fries with cheese and brown gravy.

And I’ve always wanted to ride a passenger train. I used to be obsessed with trains as a kid. But when you get older, it just doesn’t make good financial sense to mortgage your kidneys to ride Amtrak.

I have always wanted to see a ballgame at Fenway Park, built in 1912, the oldest ballpark in the U.S. This is a major bucket-list thing for me. This year my wife and I had planned on visiting Boston to do exactly this.

But then the coronavirus happened.

I’ve always wanted to know what it was like to eat oysters from Chesapeake Bay. I know that sounds dumb. But when I was a boy, one of the first true novels I ever read was James Michener’s “Chesepeake.” I read it to impress my father. I wanted him to think I was a smart kid since this book was about the size of a queen mattress.

Midway through the novel I fell in love with reading. But I’ve never tried Chesapeake oysters.

The truth is, I haven’t been many places or done many things. And this has always made me feel embarrassed. Sometimes, I hear about my friends’ adventures and I feel about as well-traveled as a tub of margarine. I haven’t crossed the Atlantic, I’ve never visited Spain. For crying out loud, I haven’t even seen Nebraska.

But then I start to think of all the meaningful things I HAVE done.

Once, for instance, I facilitated the birth of six newborn puppies. You’ve never known joy until you’ve seen a mama dog whelping on a September evening.

And one time I was in a Methodist church lobby where a hobo walked through the doors and asked an usher for a handout. Several people in the lobby reached into their pockets and gave the old man close to $800.

Once, I held the hand of a dying woman in the hospital who asked me to sing to her. I sang “Mona Lisa,” by Nat Cole. She squeezed when I sang. She died an hour later. Joanne was her name.

And once, a 78-year-old man sent me a letter. A man who wished he could tour Europe, but doesn’t think he’ll ever get the chance.

A man whose letter reminds me that even though my own life hasn’t been glamorous, adventurous, dazzling, or noteworthy, it doesn’t mean that my life hasn’t been rich, colorful, surprising, or sweet. And it doesn’t mean that guys like us haven’t truly lived, or breathed the thrilling air of summer. It just means that we haven’t done those things in Europe.

I’m sure Europe is great. But who needs Europe when you have a Chihuahua named Boo Boo?

A dog who just left a very special gift on your rug.


  1. Joe Townsend - July 1, 2020 6:50 am

    Pretty funny! My son’s nickname is Boo Boo. He used to laugh at Yogi Bear and Boo Boo. I always called him “Smarter than the average bear”. He is now an adult, at the University of Alabama, but I still call him Boo Boo..

    And you’ve never been to Spain? I bet you kinda like the music.

  2. Christina - July 1, 2020 7:28 am

    This is so true, Sean: “even though my own life hasn’t been glamorous, adventurous, dazzling, or noteworthy, it doesn’t mean that my life hasn’t been rich, colorful, surprising, or sweet. And it doesn’t mean that guys like us haven’t truly lived, or breathed the thrilling air of summer”.

  3. Curtis Lee Zeitelhack - July 1, 2020 11:05 am

    Sean, I understand your dreams and bucket list. I have ridden a train across the Midwest to California and back three times. It’s fun the first day. I have been to Canada a few times and it is beautiful. While there, I tried the poutine. Canada is great, but poutine is over-rated. I too have read “Chesapeake”. I can’t say I have wanted to rope a steer, hang glide, or eat Chesapeake oysters (Maryland Blue Crab is excellent, by the way). Making good beer is an artform that is best left to artists. I’ll just buy the art from the artists with a smile on my face. I’ve never seen Nebraska, but I have long experience with Kansas. That’s close enough for me. I have crossed the Atlantic a few times and enjoyed it very much. I’d like to go again, but I remember that I was always VERY glad to come home and found I appreciated being “over here” more than I had before I went over there. It’s good to have a bucket list, but be careful about what you put on that list. You just might get goaded into doing some of those things and then have to change your pants.

  4. Monica Peterson - July 1, 2020 11:39 am

    You are an amazing writer- and make me laugh! I love the humility you convey while being so entertaining.

  5. Karen Good - July 1, 2020 12:10 pm

    Please tell Bob it is certainly not too late to travel! I travel once or twice a year (not counting 2020 when all traveling has been lost). I travel with other single ladies and couples and always have a great time, meeting new people and seeing new places. The young lady who is often my roommate on these trips, will be 80 years old next week ! Not sure BooBoo could go though ! Thanks for another great piece, Sean!

  6. Karen Good - July 1, 2020 12:13 pm

    Mark – not Bob ! Sorry!

  7. Helen De Prima - July 1, 2020 12:23 pm

    You sound like a real baseball fan, so you need to keep Fenway on your bucket list — think Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones enjoying a game there. Yeah, it’s just like that, baseball the way it used to be, only a lot more expensive. And travel there by car, crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel to drive up the Delmarva Peninsula, then taking the ferry from Lewes DE to Cape May NJ, a wonderful stretch of America most miss by suffering I-95. And oh yeah, a coast-to-coast ride on Amtrak is worth mortgaging at least one kidney.

  8. Martha Barnett - July 1, 2020 12:34 pm

    So sweet! ❤️

  9. Louise Poundstone - July 1, 2020 12:58 pm

    Don’t be too disappointed about not being able to eat Chesapeake bay oysters. We went to a tourist trap restaurant in Baltimore and the chalkboard sign said “fresh today oysters from Lynn Haven.“

  10. Melanie - July 1, 2020 12:58 pm

    Fenway with a hot dog and a beer is fantastic. Go for it.

  11. Phil S. - July 1, 2020 1:01 pm

    Good one, Sean. I sure identify, and I bet most folks have their bucket lists. Mine is still about to spill over the top. In spite of our best efforts we will all leave this world with something left in the bucket. But, you are right – it’s the items we did take out and fulfill that are so meaningful, and it’s the people we meet along the way that add an unexpected, extra-special treat to each one. Live every day to the fullest. “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

  12. Mississippi Girl - July 1, 2020 1:04 pm

    My best friend and I rode Amtrak from Mississippi to New York City and loved It! We loved talking to strangers on the train. Seeing the Christmas decorations in NYNY. You and Jamie might find a new way to travel.

  13. Jan Hilton - July 1, 2020 1:52 pm

    My husband and I went to Fenway to watch the Braves lose to the Red Sox. The man sitting next to me told me he had been to Florida recently and that he had eaten hushpuppies for the first time. So since I was from the South, he asked me if I knew how to make them. I wrote down my recipe for him. I’ve always wondered if he ever tried to make them.

  14. Brenda McCutchen - July 1, 2020 2:14 pm

    One of your BEST, Sean!!

  15. Amanda - July 1, 2020 2:21 pm

    Virtual travel has its’ own rewards during this pandemic. You don’t have to mortgage anything. My favorite trip has been to one of the garden tours in Spain. Los Patios de Cordoba holds a festival every May that is unbelievable! I went to dozens of them and even visited in previous years. Yes, you can do time travel on the internet! This year was the most interesting because of the pandemic and the government response. Public television in Spain ran service announcements for public health and even though my Spanish is no good, I could understand them.

  16. Bill Davis - July 1, 2020 2:43 pm

    Sean, I can help you with the beer making dream. I am in Freeport, right down the street. Send me a PM.

  17. aka gringita - July 1, 2020 3:06 pm

    If you come to the Chesapeake, come in the summer months (post-COVID), but skip the oysters. Get the crabs. Crabs are the thing to have here.

  18. Barbara Pope - July 1, 2020 3:10 pm

    St. Augustine may still reflect it’s Spanish heritage if you and Jamie want to take a road trip–like visiting Spain…but,different….

  19. Susie Murphy - July 1, 2020 3:41 pm

    Should you ever get to Nebraska: Make sure you go futon a county road far from any town. Stand with your eyes closed and just listen to wind whistle all around you. Pretty cool. I’ve done……I won’t forget it. Part of my heritage.

  20. Kathy Daum - July 1, 2020 3:47 pm

    You made me laugh. You helped me be thankful. You are wonderful.

  21. Susan Ellzey - July 1, 2020 3:52 pm

    It definitely is perspective!

  22. Rose Darby - July 1, 2020 4:20 pm

    I spent my working life in a classroom teaching elementary school. My husband and I planned to spend our retirement traveling. But we had his dad with us two years, and just a little more than a year later my husband died. So here I am at 72 and have never been further west than Tuscaloosa, AL, south than Daytona Beach, FL, and north than NYC when I was 16. However, I have been everywhere in the world in the thousands of books I’ve read. Most of the time I don’t feel as if I’ve been cheated. My 4 cats and I are happy.

  23. Robert M Brenner - July 1, 2020 4:30 pm

    Loved what Mark said and feels. I’m 73 and think about things left undone, but I have 6 children and 7 grandchildren and they have helped me do a few “Bucket List” items! Life is pretty good 😊…

  24. Linda Moon - July 1, 2020 4:47 pm

    “This could take your life”. If you’ve ever heard those words from a physician, you know that LIFE, itself, is good. I heard them many years ago, and I’m still here. Your LIFE, Sean, has brought special gifts to me. I may not be on that bucket-list of yours, but I’m sure glad a bucketful of you and Jamie and the dogs, plus stories, books, and LIVE events landed in my LIFE. Stay silly, Mark. And Sean, you are invited to sing at my passing…..but not any time soon.

  25. Robert Chiles - July 1, 2020 4:52 pm

    We watch Rick Steves poke around Europe almost every night on TV, but there is nothing quite like having been to Skye in Scotland. It’s the prettiest place in the world. Put it on your list.

  26. Patricia Gibson - July 1, 2020 5:20 pm

    It is the day to day things that count❤️

  27. Neill Morgan - July 1, 2020 6:31 pm

    Chesapeake oysters are excellent, but so are your local oysters from Pensacola Bay. And Washington state. And Prince Edward Island. The main thing is to be eating them while sitting next to the people you love. And beer. You can learn to make good beer, but it takes a lot of practice, trial and error. So you have to decide whether to drink your failures as penance or give it to people who don’t know the difference.

  28. Ann - July 1, 2020 6:36 pm

    Ahhhhhh, putting things in perspective…sweet and humorous..

  29. Ala Red Clay Girl - July 1, 2020 6:37 pm

    We all need a bucket list to keep us going. When you cross off one item, add two more.

  30. MARYLIN ANDERSON - July 1, 2020 10:50 pm

    So many good comments here. I’ve noticed lately that quite often someone says “that was your best one, Sean.” I have to agree. Each one is better than the last. So keep ’em coming, Sean. And keep adding to your bucket list. I rode the Santa Fe RR from Colorado (La Junta) to El Paso, TX when I was a kid. My brother-in-law was a dispatcher for the Santa Fe RR and my sister got free passes. We had to change trains in Albuquerque, NM, going or coming. That was back in the 50’s. I think the trains have improved greatly since then. I’ve often thought hang-gliding or zip-lining would be fun, but (like you) I’m a wuss. Not to mention, my knees would not like the climb to the top. I haven’t market them off yet, but those two are probably at the bottom of my list. We hope to see you when you perform this fall. Until then, sending you and Jamie virtual hugs. {xox}

  31. Steve Winfield [Lifer] - July 2, 2020 3:33 am

    Oscar Mayer wanted me to let you know that he’s standing by & ready to teach Boo Boo some manners. (He pees on Hartz Mountain pee pads. Never misses.)

  32. Pamela Buono - July 2, 2020 8:29 pm

    Sean you are not missing a thing by never having eaten “Poutine”…who in their right minds puts gravy and cheese on their French fries. Now if you want outstanding French fries you must go to Ocean City, MD’s boardwalk and get Thrashers French fries!! And nothing beats oysters from the Chesapeake….Apalachacola (yes! Florida) are a close second …. and also Chincoteague, VA…plus you get to see wild ponies on the beach!! Anyway, Europe is much too crowded with all kinds of tourists…you wouldn’t like it one bit. I live in Florida now but grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland…and hated oysters until I met my husband 55 + yrs ago! BTW, Sean, your articles are wonderful…don’t change anything…and don’t bother with Poutine!

  33. Shannon Moore - July 3, 2020 2:33 pm

    My oldest son, who is now 28, had an imaginary friend named Boo Boo when he was about 3 or 4. I had forgotten that sweet nugget about my baby boy.

    Though I’ve never heard of it, I now want to read a book named Chesapeake.

  34. Jill - August 8, 2020 8:22 pm

    I second Thrashers fries with malt vinegar & salt- nothing better- forget poutine. I grew up on the Eastern Shore peninsula for the first part of my life and never acquired the taste for oysters, but I will say Maryland blue crabs are the best. It’s amazing how when we’re younger, we have such ambitious dreams and then life happens. If we realize it, the simple things are the most meaningful, but it doesn’t hurt to treat yourself to an adventure if you’re able!

  35. Matilda Wille - August 8, 2020 9:03 pm

    Growing up the only vacation we ever took was to see my grandmother who lived near Beaufort, SC. We went to Hunting Island while visiting there and that was the only beach I had ever seen until I was 16 years old. After I married, my husband spoke often about places he had visited as a child. America became my bucket list. But over time, raising a family and working jobs we loved but that wasn’t high paying…we never traveled, which means our kids didn’t either. My oldest son grew up and went on several mission trips. My husband and I were gifted a trip to the Holy Land by his parents. Only trip I have ever taken out of the country. I learned then that I have no desire to be a world traveler.
    Two years ago, my then 18 year old son and I decided to take a mother/son road trip. We saved money for a year, and last summer we left SC and traveled to Nashville TN, then to Kentucky to see the Ark, to St. Louis to the Arch, to the Badlands ( my favorite) and then to Mt Rushmore. I know what you mean about every day life granting you joy. The time spent with my son was the real adventure, no matter what we saw. Two weeks ago I went to Florida and saw my first ever sunrise on the beach. I went snorkeling and watched dolphins. All wonderful things.
    Today, I attended the funeral of a childhood friend’s father. A gentle, quiet man who was a POW for 28 months, who dedicated his life to help others. My friend died young and now she is walking the streets of gold with her father. I am so grateful they were in my life. Bucket lists are nice, and I am now at an age where I can check some things off (Grand Canyon here I come) but the gift of an ordinary day, doing ordinary things with the people you love…that’s what makes life good. And Gunsmoke. How I love Gunsmoke.

  36. universallyminimalized - August 9, 2020 1:20 am

    Uh, that’s an inlet into the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia Beach I do believe….

  37. Sandie - August 9, 2020 1:11 pm

    Isle of Skye was my first stop on my first European vacation. It made me realize there is an enormous, wonderful world out there and it’s worth the time and money to see it!


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