Old Photos On My Phone

The email came last last night. A 14-year-old named Alessandra sent me a message containing only four words—four words. After reading her message, I wore a large smile because I needed those four particular words.

Yesterday I looked over my pre-pandemic photos because my phone began throwing old memories in my face. And do you know something? My life was once so full.

Before the virus, I was traveling, doing fun stuff, eating at restaurants, going to ballgames, dancing the Mashed Potato with officially licensed team franchise mascots while holding a 24-oz beer can. Those days are over—at least for now.

On my phone I saw photos from the work trip my wife and I took to New York a few years ago. What a trip it was. I couldn’t believe how wonderful the tomato pies were, or how the cab drivers cheerfully drove upwards of 120 mph on sidewalks.

There were photos from our visit out West. My wife and I were posed beside various mountains, canyons, and rust-colored hillsides.

I have photos taken in Texas. We pulled over at a barbecue joint. There were no structures around for miles. Only a tin shack on the plains. A waitress came to our table, she had no menus, she simply said, “Food or beer?”

“Both,” we said.

And that was that. When our mountain of brisket arrived, it came served in zinc motor-oil pans. The beer was so cold it hurt your teeth. “Welcome to Texas,” the waitress said.

We have photos from our extensive travels through Alabama. Alabama is the state that adopted me when nobody else would. And although I am not a native son, the Yellowhammer State lies a few dozen miles from my hometown, and our preachers often quote Bear Bryant from the pulpits.

So I miss seeing the U.S. I miss the way things used to be before we humans had so much fear to deal with. Before the pandemic, I had written columns on location from the Canadian border (eh?) to the Mexican border (como?). And I miss it.

And this is why scrolling through my old cellphone photos hurts. Because I realize how empty my pandemic-era life has become. And by “empty,” I mean that I’ve become pathetic.

Oh, believe me, it’s my own fault. I’ve let myself go stale. To confirm this staleness I merely pull out my phone to browse photos and it’s official: The exciting pictures on my phone stop, chronologically, after last year.

In one photo, for example, my wife and I are at the rim of the Grand Canyon, smiling beside several Czech and Russian tourists who are perfect strangers we randomly ate dinner with one night.

Within the next few images are more recent pictures of things like, meatloaf, toilet-paper memes, and a photograph my aunt sent of 5-year-old me in a cowboy hat. That’s about it.

Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not complaining. There are people out there who have truly suffered during this pandemic. I haven’t. I have been fortunate. I have never missed a meal. Nobody in my household has died. And not once have we been in danger of running out of toilet paper.

Plus, being stuck at home hasn’t been all bad. For starters, I’ve learned to enjoy touchless shopping and other online deliveries. Also, there are a lot of things I DON’T miss about my old routine of endless traveling for work.

For one thing, I don’t miss airlines. I was a frequent flyer pre-pandemic, and I hate to fly. I’m not afraid of airplanes, but I dislike the hellish nightmare that is commercial air travel. I was spending entire geological periods in airports with nothing to do but play on my phone.

When you’re trapped in an airport, you spend hours on an electronic device until your thumb muscles seize. You also develop keen eyesight for wall outlets to recharge your near-dead phone battery. Electrical outlets are like Peruvian gold among air travelers.

I once saw two frequent-fliers in the Philadelphia International Airport nearly get into a kickboxing match over a wall outlet. Their disagreement had to be broken up, I swear, by an old guy wearing a colorful shirt that read, “Beach Hair Don’t Care.”

So I am grateful for the time I’ve spent at home this year. Really, I am. I’ve enjoyed going to bed early. I’ve fallen in love with vinyl records on the old hifi. I love to read novels for hours.

But I’m not going to candy coat things, either. This year has been no cinch. Not for me; not for anyone. I have had some friends get REALLY sick. I have even more friends who became unemployed.

Also, I have had old depressive feelings rise to the surface. Sometimes I’m worried that I’ve lost my spark. Sometimes I worry I’ve lost that easy smile I used to have. Sometimes I wonder if I’m just another big bag of wind behind a keyboard with nothing meaningful to say. Sometimes I wonder whether I should keep writing.

Meanwhile underneath it all is the persistent fear that normal life might not return to being one hundred percent normal.

But do you know what? Whenever I get low, something always—always—happens to pick me up. A miracle of the tiniest proportions. Something I never see coming. Something beautiful. Something like a letter from a 14-year-old named Alessandra. Who wrote: “Keep on going, Sean.”

And just like that, everything is okay.

59 comments

  1. Susan Parker - March 28, 2021 6:14 am

    Do what Alessandra said, Sean. Keep right on going. And go with God. You’re doing great!

    Reply
  2. Steve Winfield (Lifer) - March 28, 2021 7:03 am

    We will make it come hell or high water, (whatever that means).
    I loved it when y’all traveled. I super loved it when I got to meet you both but reading about your adventures was awesome.
    We’ll get back to normal. I just know it.

    Reply
  3. RobertGoodson - March 28, 2021 9:41 am

    Just keep on keeping on. That’s all we can do. Thank God

    Reply
  4. susiemac - March 28, 2021 9:56 am

    Keep on going, Sean. I start every morning with you now. I’ve got my husband going now, and several friends. You have no idea how many friends you have “out here”, people who have wrestled with depression for decades, people who have endured the slings and arrows of life, people who love life and have realized that anew in the past year. And while I’m in my 60’s, it sounds like you have legions of young fans too. Keep on going, Sean. We need you.

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  5. John Steinbach - March 28, 2021 10:07 am

    Alessandra is right!

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  6. Tim Smith - March 28, 2021 10:53 am

    Three words: Please keep writing.

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  7. Judy - March 28, 2021 11:01 am

    You reach us and teach us with your words every day. Sometimes I laugh,sometimes I cry and sometimes I ponder important issues like cornbread! Yes Sean, you keep going because we need you to jump start our day.

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  8. Sheila Ahler - March 28, 2021 11:14 am

    Another precious 4 words…this too shall pass.

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  9. Jo Ann - March 28, 2021 11:32 am

    We will live in our new normal, and we, too, will “keep on going.” God be with us.

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  10. Claude McLaughlin - March 28, 2021 11:39 am

    Yes, Sean, keep on going. Life is for the living, bless your heart.

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  11. missusmux - March 28, 2021 11:39 am

    God knows when we need a word of encouragement and it came through an encourager named Alessandra. I have lived long enough to know that things don’t stay the same. Sometimes great, sometimes not. Brits used 5 words. Keep calm and carry on. And another commenter, Sheila, reminds us “this too shall pass.” You are greatly appreciated, Sean. Thank you and carry on.

    Reply
  12. 5KClay - March 28, 2021 11:47 am

    As little ol’ NEWNAN is still cleaning up after the F4, it was nice to finally read a Sean column again. No power still for awhile, but on phone. Today, my neighbors and I will fire up the chainsaws and keep going. Thanks for your writing, as always.

    Reply
  13. Annie Sommers - March 28, 2021 11:50 am

    We Sean Dietrich fans could not keep going without our morning stories and encouragement. Keep on going Sean!!

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  14. Harriet - March 28, 2021 12:07 pm

    Thank god Alessandra moved you to to write another column.

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  15. Lea Ann Brummett - March 28, 2021 12:12 pm

    I didn’t “find you” until this pandemic. I now look forward to my first smile/laugh of the morning coming after I have read your daily post. I then read parts of it out loud to my husband, forward it on to a friend and sometimes on to my kids. Thank you Sean for never stopping your writing. I think the “Sean of 2020” has been great! 😊

    Reply
  16. Becky Kaufman - March 28, 2021 12:14 pm

    Alessandra is right!

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  17. Lynn S - March 28, 2021 12:31 pm

    You haven’t lost your spark.

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  18. D masmar - March 28, 2021 12:40 pm

    I agree– things could be lots worse- keep up the good work

    `

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  19. Don Gardner, Jr - March 28, 2021 12:41 pm

    That young lady is right. Please keep writing. Reading your columns each morning have given me something to look forward to each and every day.

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  20. Carolyn Sue Rhodus - March 28, 2021 12:43 pm

    I feel my brain growing stale..we have all had the effects of isolation. Especially those of us living alone, those of us of a certain age that fear a diagnosis of the “A” word. Then a reporter on the Today show talks of his memory fog from staying home and I breath a sigh of relief. Whew..so it is not just me !!! If I have learned one thing in all of this, it is to love deeper , hug longer, be more thankful , cherish sweet memories, oh…did I say hug longer ?? Thank you for being with us during this pandemic. By the way, HUG LONGER !

    Reply
  21. Molly - March 28, 2021 12:47 pm

    Thank you!! KEEP ON GOING, Sean!!

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  22. Martha B Stuart - March 28, 2021 12:47 pm

    Thanks for these fine thoughts!!

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  23. Marianna Parker - March 28, 2021 1:03 pm

    Please keep up your writing. I look forward to it each morning. You are always uplifting and I believe that is what our world needs. I just had my second vaccination and I have optimism for the future. Thank you for doing what you are doing!

    Reply
  24. MamaBear - March 28, 2021 1:14 pm

    Please never stop writing. I absolutely love your positive outlook, while still being realistic. your columns are the good news in a day when the media seems to only have bad news. Please, please, NEVER stop writing. the world needs more writers like you. God bless.

    Reply
  25. Beryl - March 28, 2021 1:22 pm

    Keep it simple. Wake up and do the hard stuff first. Journal. Don’t watch the news. I’m sitting in my LazyGirl recliner listening to Sunday morning Jazz while watching the sun come up. Get outside to watch the moonrise because it’s full tonight. Nature NEVER says you owe me. She just does what has to be done. We must do the right thing. What is that? You already know. Be kind. Love, Keep it simple, Simply live. Live simply.

    Reply
  26. Linda Brady - March 28, 2021 1:41 pm

    You are our moment of joy. Thank you

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  27. nebraskannie - March 28, 2021 1:47 pm

    I reminded myself to “just breathe”, long before it became a mantra. The next thing is always on it’s way. I’m just not good at patience! I know I’m not alone when I say you’re the first thing I read on the morning. I know I’m not alone, I laugh, I cry, and it’s always real. You do good.

    Reply
  28. Verena Nix - March 28, 2021 1:55 pm

    Hurricane Michael pretty much destroyed our normal in Calhoun County, Florida. Our mantra became 850 Strong. Writing is your normal. Reading what you write each day keeps us normal. Keep on going, Sean. Eight Five Oh Strong!

    Reply
  29. Jan - March 28, 2021 2:14 pm

    We couldn’t make it without you, Sean. You are the sunshine in my day, the sugar in my coffee, the dessert after my meal! Thank you!

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  30. Bob Brenner - March 28, 2021 2:20 pm

    I second her message ❤️

    Reply
  31. Chasity Davis Ritter - March 28, 2021 2:21 pm

    I work retail for one of the big box chains. (No need to give them free advertising). I went from 20 years of being replaceable to 1 year of being essential but now that the vaccines have started I’m pretty sure I’m back to replaceable. I’m addicted to taking pictures with my phone but yeah if you look back over the last year it’s mostly facemask selfies of me or people with me and yes a million toilet paper, tiger king and other relevant memes At first it was a novelty to take them. We didn’t think it would last long but here it is a year later and I still wear one 9 hours a day. I have so many that when this is truly over I might have to make a patchwork quilt from them. Wait what was my point of this long comment? Oh yeah. Just keep going…. your blogs get me through my days. Something to look forward to each day and positive messages that encourage me and remind me of the good things even if more often than not they help clear out (stuff up??) my sinuses!! Dont you ever stop writing Sean… I just couldn’t take it!!!

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  32. Savario Wohlgemuth - March 28, 2021 2:26 pm

    And I quote 14 year old Alessandra (and the many others who have already commented) “keep on going, Sean.”

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  33. Cherie - March 28, 2021 3:17 pm

    I started out 2020 in chemotherapy for Invasive Breast Cancer. I was already isolated at home when the pandemic hit Alabama. I realized I had to make a choice; I could be miserable like every one else seemed to be or find the joy wherever I could. So every day I found one thing to be happy about. Even if it was that I wasn’t missing my Book Club meetings because there weren’t any. Or that my husband had to go to the grocery store because I couldn’t. I intend to spend what time I have left on this earth finding joy every day. Sounds like you will too.
    “For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning.”

    Reply
  34. MyPlace - March 28, 2021 3:26 pm

    And AGAIN, you speak directly to me. I am a writer, but have not written anything in several years. However I am feeling useless and in limbo not because of that.It is because I just moved to a new place that is 600 sq feet smaller than my old house. I have aged a lot since my last move. I am not able to lift boxes anymore and I am trying to find space here for my Treasures but am not having much luck. So I am feeling like you feel about the pandemic and wishing for the Normal Days to come back. However I am thinking that like losing your youth and being in the pandemic are alike in that neither your youth nor your normal days will ever return.
    I DO hope I am wrong. What do you think?

    Reply
  35. Patricia Schmaltz - March 28, 2021 3:37 pm

    That young lady is right on target. YOU have inspired me … I am finished with my first (really 5th) draft of my memoir.. and have racked up an impressive amount of rejection from my queries. You keep inspiring and I’ll keep editing! Thank you and stay healthy, please.

    Reply
  36. Susan Smith - March 28, 2021 3:40 pm

    You bless us daily.

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  37. Suzanne Moore - March 28, 2021 4:08 pm

    Amen to Allesandra’s comment!

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  38. Ellouise Pennington - March 28, 2021 4:47 pm

    Yes, dear Sean, you have to keep on going so we can

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  39. Jan - March 28, 2021 4:50 pm

    Yes! Let Alessandra’s words keep you going — for you and for all of us who feel as you do sometimes— your writings are that “miracle of tiniest proportions” to so many.

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  40. Linda Moon - March 28, 2021 5:02 pm

    …..I’m reading the beginning of your post here, wondering what the four words from Allessandra would be. Your spark is still there. I can see it now in your written words. I wish I could see your easy smile, too…live and in person. I’m smiling easy as I continue to read, but the smile won’t come as often if you stop writing. From a former 14-year-old (me): “Keep on going, Sean”. From a sister, mother, and grandmother of writers: “Keep writing, Sean” (this is me too). You, me, my writers and Allessandra are all okay!

    Reply
  41. Christina - March 28, 2021 5:31 pm

    Agreeing with al here who await your writing like rays of sunshine in these dark days. Thanks Alessandra for the words, and thanks Sean for keeping on showing up.

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  42. MAM - March 28, 2021 5:32 pm

    You are the master of suspense. You keep us reading just so we can discover those four words that started it all. Keep on writing, Sean!

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  43. Barbara Hood - March 28, 2021 5:58 pm

    I find myself relating to most of your writings. You write reality and hope so anyone can understand, it always witnesses to my spirit! Lol we may be kin!

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  44. Connie Faivre - March 28, 2021 6:19 pm

    Allesandra is right. You lift us all, Sean. Keep on goin’.

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  45. Kat - March 28, 2021 6:58 pm

    Please please keep on going, Sean!!!🙏

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  46. Bill - March 28, 2021 7:21 pm

    Do keep on writing, Sean. You have the ability to tell us things that brighten the day. Yes, keep on writing. Best to you and all you readers.

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  47. Sharon Booker - March 28, 2021 7:27 pm

    Well, dang! This one, just the last two lines, made me cry, and smile. Yes, sir, Sean. You keep on going!

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  48. Joy Rogers - March 28, 2021 9:23 pm

    Sean, your writings are always uplifting to me…so please don’t ever think of stop writing!

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  49. Les in OR - March 28, 2021 10:21 pm

    I only recently discovered your columns and agree with Alesandra. Please keep writing! You are a bright spot in my day.

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  50. Barbara Barnes - March 28, 2021 11:41 pm

    Keep on trying, Sean

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  51. Becky H - March 29, 2021 12:50 am

    Allesandra’s 4 words are the perfect proof of these 3: less is more.

    Reply
  52. Crabby Cakes - March 29, 2021 12:50 am

    Please, please, please don’t stop writing!! You lift my spirit daily whether I need it or not! It’s true that the past year has been boring, but it has had it’s blessings too. You will travel again. Have fun planning that next trip!

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  53. Eva D Lantrip - March 29, 2021 1:29 am

    You haven’t lost your spark. You’re not a big bag of wind behind a keyboard. You have meaningful things to say and you should keep writing for all of us who have those same depressed feelings and are lifted up by your words.

    Life might not return to being one hundred percent normal, but we will deal with that when we have to.

    Reply
  54. Bernadette Wyckoff - March 29, 2021 2:26 am

    Yes please keep on going and take me with you to whatever our new normal will be as long as we have some happy stops along the way. Native Houston TX so brisket sounds like a good place to start without ever leaving 30 year home in AL. Take care Sean and be blessed❣🙏

    Reply
  55. johnallenberry - March 29, 2021 2:47 am

    Brother, speaking for my fellow Alabamians, we would claim you 365 days of the year. Keep on going, we need you.

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  56. LeAnne - March 29, 2021 11:21 am

    Yes, yes! Keep on going, Sean! I so appreciate you.

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  57. Sharon Jones - March 29, 2021 2:48 pm

    One of the best things that happened to me during the pandemic was discovering your writings!!

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  58. Larry Wall - March 29, 2021 7:56 pm

    Out of the mouth of babes. That old saying was just proven true by Alessandra’s exhortation to you (and us all), Sean.
    We all must ‘keep on going’. And Sean, I want to know the address of the tin barbacoa shack that had that cold gold. The house of dreams for us old southern men. I have the image of the place in my mental camera.

    Reply
  59. Gary Garmon - March 29, 2021 10:08 pm

    I tell my friends, “We will hug again some day”

    Reply

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