You remember how you bumbled your marriage proposal speech. The red blouse she wore to church that Sunday.

In Baker, Florida, you'll find a little cafe with an alligator on the sign. If you go inside, you'll see another huge fiberglass gator wearing a corny grin.

The waitress, a fifteen-year-old, will seat you and your wife in a booth. Then, she tells you about the soup of the day—which is chicken.

She notices your wife's UAB hospital bracelet, but doesn't say anything, because she can see how exhausted you both are. Instead, she calls you both, "sweetie."

Your wife orders fried shrimp, you order the catfish. And in this empty restaurant, your tired discussion is all over the map, like married conversations often go. Only

this time, even dull topics seem more important than usual.

After finishing your meals, you'll talk about life. Growing up, and your old bicycles. About what kind of mustard you like, or when you learned to swim. You talk about your daddies, then she remembers that time you got mugged in Atlanta.

When the waitress asks if you want banana pudding, you ask if it's good pudding—like she'd ever tell you it wasn't.
When she brings it out, with two spoons, your wife takes the first bite. And you notice the ring…

Let me be frank, sometimes I don’t know what’s happened to the world. Each day it’s something worse. If it’s not a mosquito-borne disease killing babies, it’s a terrorist massacre in a public place.

I'll call him Bobby. He was a sheriff's deputy for a small area. Bobby stopped on the highway to help a young mother with a flat tire. While the woman's four-year-old watched Bobby loosen lug nuts, a car swerved toward them. Bobby's first instinct was to shove the child out of the way. He did.

After years of physical therapy, and handfuls of surgeries, Bobby uses a walker and drools while he eats.

He says, with labored speech, “I'd do it all over again. In a heartbeat.”

A heartbeat.

Here's another: in the supermarket parking lot, a teenage girl choked inside her car. By pure chance, two construction

workers pulled alongside the girl and noticed her in the front seat, red-faced. When they tried to open her car door, it was locked—the girl almost unconscious.

One of the men used a hammer to smash her window, dragged her out of the car, then performed the Heimlich.

Today, she's a real estate agent.

Outside Alexandria, Louisiana: two teenagers discovered a homeless man's camp one day while he was away. The next day, the kids delivered several wagons of canned food, pasta, rice, potatoes, snacks, and coffee. Enough provisions to last a…

She pets his hand, then holds it. And while he stares straight ahead, she measures her tiny hand against his big one.

Right now, I'm in a hospital waiting room. My mother-in-law sits to my right, waiting on a routine visit. And at the moment, she's hypnotized by the corner television—which is set to HGTV.

The TV-host, a woman in a pink tool-belt, explains how to create vaulted ceilings in a bathroom, using only a sledgehammer. My mother-in-law asks if I think her bathroom needs vaulted ceilings.

I do not.

The couple to my left is in their thirties. He looks like he works hard for a living—scuffed jeans and boots, weathered skin. The woman beside him, a strawberry-blonde, bites her fingernails.

“It's cold in here,” she's saying.

“Yep,” he answers, with a blank face.

She pets his hand, then holds it. And while he stares straight ahead, she measures her tiny hand against his big one.

“Are you scared?” she asks.

He shrugs, eyes on the television.

On TV, they're using bottle caps for a kitchen backsplash instead of tile. The TV host is quite excited about this.

My mother-in-law taps my shoulder. “I want one of those backsplashes."

Sure thing.


woman leans her head on the man's shoulder. He's gazing at the television, deep in thought. Maybe he wants a bottle-cap backsplash, too.

The woman says, “I've been praying the doctor can just cut it all out, while he's in there, I mean, every bit.”

The unblinking man lets out a long sigh. He's in no mood to chat. So, she tucks herself under his arm and watches television.

The TV-host is now discussing the utmost importance of interior color schemes for true spiritual happiness.

Then, the nurse calls the man's name.

He stands up, removes his ball-cap. His hair is a mess. He hands the cap to the woman and takes a breath. “I gotta go, baby.”

She nods.

When they embrace, she doesn't see how tight he's closing his eyes—he looks like a boy when he holds…