I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you. That’s it.

You don’t get thanked nearly enough for all you do. And I’m here to correct that. Even if only for a few moments. I hope you know how grateful we all are.

And by “we all,” I mean us. The whole human race. So thank you. We appreciate you.

Thank you to the old man in Walmart who was in the self-checkout lane when he paid for a young Latina woman’s groceries after her card was rejected.

Thank you to the teenage boy who bounced his screaming baby sister on his hip while paramedics loaded his mother into an ambulance on the interstate. I passed the accident on the way home. It was awful. Police cars everywhere.

Thank you to the officer who took the crying baby into his arms and held her against his chest while the teenage boy crawled into the ambulance with his mother.

Thank you to the elderly man who helped change a flat tire for six older men stranded on I-285 outside Atlanta.

The man who changed the tire never knew he was helping a carload of six former inmates who recently moved into transitional halfway housing; who, even though they are now sober, law-abiding citizens, are unemployed, and largely unimportant to those around them.

Thank you, whoever you are, for faking like you’re in a good mood for your kids, even though your heart is broken.

Thank you for caregiving for your husband/wife/mom/dad/son/daughter/relative/stranger.

God bless all who change the diapers of adult patients in nursing homes, and do it in such a way that there is no loss of dignity for either party.

Thank you for supporting your local musicians. Thanks for ordering an extra beer and placing an extra tip in the jar before requesting “Freebird” as a joke because you think you are being original.

Thank you for tipping your waitress.…

I found a brown paper bag full of tomatoes on my doorstep, along with homemade tomato chutney. I don’t know where the stuff came from, but the tomatoes were homegrown.

If there is a pleasure more marvelous than homegrown tomatoes, it’s probably illegal. And I don’t want to know about it since I come from Baptists who don’t do illegal things because it could lead to a life of secular music.

But I was reared on homegrown tomatoes. And there will be tomatoes at my funeral. I’m serious. Funeral guests will be encouraged to place tomato products into my casket.

Any tomato product will do, as long as it’s not tomato aspic. I would rather have a colonoscopy in a Third-World nation than eat tomato aspic.

When I was a kid, there was a woman in our church named Lida Ann who always made tomato aspic. She peppered her aspic with mature green olives, capers, and little gray canned shrimp. She placed her dish on the buffet table and it looked like a giant, R-rated donut.

My mother would force me to eat it because, “Lida Ann is a sweet old woman, and she went to all that trouble.”

“I don’t care if she’s Forty-Mule-Team Borax,” I would say, “I don’t wanna eat it.”

Then my mother would pinch me until I cried. So I would shuffle toward the potluck line, use a butter knife, and smear the tomato-flavored hell onto a cracker.

Miss Lida Ann would kiss my cheek and say, “Why don’t you take the rest home, since you’re the only one who eats it.”

Miss Lida Ann would wrap it in aluminum foil and send it with me. And for the rest of the week, my mother would leave it on the counter. The stuff was so bad that all the flies pitched in to get the screen door fixed.

My mother was an avid tomato gardener.…

Yeah, I miss hurricane season.

I know that sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. Ever since I left my Florida hometown and moved to Birmingham, I’ve found myself thinking about hurricane season, which runs from June to the following June.

Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t miss the actual hurricanes. But I grew up in the Panhandle and I miss seeing neighbors hook arms during times of trouble.

There is nothing as unifying as a hurricane. Despite the destruction that hurricanes bring, hurricanes also bring families and entire regions together. I don’t know how they do it. But it’s true.

I’m not saying these storms aren’t terrifying, horrific, calamitous weather events so catastrophic they traumatize everyone in their paths. They are.

But somehow everyone sucks it up and says collectively, “We’re gonna get through this together.”

And we did. We always did.

Hurricane Michael’s epicenter made landfall 33 miles from my doorstep. After the storm, my wife and I helped with some relief work. And do you know what we saw?

We saw entire towns feeding each other, clothing one another. People cut

their neighbor’s hair and paid each other’s bills. People watched each other’s kids, roofed each other’s homes, rebuilt each other’s lives. It was like a giant Love-a-Palooza.

Outsiders might look at such a scenario and say to themselves, “How awful, these towns are falling apart.” But the outsiders would be wrong. These towns were only getting stronger.

After a bad storm, it’s you and your little town against the whole world. There are no divisions. No nitpicking. No griping. Only people shouldering each other through one of the worst experiences they’ll ever have. Teenagers paint graffiti hearts on the sides of destroyed buildings, spelling words like PANHANDLE STRONG, or WE ARE ONE, or GOD BLESS US.

During my youth, our whole calendar year was built upon the possible occurrence of devastating tropical storms.

Hurricanes made their way into our…

He was born the same year Ty Cobb retired. The same era The Bambino was selling Old Gold cigarettes in the back pages of “The Saturday Evening Post.”

It was a period in American history when cowboy movies were silent, radios were loud, and Charles Lindebergh was still considered to be a little off.

The boy was born to Carl and Geneva, two average North Carolinians in an average house in an average town. They lived modest lives. They lived beneath the water tower, for crying out loud.

He was their only child. He got all their attention.

“I loved my father,” he once said. “He lived to be eighty. He smoked cigarettes every minute of his life.”

His father had a notoriously wet sense of humor. He was the kind of guy who tended to be popular in places like barbershops, feed stores and any place where old geezers play checkers.

Years later, when the boy started performing his one-man comic routine before Rotary Clubs, civic leagues, and Elks Lodges, the

boy admitted that his brand of hayseed humor came from simply impersonating his old man.

His mother, Geneva, was known by her friends to be sugar sweet. She was born just over the North Carolina state line in Old Virginny.

To get to her hometown you’d have to hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway and head north from the Carolinas. After about an hour you’d arrive in the meadows of Patrick County.

If you veer onto County Highway 602 and follow it into the sticks, eventually you will find the remnants of a tiny mountain hamlet so remote they have to mail-order sunshine from the Montgomery Ward catalog.

It is here where an ancient general store/post office still stands. It has white clapboards and a rusty Gulf Oil sign out front. The structure was built in 1892, and still does business today.

You can still go inside and…

I started to write a column but deleted it. In fact, I’ve tried writing this a hundred times, but I keep erasing it. I start crying too hard.

Initially, I was going to write about the pediatrician, Roy Guerrero, who was born and raised in Uvalde, Texas. He attended Robb Elementary.

He was at lunch when the shooting happened. He rushed over to Uvalde Memorial Hospital in the aftermath of one of America’s most heartrending tragedies.

“It was a complete madhouse—what you see in disaster movies,” he said. “Doctors and nurses in every single room, people running around like maniacs, kids in the hallway bleeding and screaming, surgeons working on kids.”

In the hall he met a fourth-grade patient he’d been treating since infancy. The child saw the whole thing happen. She saw her teacher die. She told Guerrero she had rubbed blood on herself and played dead.

That’s as far as I got when I started weeping.

I couldn’t write anything more. This has never happened to me before. I’ve written about mass shootings

before, but this one has been different.

So I took a break. I packed my laptop and drove to a public park, and tried to get my head right. Sunlight, that’s what I needed. I needed to get out of my stuffy office.

I sat on a bench. The park was busy. The exercise track was loaded with fitness enthusiasts wearing Lycra so tight you could count their ribs. The playground was overrun with children.

I saw a kid playing Superman, running around, playacting like he was flying, he used a red towel as a cape.

I opened my laptop and tried to write another column.

This time I was going to write about paramedics in Uvalde. I interviewed one of the EMTs by phone a few days ago. He had driven 85 miles to be on the scene that day. He asked if I…

Memorial Day is the unofficial start to summer, and summer was in full bloom in America. The nation experienced mostly beautiful weather.

The Midwest had highs in the 80s, The Southeast experienced temps even higher. Temperatures in the Florida panhandle exceeded approximately 173 degrees.

But it’s important to remember that it wasn’t a great Memorial Day weekend for everyone.

Yesterday in Saint Louis, for example, a man named Phillip was playing baseball with his kids while his wife, Lindsey, was making potato salad inside. The day was going swimmingly.

“Guys in my family have always played baseball on Memorial Day weekend,” Philip wrote to me this morning in an email. “It’s a longstanding tradition for us.”

Phillip was pitching. His 11-year-old son, Austin, was at the plate. Phillip delivered an easy pitch underhand. His son swung the bat like the baseball had personally insulted his mother. The bat connected.

PING!

The good news is that Phillip’s son hit a line drive. The bad news is: it was a line drive which struck a part of

Phillip’s anatomy most often associated with procreation.

The ball nailed Phillip. He howled in pain. He went down under the power. His kids all gathered around him and asked if he was okay. All Phillip could utter was, “Go get your mom, please.”

It bears mentioning, Phillip’s son was using an aluminum bat not a wooden bat. Which might not sound like an important detail to this story except that the exit velocity of a ball hit by an aluminum bat is a LOT higher than that of one hit by a wooden bat.

A ball hit by a wooden bat has an average velocity of 60 to 80 mph. Whereas a ball hit by an aluminum bat is capable of breaking the sonic barrier.

Phillip’s wife approached her husband and asked her children what had happened.

Her 4-year-old son remarked, “Austin hit daddy in…

In Washington D.C., near the intersection of 22nd Street NW and Constitution Avenue NW, just north of the Lincoln Memorial, stands a wall of black granite. It’s huge.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial consists of 140 stone panels, polished to a high finish, sunken into the earth. The panels create a massive wall that is 493 feet and 6 inches long, about the size of a skyscraper laid on its side.

You expect the wall to be big, but you’re not prepared for how big it really is. This thing is ginormous.

I was in D.C. a few months ago. The granite gleamed in the morning sun, I stood before the never-ending wall of stone, sipping a bottle of water, taking it all in. The Washington Monument was on one side, Honest Abe was on my other.

There was an old man and his grandson roaming the wall, reading the names reverently. The old man had a wild white beard, he wore an army cap.

“Look, Grandpa,” said the kid, “is this one my uncle’s name?”

“Lower

your voice,” said Granddaddy.

“But… Why are we whispering?

“Respect,” the old man said.

There was indeed a very respectful mood at the Vietnam memorial, which surprised me. I’ve been to U.S. war memorials before. And at most National Park Service war memorials the mood is nonchalant, happy even. Because most memorials commemorate wars that happened so long ago that nobody can remember them.

At the Gettysburg Memorial, for example, I saw hundreds of families pushing strollers, laughing, posing with performers in Civil War costumes, snapping selfies. At Arlington National Cemetery, I saw school kids playing tag among gravestones.

But people were silent here.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is not like other American memorials. Here, I saw old men touching the wall, heads bowed. There were people taking photos of names. There were families telling old stories. I saw a few people weeping.

There…

Dear Kid,

Don’t grow up. Not ever. Don’t turn into an adult. That’s my best advice to you. Resist adulthood. Be a kid forever.

Right now, a lot of adults are angry in America. We have a lot to be angry about. Adults can behave badly when they are angry. So please forgive us.

Because the truth is—and I shouldn’t be telling you this—adults can act pretty stupid. Please don’t tell anyone.

Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean we’re “stupid” in a negative sense. Truly, I don’t. After all, just because someone is stupid doesn’t mean you can’t love them. Take dogs. Dogs are can be very unsmart, but we still love them. Hallmark Channel movies can be ingloriously stupid, but they are also wonderful.

Still, this doesn’t change the fact that we adult humans are, in fact, giant dipsticks. The problem is, of course, that we adults think we are brilliant. The idiot thinks he’s wise, but the truly wise man knows he’s an idiot.

Oh, sure, our species occasionally does some brilliant things here on earth. Beer is only one example.

We’re not total fools. Humankind has, for instance, learned how to manufacture smartphones with touchscreens capable of flushing our toilets from outer space. We can perform surgery from 4,000 miles away through robotic technology. We produced James Brown.

But this doesn’t make us smart. Because we still don’t know how to listen. We don’t empathize. And even though our parents tried to teach us, we still don’t know how to share.

You know what we DO know how to do?

We know how to kill each other. Again, I’m not being pessimistic. This is just a fact of humanhood. Slaughter is a defining behavior for our species. We are among the only mammals who kill one another.

Tigers do not kill tigers. Deer, although they fight, do not kill deer. Squirrels don’t kill squirrels. When was the…

An old woman who shall remain anonymous arrived in Uvalde, Texas, early this morning, driving a 2009 Ford with high mileage and bad tires. She had a backseat full of flowers. She drove a long way.

The woman placed flowers on the crosses recently erected in memory of the 21 killed in the Robb Elementary shooting. She came all the way from Pittsburgh to be here.

“It was about 1,530 miles,” she wrote to me.

When I asked why she traveled this far, she answered, “Because I want to help.”

Meantime, other helpers invaded Uvalde. Some of the first ones came in the form of dogs. That’s right. Canines.

Lutheran Church Charities sent comfort dogs to Uvalde, to help those undergoing trauma. The animals are trained to bring comfort in crises and have been present in the aftermath of many mass shootings.

Such as Sandy Hook in 2012. A dog named Howe was at a community center only days after the shooting in Sandy Hook. Immediately, a little boy curled up next

to Howe and whispered into the dog’s ear. People standing nearby were weeping when they saw this. They said it was the first time in four days the boy had spoken.

And he spoke to a dog.

Eight of the LCC’s golden retrievers were dispatched to Uvalde County. They are Cubby and Devorah, Miriam, Abner, Elijah, Gabriel, Joy and Triton.

While the dogs were busy lending their support, a woman I will call Angie, a nurse, former paramedic, and soldier, sent me an email:

“Yesterday, I wanted to drive to Uvalde and do something, but there really isn’t a job for an arthritic lady like me. So I ordered a bunch of pizzas and had them delivered to the Uvalde Police Department. I hope first responders at least nibbled on something.”

At the same time, across town, the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center set up a blood…

Nineteen kids came romping up the golden staircase, taking two steps at a time, sprinting toward the mother-of-pearl gates. It’s a wonder they didn’t knock Saint Peter over onto his Blessed Assurance.

The children all smelled like little-kid sweat and stinky feet. Their loud footsteps could be heard echoing from as far away as the Andromeda Galaxy.

The children were accompanied by two teachers.

“Slow down!” yelled Ms. Garcia, 48, who headed up the rear of the class.

Ms. Garcia taught at Robb Elementary School for 23 years. She died using her body to shield her students from gunfire. She was found with students still cradled in her arms. Two days after the attacks, her grief-stricken husband passed from a massive heart attack.

“No pushing!” hollered Ms. Mireles, 44, who was close beside Ms. Garcia. “I’m not gonna tell you twice!”

Ms. Mireles taught fourth grade. She was trained in special education. She taught for 17 years. Her children idolized her. She was the woman responsible for integrating students with developmental disabilities into

regular classrooms at Robb. She, too, leapt in front gunfire for her students.

The children’s voices were loud. They brought so much energy into this celestial place that crowds of seraphim began to gather at the gates until their feathers ruffled.

“The kids from Uvalde, Texas, are here,” the angels were murmuring among themselves.

Everyone up here has been expecting these tiny celebrities, of course. These kids have been on everybody’s minds. The Boss himself is a huge fan of these kids. They say he has been waiting at the gate for their triumphant arrival since about 3,000,000 B.C.

And here they came.

The doors opened. Their little faces burst through the hallway of life into life everlasting. And all eternity cheered. It was an immortal roar so loud it shook planets from their orbits and knocked the rings off Saturn.

Among the new arrivals was Jose…