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…

A rural school. An overcast day. Mrs. Welch arrived early to work driving, her husband’s truck. There has been a lot of rain lately, she almost didn’t get here this morning. Her clay road washed out.

Mrs. Welch parked and stared at the brick building in the distance where she’s been teaching for 14 years. She tried to imagine what teachers in Uvalde, Texas, must have been feeling when their sanctuary was invaded by a lone gunman yesterday. A gunman who killed 19 students and two teachers.

She trotted across the parking lot toward the school, carrying a bulky cardboard box beneath her arm.

Her principal unlocked the door and buzzed her in.

“You found them?” the principal said.

“Yes,” said Mrs. Welch. “I found them.”

Last night at 9:30 p.m., Mrs. Welch had an idea for her school. So she got in her car and drove to her church while still in her PJs. She has a key to her church. Women like Mrs. Welch always have the key

to the church.

She dug through the church shed for a box of candles her church used for the Christmas Eve service last year. The candles have flimsy paper guards. The church has septillions of them.

When she walked into the school gym, the school staff had already gathered and was waiting. There was a somber mood hanging over them like a damp towel. These are people who have dedicated their lives to education. Yesterday, in Uvalde County, the sanctity of that hallowed calling was attacked.

The students started arriving. Kids were guided into the gymnasium and asked to remain silent out of respect for the 21 victims of Robb Elementary School. As children filled the bleachers, they were given candles.

Thus it was, that 232 students, first-, second-, third- and fourth-graders, entered the gymnasium and kept surprisingly quiet. These are 232 kids who are never quiet. Not even in…

There are no words.

Over the next few days, writers, journalists and newscasters will be playing one-string fiddles, bringing updates about the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. But it will all just be white noise. Their talk will merely be commentary. Because there are no words. Not for this.

There are no words to explain why an 18-year-old opened fire in Robb Elementary shortly after allegedly killing his grandmother.

No words can accurately report the killing of 19 grade-schoolers and 2 adults, including fourth-grade teacher Eva Mireles. There are no words expressing why the flag is flying at half staff over the White House tonight.

Twenty-three years ago, I remember being struck dumb in much the same way.

I was in our church fellowship hall. The TV was playing in the corner. Our youth group had just finished setting up folding chairs for an upcoming wedding because our youth group was nothing but a glorified posse of janitors.

The primetime news was on. It was a


“Everybody shut up,” said someone’s mom, who stood before the television, chewing on her thumbnail.

We gathered around the screen and watched in rapt horror. The text on the TV read: “FIFTEEN DEAD IN SHOOTING.” The news reporter called it the “Massacre in Columbine, Colorado.”


I remember seeing footage of Patrick Ireland, 17, being pulled out a window by police officers clad in body armor. I remember hearing that Columbine’s two killers had selected minorities, jocks, and Christians for their victims.

I will forever remember Cassie Bernall, 17; Stephen Curnow, 14; Corey DePooter, 17; Kelly Fleming, 16; Matthew Ketcher, 16; Daniel Mauser, 15; Daniel Rohrbough, 15; Dave Sanders, 47; Rachel Scott, 17; Isaiah Shoels, 18; John Tomlin, 16; Lauren Townsend, 18; and Kyle Velasquez, 16.

I remember hearing about Valeen Schnurr. She had been shot and was crawling on the floor of the library, covered in her own blood. She was begging…

I am browsing a shelf of antique books. I come across the “Official Boy Scout Handbook” published in 1945.

The binding is cracked with age. In the back pages are ads for Louisville Slugger, “Boy’s Life,” and Goodyear bicycle tires. It’s a tiny book, it would fit easily into the back pocket of your Levi’s. The cover is illustrated by Norman Rockwell.

I flip it open.

Chapter One. “What Is a Scout?” the title reads.

“A Scout!” it begins. “What fun he finds hiking into the woods! He tells north from south by the stars. East from west from the shadows… His Scout ‘good turns’ to someone each day make him many friends, for the way to HAVE friends is to first BE one.”

I was in Boy Scouts. Every boy my age was. We had meetings at the Methodist church. We sat in the front pews and tried to impress each other with bodily noises and anatomy tricks. My father was a Scoutmaster and a lifelong Scout. He knew how

to swallow his own tongue.

“Scouting,” it says in Chapter Two, “knows no race or creed or class. Troops are found in Catholic Parish, Jewish Synagogue, and Protestant Church. It is available to both farm and city. It is found in schools—it serves the rich and poor alike.”

There was an all-Black troop across town that went camping with us. We were all friends. Their Scoutmaster was a Church of God preacher. He led our hikes by teaching us to sing “In the Sweet By and By.” He showed me how to use a whetstone. He taught us to say grace like we meant it. That sweet man came to my father’s funeral with his whole troop.

“Our America is a melting pot,” the handbook says. “Our strength has come from every people... In a world which blacks out individual freedom, our America must stand as a lighthouse to…

I am writing this before I go on a stage, about to speak into a microphone and tell a story over radio airwaves. I only have eleven minutes. My story is a simple one. There are jokes embedded within it. Jokes I hope people laugh at.

I am not nervous—which is somewhat of a miracle. I used to get nervous a lot. I used to get so nervous that I talked like Porky Pig on a blind date. But I’m calm.

They tell me this station’s audience is small. Only two radios will actually tune into this AM station on a weeknight. The sound engineer, and the sound engineer’s mother. The signal isn’t strong. But it does reach the interstate.

I’m excited nonetheless.

After all, you never know who will be listening. Maybe a man in an eighteen-wheeler will be overcome by unexplained inclinations to turn on his radio. And MAYBE, as if by urgings of unseen forces, he’ll turn his dial to a weak-signaled AM station. And MAYBE, by miracle, he will have reception for ninety seconds and hear me say:

“Hi everybody, I’m Sean Di—”

(Static hisses.)

“...And I just wanted to say from the bottom of my heart th—”

(More static.)

“...Our guest has been Sean Dietrich.”

I don’t just like radio. I love it.

In fact, if you would’ve met me when I was a young boy, making mud pies in the backyard, you would’ve known that I already had a career in radio.

I had an old condenser microphone my father bought at a garage sale. It was broken, but I used it for make believe.

Back then, I would report on weather, school kickball, and deliver updates on the happenings within Miss Welch’s socially stratified first-grade class.

I was, for instance, the first broadcaster to break the news of the scandal that rocked the elementary school—involving the high-society couple, Joey and Katie.

Joey allegedly…

“Sean, hi. I just want to ask you if you have any advice on how to show my 14-year-old daughter that I am proud of her. She doesn’t have her father anymore, and she is actually pregnant. I don’t judge her. I know more than anything that she would like to know someone is proud of her, and even though I say it all the time, I don’t know if she knows that. No matter what mistakes she’s made, I am actually very proud of her.”

Don’t ever change. You’re doing it right.

“Dear Sean, my father physically abused me. I had to tell someone. I am 39 years old. He is dead now.”

Hi, friend. I was smacked around by my father sometimes. First time he ever hit me happened almost against his will. It was almost a reflex on his part. It was the way he’d been raised. He reared back and slapped me. I fell off my feet.

Later I found him crying in the back room, and he told

me the story of the first time his father ever smacked him. You should have heard his trembling voice. In that moment, my father had become a little boy just like me.

My father was not a bad man. Neither was yours. They were beautiful men who did dumb things. They did the best they could with the crummy cards they were dealt. You and I are doing the same. Let us hope and pray, friend, that nobody holds our worst mistakes against us.

Otherwise, I am totally screwed.

“Hello, Sean, my wife and I both like the name Shawn. But my problem is, I want to name my newborn boy ‘Shawn’ with a W, and my wife wants to name him ‘Shaun’ with a U. What do you think?”

I think you’re both wrong.

“I am 32 and I still haven’t completed high school. I was…


You rip on journalism a lot and it gets redundant. You are not correct about journalists, we do not only report horrible news.

I have been a broadcast journalist for 32 years with the [Blankity Blank] organization in Los Angeles, California, and I try to bring the best and most important stories to viewers. And while I can’t speak for my colleagues, maybe it’s time to quit bashing journalism. If for no other reason than because it makes you sound unintelligent, sir.

Thank you,


I apologize.

I think the problem here is that I actually am a little slow. Seriously. When I was a kid, my mother said I was the only kid she had ever known who had been locked out of a convertible with the top down.

So I admit. I’m not the sharpest fork in the drawer.

That said. If what you say is true; if you as a journalist were actually bringing the “best and most important stories” to your viewers, you, sir, would be

living in a refrigerator carton.

I know this because I have a friend whose son graduated with a degree in broadcast journalism. He got a high-paying job with a major news network right out of the gate. They put him on assignment. He tried to find the “best and most important” stories out there and was promptly terminated after—get this—only two weeks.

I have another friend who worked in broadcast journalism for a large news conglomerate. He tried to publish feel-good stories, too. He once published a heartwarming story about primates learning sign language to help cancer patients. He drives a truck now.

Everyone knows not to watch cable news if you have a sensitive gag reflex. One study found that watching the news raises blood pressure, increases risk of heart attack, stroke, and causes spontaneous interest in reverse mortgages.

This isn’t a new problem.…

I saw her in the supermarket, wearing a dark habit. The old nun was meandering through the aisles, consulting a paper list with a pencil. Her medieval gown looked so wonderfully out of place in our fast-paced modern world.

She seemed to be floating across the linoleum. I watched the young shoppers hurriedly move around the old woman as though they couldn’t even see her, busy staring at their iPhones.

I could tell she was elderly, although it was impossible to pinpoint her exact age beneath her wimple. I’d say somewhere between age 70 and 1350.

I wandered the store and sort of forgot about her until it was time for me to check out. Then, suddenly, the nun was standing in line ahead of me.

Meantime, we were surrounded by frenetic shoppers, filling the self-checkout lanes, dutifully scanning their own items. I do not understand the appeal of self-checkout. What comes next? Going to Olive Garden to cook your own ravioli?

We stood in line together. The nun and I.


I said.

She smiled. “Hello there.”

Her accent was old-world Yankee. Boston maybe.

You might not know this, but nuns are disappearing. Within the last decades the number of nuns has gone down considerably worldwide. Many Catholics are worried about this.

Each year, fewer young women feel called to the life of Sisterhood. Fifty years ago, there were 1 million nuns globally. Currently, there are 650,000. That number keeps going down.

Many wonder whether there will be any nuns left in America within the next 50 years. “The New York Times” recently ran a story about young nuns, desperate to find recruits, who are using social media to prevent their own dying off. In some convents, younger Sisters are posting videos of themselves dancing, and sharing candid pictures in hopes of attracting millennials.

Older nuns just shake their heads. “Why?” is the older Sisters’ main argument.

The Sister…

When I first met Michelle, the first thing she did was hug me.

It all started when Michelle emailed me one morning and asked to interview me for the newspaper. I was floored. I met her at a coffee shop. I wore my most expensive T-shirt.

This was early in my fledgling career—if you can call it a career. I had never done an interview before.

At the time, I was living with my mother-in-law in a house that smelled like bath powder and Febreeze plug-ins. My wife and I resided in a bedroom the size of a casket and shared a restroom with my mother-in-law.

Trust me, no matter how rough your life is, it gets a little rougher when you share a bathroom with your mother-in-law.

Back then, I spent my days working on novels and columns, and I spent my evenings working late hours as a beer-joint musician. My wife served as a caregiver to her mother; my mother-in-law spent her weekdays listening to HGTV at volumes loud enough to liquify

Pittsburgh steel.

That was our life.

So I drove to Mobile one afternoon to meet Michelle for the interview. I was nervous. I showed up early. My hair was long, tied back in a ponytail. My beard looked unkempt.

Before entering the café, I glanced at my unsightly reflection in a window and cringed. I was wondering what Michelle’s reaction to me would be.

She hugged me. That was her reaction. She rose from her table and embraced me.

When the “Mobile Press-Register” later ran her article about my work, I read her words while seated in my mother-in-law’s living room, as Chip and Joanna Gaines blared on television loud enough to levitate furniture.

Nobody had ever written the kinds of things Michelle wrote about me. And probably never will again.

The next day I started getting calls from people in my life. People had seen…

My sister’s family is visiting from Florida this week. It’s difficult to get any serious writing work done becausspiwjg[qi31 0409UJ15M\2
TOJLOIKN B4G=2 2309RU3O jfjwd ifjw8989898#(#(*&

Sorry. That was my 3-year-old niece, Lucy, banging away on my laptop keyboard while I’m working.

Lucy is obsessed with the things in my office. She marches in here all the time just to look around, climb on the bookshelves, go through my tax returns, or to use crayons to add some color to my walls.

But she’s particularly fascinated with my computer. Sometimes I’m afraid she’s going to bump my laptop off my desk and knock it on thFi340YYY(&#$%2 ti9u2-39tu 1203902hsb IUHW)*i23ub. &#)OOPWow 4-2t-h024h)#$)T*)UUW 283h2039))239#.

My nieces have enough energy to power an average suburban electrical grid. They arrived in our driveway last night after spending upwards of six hours in the car. By the time they got here, they were not unlike compressed atomic matter contained in a jar, just waiting to explode.

When my sister’s SUV pulled in, the doors of the vehicle were flung open and little voices screamed, “UNCLE SEAN!”

Immediately, a

duo of two-foot-tall humans leapt out of the automobile. These were towheaded girls, barefoot, wearing multi-colored tutus, their lips and tongues were stained with blue dye from eating either Kool-Aid, candy, or—and we cannot rule this out—BIC pens.

They moved so quickly they looked like a giant blur. I could hardly see them. They were blond-colored streaks, wholly invisible to the naked eye. Their location could only be determined by the distant sounds of their spontaneous singing of songs from the Disney movie “Frozen.”

“AUNT JAY JAY!” they said, throwing their arms around my wife.

They call my wife Aunt Jay Jay because at one time they could not pronounce the name Jamie. Used to, my niece Lucy couldn’t pronounce the name Sean, either. So whenever she said my name she just called me “UNCLE SSSHHH!” which…