Pen Pals

We talked about how sad we felt. And about things that made us happy. She liked the Four Tops. I liked Willie. She wanted to be a hip-hop dancer. I wanted write for a newspaper.

Dear Mary,

I got your letter in the mail this afternoon. I read it aloud to my dogs while sipping an iced tea on my porch.

It was a nice surprise, receiving a handwritten letter. I don’t get many.

Even though we are strangers, I was glad to hear about your life. Your new job, your newborn son, and about how much you like Willie Nelson. You’re in good company, Willie Nelson is very special to me, too.

I am sorry your father died. I don’t know exactly what you’re feeling, but I know what it’s like to lose a father. I know you will never be the same.

Not that it matters, but when I was fourteen, I found an ad in the back of a magazine, it advertised a pen pal agency. I responded to the ad, requesting a pen pal.

My assigned correspondent was from Atlanta—keep in mind, this was before the age of the internet. The most advanced form of communication in our day was homing pigeons.

My pen pal’s name was Bee Bee. She was fifteen and wrote in purple ink. She dotted her lowercase “I’s” with little hearts, and I accidentally fell in love with her.

We only wrote each other a handful of times, but we talked about our lives in our letters. She told me about her parent’s divorce. I told her about my father’s suicide.

We talked about how sad we felt. And about things that made us happy. She liked the Four Tops. I liked Willie. She wanted to be a hip-hop dancer. I wanted to write for a newspaper.

She closed each of her letters with:

“Your forever-friend, Bee Bee.”

And well, I’d had never had a forever-friend. Especially not since my father’s death. In fact, I didn’t have many friends at all.

I wished I could end my letters in a sentimental way like she did, but I couldn’t bring myself to use mushy words to a girl.

After all, I didn’t want Bee Bee to think I was a complete toadstool who sat around eating Fritos and watching girly movies like Steel Magnolias, quoting movie dialogue with Shirley MacLaine, Olympia Dukakis, Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Sam Shepard, Daryl Hannah, Tom Skerritt, and the infallible Dolly Parton. That’s dumb.

So I ended my letters with:

“All the best, Sean.”

We wrote back and forth a couple times. Finally, she suggested we send pictures to each other. My heart sank.

I knew she would be repulsed by me. I was as ugly as homemade waffles. I was taller than my friends, and much chubbier. And freckled. And redheaded.

My friend Andrew took photos of me with a drugstore camera.

The pictures were awful. In these photos, I was trying to disguise my chubbiness by standing against a basketball goal. This, I hoped, would make it appear to untrained eyes that I was a point guard, relaxing on the axis of the Wheel of Life. I held a basketball for effect.

Instead, I looked like the official spokesperson for Pillsbury.

Along with the pictures, I wrote Bee Bee, saying I knew I wasn’t attractive, and I hoped the photos didn’t cause her any nausea or blurred vision.

A few weeks went by, I got a thick envelope in the mail from Atlanta. Bee Bee had sent photos of herself.

The photos were not what I’d expected. Bee Bee had long dreadlocks, and midnight skin. She was tall, broad shouldered, and and larger than her all her friends.

She told me she felt ugly when she looked in the mirror, and overweight, just like me. She finished her letter by telling me that I was very handsome. And she said, “You have a beautiful soul.”

Her words did something. They made me feel like I mattered—though she was a stranger. I wrote her back to tell her how lovely she was.

We only wrote two or three more times after that. Because kids get older and busier.

But, somewhere in my garage I still have a shoebox. Among its contents are pharmacy-developed photos of a young man holding a basketball. You should see him. Underneath his smile, you can see how lonely he is. He misses his father. He just needs someone to love him.

I wonder if that isn’t what everyone needs.

Also in this shoebox are letters—from special people. Some are from my wife. One is from my father. Some are from a fifteen-year-old in Atlanta, who wrote in purple ink.

Your letter will go in this same shoebox, Mary. Along with the Willie Nelson CD you sent.

It will get better, darling. You’ll see.

You have a beautiful soul.

Your forever-friend,


  1. louisesor - October 2, 2018 6:04 am


  2. Sandi in FL. - October 2, 2018 7:20 am

    Sean, your reply to Mary’s letter will make her smile. It will make a lot of readers smile. The very gentle, calming, encouraging, caring, tender sincerity of it made me smile.

  3. Glenda - October 2, 2018 7:27 am

    Another toss and turn sleepless night, I worked at my paper bound desk for these past hours and opened up mail to find your post. What beautiful writing, my treat for the day, think i’ll put my head on the pillow and recall your awesome shoe box story. You are amazing and…you have a beautiful soul.

  4. Nancy Thomaston Rogers - October 2, 2018 9:11 am

    Even though some days it is hard, I try to remember that everyone has a “beautiful soul.” Thanks for the reminder Sean.

  5. Donna Wharam - October 2, 2018 9:45 am

    What a great story Sean❤️
    I lost my father 8/12/18 to lung cancer. My mother passed when I was just 10 yrs old. I feel so lonely right now. I talked to my Dad every single day, when he wasn’t living with me. I have no regrets, but I miss him so very much! You are correct…..
    I will never be the same. Have a blessed life.
    Donna Wharam

    • Sandi in FL. - October 2, 2018 10:04 am

      Donna, it hurts so much to lose a loved one, and I pray that God supplies you with extra strength, peace and hope in the upcoming days without your father.

  6. Ruth Edens - October 2, 2018 10:21 am

    Wonder what happened to Bee Bee? Fantastic Sean. We all need to knowwe are important, we matter and we are heard. Your work is therapeutic and not just to you:-)

  7. tigearnest - October 2, 2018 10:58 am

    I used to start my day reading the news. I realized this was not a healthy habit. Now I start my day reading your posts. How you see life and your stories help me start my day with a quiet, thankful heart and a smile. Thanks for what you do and please keep it up.

  8. Terri C Boykin - October 2, 2018 11:26 am

    Ding dang it Sean, you get me every time, misty eyed. You do have a beautiful soul. I was a lonely, chubby kid, and now I’m a lonely old woman. Love you much.

  9. Edna B. - October 2, 2018 12:30 pm

    I used to have a pen pal too. I wrote to a service man, whose name and address were given to me by a friend, and we corresponded for a while. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Your gift, Sean, is that you can see the beauty in everyone. This is something that we all could learn. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

  10. that's jack - October 2, 2018 12:49 pm

    Shucks, you were a pretty nice guy, even as a kid! You are good at describing situations. Love to visit here!

  11. Joy - October 2, 2018 12:49 pm

    Thank you Sean for another beautiful post…you touch so many lives…you have a beautiful soul…and a fantastic way of stringing the words together that uplifts all of us you read them! We all need a shoe box to put beautiful memories in.

    If Mary is reading this, please know that many are praying for you including me. For we too have lost those we love.

    Your BFF … Best Friend Forever!

  12. Carol - October 2, 2018 3:14 pm

    These are my letter’s to you Sean!
    For the so many things that you bring to my life every time I read you or listen to you!
    Right now if you ever read this , I’m crying a lot!
    You see I lost my husband 15 yrs ago Sept 30
    And I can’t quite missing him !
    A lot has to do with that the part about getting older and being alone. Without the love of your life! He was my second husband 10 yrs younger and he let me be me!!
    I could talk to him and he never put me down and he gave me wings. ! But now after he died , I’ve had to retire after 15 yrs after he died and it’s lonely!
    I was busy and I could Handel it!
    But I’m home now and I can’t get out and go anymore!
    Physically, financially , my children try to help. But they have lives and I want them to have wings too!
    I don’t know why I’m telling you all of this. Guess because your the first man , that ever reminded me of him! Kind, and a good listener and probably give nice big hugs like he did!
    I posted a picture yesterday on my FB page and said !
    Wish I had a friend like you !
    Love ya!

  13. Free bird at last.... - October 3, 2018 12:38 am

    It’s not just South. It’s everywhere. We r all alike. Don’t ever stop feeling the truth.

  14. Michael Hawke - October 3, 2018 2:17 am

    And it does get better. Thank you.


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