I knew a man who lived in a tent with his twelve-year-old son. He was plumb crazy. The real kind of crazy. He camped in the woods and wouldn’t accept money from anyone.
Sometimes, his son would wander into the church next door during potlucks.
The kid’s daddy had a heart attack. The last day we saw the boy, a few of us gave him a Tupperware container full of cash—since we didn’t know what else to do. The boy just looked at us. I’ve never felt so pathetic.
He finally said, “God bless you, guys.”
If he’s still alive, that child is a man today.
Another fella I knew: he was a rodeo king. We’d drink beer together. I’d ask him about the old days. He’d tell me about the steel pins in his hip, plate in his skull, neck fusion, and spinal surgeries. God, could he rope.
When they diagnosed him with prostate cancer, he retired from the circuit and started working at a hardware store.
Once he told me, “The hardest part about dying is wishing I could’a done a few things different.”
Hardly anyone came to his funeral. I sat beside his daughter. They put his ashes in a saddle bag.
His daughter said to me, “I thought more people would’a shown up. God bless you for coming.”
My friend Davey and I painted houses. But he wasn’t a house-painter. Long ago, he taught music at Auburn University. Symphonic composition. The man had orchestras playing in his brain.
He was bad to drink.
Sometimes, I’d visit his one-room apartment and find him face-down in his vomit. He told me once, “It ain’t me who drinks, it’s my demons. I just can’t kill them.”
He was purple when the paramedics found him.
His landlady and I stood watching the ambulance taillights disappear. “God bless poor old Davey,” she said.
Look, I don’t know what happens when people die. I’d like to think we go to a big party up yonder. A place with rodeos, big symphonies, kids born into normal families. But I guess the real reason I’m writing this is because sometimes I think about people I’ve known. People like you.
I don’t know what you’re facing today—everyone faces something. I don’t know how much longer you’ll have strength to keep kicking against it. In fact, I don’t know anything. But no matter who you are, who you’ve lost, or what your religious persuasion, I want you to know something.
This isn’t all there is.
God bless you.