I am a redheaded fool, driving around the Peach State. I’ve spent the day exploring Georgia’s backroads. And I’m lost, going in circles.
I get lost easily. Namely, because I refuse to use a GPS. I hate them. I prefer Rand McNally. My wife has threatened to lodge all Rand McNally products into remote crevices of my body if I don’t use a GPS.
But the Georgia countryside is a great place to get lost. It’s a laid back, sleepy world of kudzu, longleaf pines, and incredible heat. My car thermometer reads 107 degrees from sitting in the sun.
I pass vegetable stands, Spanish moss, rusty pickups, and side-of-the-road handmade signs that read: “Eggs 4 sal.”
Nothing better than a good sal.
I drive past 13,239 churches. Almost every denomination is represented. Presbyterian, A.M.E., Baptist, Methodist, and that one denomination that outlaws pianos. Take your pick.
Ahead is a Catholic church. It’s a small building in the distance with white siding, small porch, and a modest steeple.
I pull into an empty parking lot beneath large trees because I need to use the restroom, and Catholics are very clean people. My wife tells me she’ll wait in the car. That way she can set fire to all my Rand McNally products.
I meander into the vacant building to find the chapel is unlocked, and heavily air-conditioned.
After using their pristine lavatory, I enter the sanctuary to see what it’s like.
It’s quiet. And it’s empty. For the first time in days, I remove my surgical mask in a public place.
I take a knee, briefly, then cross myself. I’m not Catholic, but I watch professional sports. I sit in the front pew. I bow my head. It is so silent in this room that my ears are ringing to beat the band.
My ears always ring. I have moderate tinnitus. I’ve had it since childhood. As a boy I had bad ear infections and would sometimes wake up in a world of cricket screams.
My mother noticed I was hard of hearing. One day I was watching Captain Kangaroo on a console television when she called my name. I didn’t answer. So the doctors shoved tubes in my ears.
And let me tell you, that sucked. Ever since then I haven’t had the greatest hearing. My hearing got worse during my youth, playing music in establishments that sold five-dollar pitchers each Friday.
I stare at the altar. I’m thinking about how difficult these last months of pandemic have been. Not just for me, but for the world. I’m not going to complain because you’ve been through the same thing.
In my time as a writer, I’ve interviewed old-timers who endured Depressions, Dust Bowls, world wars, polio, gas shortages, senseless acts of politics, and devastating internet outages. But these people were all strong. And I’m not.
The hardest part of COVID-19 has been I don’t know how to act normal. For example, some people wear masks, while others won’t. Some people can’t leave their houses. Other people do, and would visit Six Flags if it were open for business.
Earlier today, I was in a roadside flea market. Behind the counter was a sweet woman on the phone, wearing a plastic face shield. When she finished her call, she was a mess. I could tell because those clear plastic face-shields don’t hide your face.
I asked if everything was okay. And that was all it took. She unloaded. Her mother is in her nineties, living in a coastal South Carolina nursing home. Her mother just contracted COVID-19. Which is bad enough, except that her story gets worse. Due to Hurricane Isaias in the Atlantic, her mother’s nursing home is kicking out all residents.
This woman was beside herself.
“I can’t bring Mama home,” said the cashier. “And if we have to evacuate, where does Mama go?”
Me. She was sincerely asking me. A stranger. A no-name guy, wearing facial protective gear. We were separated by six feet and hand sanitizer bottles. Confused. Worried. Lost.
This has been the worst spring and summer of our lives, and the hits just keep coming. It’s not going to just go away, either. You don’t stay trapped inside for six months, devoid of all human contact, then (snap!) go back to eating at potlucks. Society has undergone a few changes.
The ringing in my ears is all I hear now.
I open my eyes to see beautiful Catholic statues. Candles flicker in the corner. The stained glass windows depict peaceful scenes from Sunday school class. The same scenes that matronly Baptist teachers in beehive hairdos once horsewhipped into me.
The Loaves and the Fishes. The Miracle of the Fishing Nets. The Calming of the Stormy Seas. I know these stories by heart, but I rarely think about them because I was a pitiful Sunday school student. I had trouble hearing from the back row. Also, I liked launching spitballs.
Even so, this undisturbed place is doing something to me. I feel refreshed, just having a few moments to think, reflect, remember, and breathe without my mask.
Before I leave, I take a knee at the altar once more. Just out of respect. Then I make the Sign of the Cross. Not because I’m religious, but because it’s one of the oldest human rituals in existence, predating the Catholic church itself. And it’s lasted through history’s worst epidemics. And I like that.
I exit the chapel. Outside it’s still one-hundred-some degrees. The world is still a mess. People are still pent up. And I’m still a half-deaf redheaded fool who worries too much.
But I don’t feel lost anymore.
Debbie Mosier - August 4, 2020 7:28 am
As a South Georgia born and raised gal, out of all places for you to feel “not lost anymore,” I’m proud that it was in Georgia. Some days, I feel totally lost and confused, confined to my home, watching tv news channels berating everyone and each other over the “virus” and other days, I feel a sense of peace in my own little world, vacuuming, doing laundry and watching Days of Our Lives. That’s my usual routine, I suppose, and I’ve come to realize that I like it. And anything that gets me out of my routine is just aggravating and gets me in a mood. So I’m just going to stick with my routine as much as possible and let the world figure out the problems..just for a week or two anyway. And if you get lost in South Georgia, I’ve got an extra GPS (I use my phone now). You might like her.. her name is Aunt Mildred, Millie, for short. ❤️
Sylvia from Florida - August 4, 2020 9:53 am
Dear Sean, just finished your morning story. I was born and raised Catholic, but lost my faith along the way. But I do remember that feeling of peace and salvation I always felt as I left the church after Sunday Mass. I wish
I could feel that once more, but I cannot come to grips with all the pain and suffering that has been going on
relentlessly over many years..I wish I could. Thank you for reminding me of that feeling.
eliz - August 4, 2020 11:00 am
I wish to sit in a pew!
Robert M Brenner - August 4, 2020 11:26 am
Sean, your stories are helping us all get through this “D***” pandemic and for sharing them with all of us thank you. Get a GPS for your wonderful bride, come on guy you can do this…Bob
Elgin Clark - August 4, 2020 11:27 am
You’re not a fool Sean.
Susie - August 4, 2020 12:06 pm
Dear Sylvia from FL. Please give our Father your love and devotion again. You won’t be disappointed. He’s waiting with loving arms.
RCK - August 4, 2020 12:25 pm
A friend sent this link this morning. I am passing it on to anyone needing a soothing moment of grace, beauty and peace. https://www.faithpot.com/psalm-91-on-eagles-wings-violin-cover-by-taryn-harbridge/
Tom - August 4, 2020 12:27 pm
Ms Sylvia, please take to heart what Ms Susie said in her post. He is a comfort and a refuge.
kathy - August 4, 2020 12:29 pm
I’m glad you let the peace that surpasses all understanding enter your heart. Catholics believe the real presence of Christ abides in the tabernacle on the altar and are blessed to witness the miracle of bread and wine becoming the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord at every Mass. When you spend time in prayer near Him, he will give you the strength to endure. During an especially trying time, I pleaded, “God, what do you want me to do?” He answered, “Trust me.” And in an instant, I was at peace. May this same peace come to all who read your inspiring words. Sean, your writing is making the world a better place. Thank you.
Peggy Giddens - August 4, 2020 12:35 pm
Thank you….needed today’s story….
Larry McEntire - August 4, 2020 12:55 pm
Wonderful column this morning! May God’s peace and love continue to grow in your life.
Becca - August 4, 2020 12:56 pm
Amen! God has and always will get us through everything and we just need to pause, breathe and remember Him. God bless!
Kathleen 💕 - August 4, 2020 1:00 pm
❣️My dear Sean,
We are never alone in a Catholic chapel for the risen Lord is truly present in every tabernacle, that special place behind the altar.
He thirsts for us to visit Him and to be made whole again!
When we sit quietly and humbly in Jesus’ loving presence, we are radiated and transformed with His love, strength, wisdom, peace and mercy!❣️
Cheryl W. - August 4, 2020 1:04 pm
‘Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest..’ — Matthew 11:28
“One does not know whether tenderness or majesty is predominant in these wonderful words. A divine penetration into man’s true condition, and a divine pity, are expressed in them. Jesus looks with clearsighted compassion into the inmost history of all hearts, and sees the toil and the sorrow which weigh on every soul. And no less remarkable is the divine consciousness of power, to succour and to help, which speaks in them.”
As a good Southern Baptist 😉 I opened my morning devotional reading and this was the verse for today. Sounds like you may have experienced “Come and Rest.”
All the best to you, Sean.
MR Russell - August 4, 2020 1:10 pm
Love this one, Sean!
Beth Riley - August 4, 2020 1:19 pm
As a Catholic and a Sean Deitrich fan, I’m so happy you found some peace and quiet in a Catholic Church, not to mention a clean bathroom, not to mention a church that wasn’t locked up during the day. God bless you.
PWS - August 4, 2020 1:44 pm
Thanks again. Your words speak for many. Keep them coming.
Helen De Prima - August 4, 2020 2:36 pm
Like you, I rely on paper maps despite the damn’ nuisance of unfolding and refolding until the creases become tattered. And guess what? My AAA maps get me to locations which the GPS says, Sorry, no results from this search. Like Gold Hill, Colorado: a one-room school, a few houses and outlying ranches, and a general store with both Internet and instructions on how to survive a mountain lion attack. Long live maps!
Mary Zirwin - August 4, 2020 2:50 pm
Sandra Stapleton-Thomas - August 4, 2020 3:06 pm
Your stories are always good but I just wanted to say I especially liked this one.
Karen Irby - August 4, 2020 3:13 pm
Oh, Sean, I didn’t know that you also suffered from tinnitus! I’ve had it for 37 years now and it’s been the hardest medical issue I’ve ever had to deal with. I had awful ear infections as a child, but it was the infection I had at 33 years old, and the misdiagnosis of a quack doctor, that damaged my hearing and left me with LOUD ringing in my ears. I nearly lost my mind, back then, but the grace of God helped me through it. It’s a constant annoyance, but part of the background of my life. I believe that someday I will HEAR clearly, when my time here is done, and the one who gives me grace to get through each day once again gives me the gift of perfect silence! I’m glad you were blessed with refreshment and peace in that little church and pray for an enjoyable trip for you and Jamie. God bless!
Janellen - August 4, 2020 3:18 pm
Hugs to you dear friend.
Susan Peters Smith - August 4, 2020 3:57 pm
So enjoyed your column today! As a catholic, I appreciated your mention of our catholic statues. Many of them have taken a beating (literally) lately. There are some that don’t understand why we have statues. We don’t worship them. But like a house filled with family pictures, they remind us of the good and sacrificial lives they lead and inspire us to do better. And just like we often ask friends to pray for us, well, we ask them to pray for us too. God bless you Sean.
Kathy White - August 4, 2020 4:11 pm
That was beautiful RCK. Thank you for sharing. Very uplifting.
Linda Moon - August 4, 2020 4:44 pm
No GPSs were ever used by me and my guy in this adventurous road trip we’re on…in cars and in LIFE. I could bore you with lots of stories about actual road trips, but I won’t. One involves a younger person (granddaughter) who insisted that her GPS was the best route to the lake (no….my guy’s internal GPS was best). Whatever your religion is, Sean, you are not lost like those horsewhipping teachers might have implied. You have been a God-send who’s navigated me through adventures and ordeals. And I like that.
Char Stidd - August 4, 2020 4:56 pm
Curtis Lee Zeitelhack - August 4, 2020 5:29 pm
But where DOES Mama go? I sure don’t know and I doubt anyone in authority does either. I’d call teh Red Cross or Salvation Army for advice. Good luck to them all!
MAM - August 4, 2020 6:19 pm
So glad you found “rest.” It seems to be in short supply lately. Put your trust in God and he WILL help you! Lovely one to read, Sean. Thanks.
Barbara - August 4, 2020 6:50 pm
Me, too. Take care everyone.
Christina - August 4, 2020 8:03 pm
Sean, thanks for sharing honestly in this collective sense of loss and grief, and giving us windows of respite and peace along the way
Meg Widmer - August 4, 2020 8:42 pm
Sean, I have become addicted to your rather laid-back, wry sense of humor and description of the human plight. I hate the expression popular now…”We’re in it together.”…What? We didn’t ask for this, we don’t want it and it is hard to explain to the younger generation, who are just unhappy that they can’t do what they used to do. They have to stay home…when I was a kid at home, I stayed home…it was called work. That’s how we all got to go to college…we all worked on the farm and helped our parents.
But, I am off track, something I think you can understand and relate to. That’s another reason I like reading your posts. Keep it up. Don’t stop now…..meg
Randy Waldron - August 5, 2020 12:27 am
awesome as usual
Susan Kennedy - August 5, 2020 1:00 am
You’re the best and God is crazy about you!
Kathy - August 5, 2020 1:15 am
Peace be with you.
RCK - August 5, 2020 1:26 am
Glad you enjoyed it, Kathy.
Nena M - August 5, 2020 4:19 am
One of the Catholic Mass entry hymns we sing; 🎼 All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place 🎼
Sean, I am glad you felt comfort, respite and peace in our church. You are always welcome, wherever you wander.
Steve Scott - August 5, 2020 5:10 pm
Your information on kudzu is very accurate. A Mobile, Alabama friend of mine, Bill Finch, wrote an excellent article for the September 2015 edition of Smithsonian magazine. There is so much mis-information about my favorite vine. Thanks for setting the record straight and for a lovely article.
Susan McCall - August 6, 2020 12:24 am
And that is exactly why the church should be open even more so than ever!!
Cheryl Clem - August 7, 2020 12:27 pm
It’s amazing what the peace of God can do.There is nothing like His presence.
AKA Allie - August 10, 2020 4:09 pm
Man, I don’t know about you and the Mrs., but there are still places in S. GA, S. AL, MS and NC where I don’t get signal for phone GPS. Hm, I still have a Rand McNally in my Amazon cart. Thanks for the reminder.
Tell you what, Midnight Mass at Big Catholic Church across the bay is my Christmas Magic. I don’t do holidays well, but that place on Christmas Eve is spectacular and magical. Just don’t say “and also with you,” because then it becomes a game of “Find The Protestant.”
CM in Auburn - September 8, 2020 5:55 pm
“A good Sal…” – reminds me of the years I spent in GA before I moved (back) to Auburn, AL – my homeland (well, since college…) – we would every year see a hand painted sign come up in Dacula, GA, while driving home – “Freash Peches”. Had the A, just in the wrong word… you knew those would be great Peches, too! And hand painted signs advertising puppies, melons (the water is free!), bol’d peanuts, rebuilt (cheap) mowers, etc. My, how I long for the past, and love it when I stumble upon those signs while traversing backroad AL. Because everyone needs another puppy, right??
joyce joyner - September 8, 2020 6:16 pm
Glad you learned how to kneel…ha! NFL not a total waste. 🤣