Tallahassee—The hospital volunteers luncheon was well attended. In the dining room were white-haired beauties who donate their time to suffering strangers without expecting anything in return.
These are saints. They visit those undergoing chemo. They smile at the downtrodden. They hold the hands of the infirm.
And they are always on the job.
The buffet was fried chicken, potato salad, and string beans. Flower arrangements lined the tables. The entertainment was me.
I had been running ahead of schedule. So, before the luncheon I found myself wandering Tallahassee, admiring the local sites.
I had forgotten how pretty it was. The Spanish moss in the oaks is like something from a postcard. It’s hard to believe I used to dislike this town.
It’s a long story. I’ll give you the short version.
I lived in Tally for a hot minute. And by this I mean for a couple weeks. I rented an apartment not far from Florida State University, and I planned to attend.
A little about my boyhood education:
I was a high-school dropout. I quit school because of reasons that don’t make much sense now. Later in life, I completed my education as a grown man.
I felt pretty ashamed about this for a long time.
After I finished community college, I applied and got accepted to FSU, and I was over the moon. I bought curtains for my new apartment. Scented candles. Throw rugs.
But my excitement was short lived. As it happened, I had not been accepted. A clerical error had been made.
I was formally rejected a few days before classes started. And on that disappointing day, I sat in my truck watching teenagers scurry to class, and I felt like the world’s biggest flunky.
I’ll never forget seeing a teenage boy on a skateboard who wore pajamas. He was on his way to class. It was cruel irony. I was a grown man with a tucked-in shirt, completely unqualified to share a textbook with a kid who wore pajamas to class.
The boy waved at me. I waved at him.
But it’s funny how life works. Because that night I stayed up late in my dank apartment, working on what would become my one of first columns.
I suppose I needed to keep my hands busy. Or maybe just I needed to prove that I wasn’t an illiterate fool.
I removed my typewriter from its case. I wrote, edited, re-edited it, and re-re-edited until three in the morning. Then, I wadded up what I’d written, trashed it, and wallowed in self-pity.
I didn’t realize I’d just written what would eventually launch the most fun period of my life. I was too busy feeling sorry for myself.
The next morning, I ate ice cream for breakfast. Why not? I was a loser. Losers can eat ice cream for breakfast.
I was embarrassed. No. Embarrassment doesn’t even begin to describe it. I was pathetic.
What’s worse, the students in my apartment building were gearing up for the school day. Kids were opening and slamming doors. Hurried footsteps boomed across the ceiling.
And the thirty-year-old flunky was sitting on a chair in the breezeway, eating from a Ben and Jerry’s carton. Chunky Monkey was the flavor.
A few days later, my friend Lyle came to help me pack my things. My wife and I loaded the sofa on the truck. And I tucked tail and left Tallahassee.
And I tried to put it behind me.
But getting back to the luncheon. So there I was, driving through old neighborhoods. And something happened to me. I let go of a grudge. One I should’ve never had in the first place.
I ate lunch at a South American joint. I visited the park. I stopped by my old apartment building. I picked up a copy of the Democrat and checked the baseball box scores.
By the time I arrived at the volunteers luncheon, I was in such a good mood I looked like a man with new dentures.
I took the small stage to tell stories before a crowd of white-haired women. I did my best to entertain them, I even sang a song.
When I finished, someone sent me home with boxes of fried chicken. I also got several kisses from ladies who had the audacity to call me a “writer.”
One elderly woman hugged me tight enough to break my ribs. She whispered in my ear.
“You know,” she said, “during your speech, I couldn’t help but think about something, I wanted to share it with you.”
She let her blue eyes meet mine.
“Baby,” she said, “I am grateful for unanswered prayers, and you should be too.”
She hugged me. She kissed my forehead.
Like I said. These white-haired beauties are always on the job.
Nell Thomas - April 13, 2019 10:28 am
Sean- thanks for sharing this, sharing your thoughts- taking time to tell those you love them who really needed to hear it. Life gets so complicated or we allow it to get that way, some times, we lose touch with simple things that really matter.
My definition of memory loss:
” When complexities overcome simplicities and wipe them from the mind.”
Hope that makes sense.
Keloth Anne - April 13, 2019 11:30 am
Thank you for always helping us remember that “bumps in the road” may get us down—-but they don’t stop us!! You always find the “good” in situations and give us hope!!
Much love from Ozark ?
Connie Havard Ryland - April 13, 2019 11:56 am
I believe that things happen for a reason. Maybe we don’t see that at the time and we feel anger or resentment or whatever, but how we handle the bad things defines who we are. I could write a book about the bad things that have happened to me; the mistakes I’ve made; the regrets I have. But I decide to walk in joy. You decided to share your life with us and because of that, you became what you wanted to be. A writer. Well known, well loved. Love and hugs.
Linda - April 13, 2019 11:57 am
Maybe – one of the best things we can ask for is the right regrets.
Chasity Davis Ritter - April 13, 2019 1:44 pm
I love that Linda.
Ginger Clifton - April 13, 2019 12:21 pm
Good one. My story is different, but I finished college with a degree in elementary ed degree the year that my first born son entered college at Alabama. Still had one son in 5th grade. Never give up. God’s plan and his timing are perfect to teach us what we need to know when we listen. Good thing I did (and had lots of help). A heart attack took my husband at 50 years of age (I was 45). I’m so grateful to Him. (White hair and all.)
Grace Murdock - April 13, 2019 12:39 pm
Good for you and good on you!
Penn Wells - April 13, 2019 12:41 pm
Like Mary Oliver, God rest her brilliant and gentle soul, told us: “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took years to learn this, too, was a gift.” So true.
Robert Chiles - April 13, 2019 12:52 pm
Mary Oliver is the best poet. Ever.
Sherry - April 13, 2019 1:18 pm
Opportunity sent me back to school; failure kept me there…we never know what God wants, but if we follow things get better!
Margo - April 13, 2019 1:28 pm
Sean, being older (much) than you and having lived through a couple embittering times I have found that God’s plans for us are not always the same as our plans. But when we ask God for his guidance we end up where we are supposed to be. Your beautiful appreciation for the human condition comes from all your life’s experiences. It is what makes your writing so poignant. And that hiccup at FSU probably was your Master’s Thesis. Congratulations!
Chasity Davis Ritter - April 13, 2019 1:39 pm
I like what the white haired beauty said to you about unanswered prayers I saw a post this week that said “if all your prayers came true would it make you a better person or the world a better place?” And that really made me think. Sean, your prayers about Tallahassee May not have been answered but because of it my world is a better place. Your blog and stories help me to see the good that’s still in the world. That’s so important today. It helps me to rethink some things in my life and view things differently and to know I’m not alone in my feelings about things. Your writing is a blessing to me So yes we can be thankful sometimes for unanswered prayers and always for white haired angel beauties!!
Mary Burns - April 13, 2019 1:43 pm
So glad you finally found your way. From a white haired lady.
Carol Heidbreder - April 13, 2019 1:47 pm
Well, again you are singing my song! Had similar experience looong time ago. Just had to keep on keeping on just as you have. And ya know, it’s all good! Of course hind sight is 20/20, but what lessons to be learned! This white haired lady is full of wisdom! Let go and let God of course. He sees the whole picture! We do not and so we pray for things to go the way WE think they should. It’s all God’s business anyway, isnt it? When OUR way doesnt go OUR way, He allows us to have a little time to eat ice cream (?) then He expects us to make that lemonade out of those lemons! I live your lemonade! You touch the souls of countless folks every day. Spiritual food! All of us need that and you serve it up everyday!!! We are so grateful! And again, let me remind you of our dinner on the ground in north Baldwin County first Sunday in May. Just down the road from Brewton. You and Jamie could combine a quick trip to visit family. If not this year, maybe next? This is a southern gem that Southern Living has missed out on so far. What a place! Dont want you to miss it!
Cathy Moss - April 13, 2019 1:56 pm
Good morning Sean and thank you for sharing this story with your readers. I can only imagine how disappointed and let down you must have felt. It hurts to read it and it did not happen to me. One of the things I have learned in life is that our plans are not always Gods plans. Having said that, it does not make it any easier when you are in the middle of a big hurt. I do know this much. God was saving you for the job you have today. Good grief, look at all the people that you touch.! You have become a part of my morning devotional and there are hundreds of others just like myself. I am glad you had a chance to spread the love in Tallahassee. You are a different man today . You’ve come a long way and it was the way that God planned it. Wonder where the skate boarder in PJs is today? Do you read these comments? I need to know because for you are not reading them you need to start.!! You inspire me to be a better person❤️???
Valerie Fraser - April 13, 2019 2:21 pm
One of my very favorites!!! God does work in mysterious ways!
George. - April 13, 2019 3:01 pm
I start my day now with your columns. I thought today about comments you sometimes get from former teachers/professors about grammar and punctuation and I feel a bit sorry for them. They are looking at these stories for the wrong thing, they really are missing the point. I enjoy your stories, commas and all.
Linda Moon - April 13, 2019 3:33 pm
Thank God for white-haired beauties who are Saints and Angels on the job. You were blessed by one who hugged and kissed you!
ViolaClick - April 13, 2019 3:41 pm
Dear Sean, I’m so thankful you don’t hold a grudge against FSU any more! I spent 3 years there a LONG time ago to receive my first degree in education. You are proof that adversity can bring about satisfaction in your soul. My mom and I enjoy your posts with laughter and/or happy tears. Keep up the inspiring writing. God loves you and so do we. ?
Jan - April 13, 2019 3:59 pm
Oh, what a great story from a great writer!
Anthony - April 13, 2019 5:20 pm
What!? “The Democrat “. still has box scores!?
HJ Patterson - April 13, 2019 7:30 pm
Last August at the Vernon in Tallassee, I asked you to sign my book and inscribe it with, “May you find out what college it was.” I found out today. You left us hanging for a long time on that posting but it was worth the wait.
Becca - April 13, 2019 10:09 pm
My heart for you as I read about your experience with FSU, and then lifted as you let that hurt go. You touch my heart, you make me feel things again. I agree with your other devotee, you make me a better person, a more aware person.
Shelton A. - April 13, 2019 10:22 pm
Those women (and that particular woman) are very wise. Listen to what they say and apply it to your life. God bless you…
Jack Darnell - April 14, 2019 1:27 am
Another good one, THANKS. I am 80+ now, so I don’t think I will ever finish school. But one never knows. LOL I know those ladies had a ball with your singing and story telling. They are fortunate to get to hear you. One day our schedules will cross and Sherry & I will be in the audience and I will have my Cochlear implants turned up! I know you just can’t wait! hahaha Love you dude,
Sherry & jack
Barbara Pope - April 14, 2019 2:24 am
FSWHO?? You are definitely a survivor! They should have made room, made reparation, and now I bet they wish they had. I’m going to try to forgive them, too.
Charaleen Wright - April 14, 2019 5:48 am
Eiizabeth - April 15, 2019 12:00 am
Al - May 1, 2019 5:08 pm
This made me bawl.
Sometimes God’s timing is reading a post two weeks behind.
Wise man once said, “There is redemption in renewal.” Or maybe it was the other way around. Both work for me.
You can find him at a tiny little usta-be Episcopal church nestled right up under the Range on the east side of 85. It’d be worth it. Ga-ron-tee you there’s a story there. Sean, you show up and bring your guitar “just fer just-fers,” as my Southern Illinois-born father says, and the Rev. will be tickled just at the sight and sound of you.
As for me, I’m sittin’ on the county line now. Finally managed to look up at the lack of light pollution and the addition of nature’s lighting decorations (of the bug variety), and thought, “It’s okay to be where you are.”
Wish me luck.
Kathryn - May 14, 2019 1:12 pm
Oh Sean, I’m sorry that happened to you, but I’m glad you made it work! FSU is my beloved alma mater and Tallahassee has been my home more than half of my life. If you come back and want a campus tour, give me a call; I know the campus like the back of my hand, every moss-draped live oak, every Gothic brick building, every crack in the sidewalk. You could drop me blindfolded anywhere on campus and I would know where I was within a couple of minutes. And if you listen carefully on a quiet fall night, you will hear a rhythmic chant floating on the breeze. . . it is, indeed, a special place, for beauties with all hair colors!
Debbie Shiflett - May 14, 2019 5:43 pm
I agree with that sweet little lady and so does Garth Brooks! He wrote a bit so g about them! You are the BEST!
DawnC - May 14, 2019 8:25 pm
Like I always tell my kids, sometimes our path changes, and it’s how we respond that counts. When the answer to our prayers is no, we go the way we are supposed to go.
unkle Kenny - May 16, 2019 6:17 pm
You went to the school of hard knocks…….and graduated with honors .