The Holy City

The sailboats are in the Charleston Harbor. White sailcloth, trimmed tightly. Hulls of every color.

Fort Sumter stands in the distance, the artificial island where the first shots of the Civil War were fired.

There is a boy next to me. He is redheaded, chubby and wearing Chuck Taylors. He doesn’t have to tell me that his name is written on the inside tongue of the shoes. I already know.

The boy’s hair is curly. His freckles are too much. He has a lifelong overbite. He answers to the name Sean.

“Are you having a good time in Charleston?” I ask him.

“Yessir,” he says. So polite. “It’s one of my favorite cities.”

“I know.”

“Do you like Charleston?” he says.

“One of my favorite cities,” I say.

Long silence.

“So,” I say, “what sorts of things have you done here so far?”

He shrugs. “Mostly just eat. You?”

“Same.”

I know this boy. But I haven’t seen him in years. I always forget what a nice boy he is.

And this niceness attribute, as it happens, is where a lot of his problems stem from.

Because the old saying is true, nice guys really do finish last. It’s merely a matter of physics. In the game of life, the role of the nice guy is to hold the door for everyone else. To refill the other guy’s iced tea.

But it’s a double-edged blade because nice guys aren’t usually nice to themselves. Nice guys have a hard time loving old Number One.

Nice guys, for example, don’t like their photos taken. “Oh, Lord,” the nice guys say, “I’m so ugly.”

In academic settings, sometimes nice guys don’t make very good grades. And even though a teacher assures them there is nothing wrong with their brains, the nice guy responds, “Why can’t I understand this? Why I am so stupid?”

Thus, the nice guy is predisposed to disliking what he sees in the bathroom mirror.

“You come here often?” says the little boy.

“Not often,” I say. “I came here when I was a kid once. I stood by this harbor and cried. My father had just died.”

The kid wipes his face.

I turn to look at him.

“Did you eat ice cream, when you came here as a kid?” he asks.

“I ate so much ice cream I developed sudden-onset lactose intolerance.”

“Vanilla is my favorite flavor,” says the kid.

“I know.”

This has been a strange year for me. Within the span of a few months, I lost several people to cancer. I lost others to horrific accidents. I’ve never lost so many people at once.

Shortly thereafter, my own doctor found something on my body. They started running lots of tests. My wife took me to medical appointments and we started seriously talking about stuff like “living wills,” and “power of attorney.”

Each time medical staffers jabbed me with sharp surgical instruments, I thought about this kid who is in front of me.

How rare it is, this flicker of life within our breast. Life doesn’t happen everywhere in this universe. In fact, it happens almost nowhere. But it happened in me, somehow.

There was a celestial lottery, a waiting room full of octillions of souls. And for some reason, the Universe decided that I would receive the gift of life.

This miracle happens to a select few. Why me? How did I get so lucky? But here I am. Breathing.

And yet when I think of how I’ve been living out my adulthood, I realize that I have lost touch with the essence of my life. I’ve lost touch with this little boy. At some point, I let the old man in.

Over the years I’ve become less fun. Less adventurous. I say “no thanks” more often than I say “why not?” And my sense of wonder has atrophied.

But when my medical scans came back clear, I told myself that things would be different. No more Mister Nice Guy. I want to live. Really live. I want to cry hard. Laugh harder. And get lost among trees.

I get it now. Life does not wait. It is impartial, and it can be unkind. I could die tomorrow. Or next week. Or by the end of this paragraph. I’ve wasted so much time.

So I want to see things. Important things. I want to meet interesting people. I want to taste new flavors. I want to know the power of love in a rich, soul-purging kind of way.

I don’t want immortality. I don’t want success. I don’t want money. I don’t want bragging rights. I don’t even want to win more often than I lose.

I simply want to give my love liberally to all I meet; until my veins are bled dry and there is nothing left within me; until my body withers and fades. Love before me and behind me. Love within me. Love around me. Love on top my head. Love below my feet.

And most of all, I want that little boy to know how much I love him.

103 comments

  1. Debbie - July 20, 2022 7:06 am

    I love that little boy, too.

    Reply
  2. Ed (Bear) - July 20, 2022 8:07 am

    Your column today made me stop in my tracks!

    It’s as if you reached down into my soul and unfolded it right in front of me.

    I love you buddy for doing that. I’ve been trying to unfold it by myself for a long time and absolutely needed to hear your words this morning.

    Thank you!

    I accept your love and love you right back!!

    Reply
    • Nancy Marie Davis - July 21, 2022 8:49 pm

      I feel the same. It reached the time and place. And these words were what carried it.

      Reply
  3. Mary - July 20, 2022 8:09 am

    Thank you 💓

    Reply
  4. Ann Thompson - July 20, 2022 8:18 am

    Wow. Keep sharing your journey. Thank you.

    Reply
  5. Kate - July 20, 2022 8:20 am

    I like this young boy, too! He’s very wise….listen to him!

    Reply
  6. Pete Tucker - July 20, 2022 8:34 am

    Excellent!

    Reply
  7. Gordon Walden - July 20, 2022 9:17 am

    Thank you!

    Reply
  8. Bill conkright - July 20, 2022 10:24 am

    Woah!!!!! Got deep on me. I was looking for another shallow and fun. But it’s worth it. You do it well. And to tell the truth, it’s full of thoughts I’ve had. Roll on, brother

    Reply
  9. biglar48 - July 20, 2022 11:00 am

    Thanks, Sean ! My eyes are leaking.

    Reply
  10. L - July 20, 2022 11:03 am

    We can be so hard on ourselves it’s true. Through your words over this past year I have heard deep love for many. Your love for your mother in law was exceptional, kind, and oh so dear. So maybe you do need to love yourself more…Lord knows you deserve it. I remember watching your extremely long bike ride with Jamie(that was some bike for sure). What an adventure that was. You live life beautifully. I hope you have as much fun as your readers do hearing your stories. Yes Cry harder, laugh harder, but don’t stop being the Nice Guy- just love him harder as well.

    Reply
  11. crowsfeetchronicles - July 20, 2022 11:04 am

    God gives us so many reminders that life is short and amazing, yet we slip too fast into taking everything for granted again. I hope you hold onto your conviction to love every day, and especially to love that little boy. He’s a doozie!

    Reply
  12. Haygood sims - July 20, 2022 11:07 am

    Bullseye

    Reply
  13. Reid Webster - July 20, 2022 11:08 am

    Been there, doing that…welcome aboard, 👍

    Reply
  14. Holly Rabalais - July 20, 2022 11:10 am

    This is beautiful. I’m going to print it and send it to my boy (20yo) who sometimes has a difficult time liking the man in the mirror.

    Reply
  15. Kevin - July 20, 2022 11:12 am

    You knocked it out of the park today brother. Love you.

    Reply
  16. Sheilla - July 20, 2022 11:14 am

    Love this one.

    Reply
  17. Peggy - July 20, 2022 11:16 am

    God has blessed you with a special and wonderful gift and you are touching many lives I am sure, as you touch mine frequently! Such as in today’s article. Thank You and your beautiful wife. God bless you both! Peggy

    Reply
  18. Karen Snyder - July 20, 2022 11:16 am

    Isn’t it odd that we never see ourselves as others see us? That little boy, wise beyond his years, is still teaching lessons, and you’re doing just fine in the spreading love department, thank you very much. ❤️

    Reply
  19. Judy - July 20, 2022 11:22 am

    Thank you! Love makes the world go around.

    Reply
  20. Ron M - July 20, 2022 11:44 am

    Think you’re still the nice guy, Sean … just with a higher perspective and greater wisdom …

    Reply
  21. susieklein - July 20, 2022 11:45 am

    This is so gorgeous. And I know that this is not the response you were going for, but there is no way that all of your wonderful words would add up to “wasted time.” Nope.

    Reply
  22. Cheryl - July 20, 2022 11:46 am

    You are getting there, Sean.

    Reply
  23. Jim Kelly - July 20, 2022 11:50 am

    I knew that little boy immediately. I am happy that he is now where he is and where he wants to be.

    Reply
  24. Brenda - July 20, 2022 11:59 am

    Live in the present moment! ❤️

    Reply
  25. Warren L. Nash - July 20, 2022 12:03 pm

    Nice use of St. Patrick’s Breastplate in the closing lines…

    Reply
  26. Mac - July 20, 2022 12:04 pm

    From one previously chubby, nice-guy-finishing-last boy to another, give it all you got. You only get one shot and you don’t want to waste it. You are doing great Sean. Love you brother!

    Reply
  27. Janet W. - July 20, 2022 12:07 pm

    This is a keeper! Going to be one of my favorites, for sure.

    Reply
  28. Priscilla Rodgers - July 20, 2022 12:14 pm

    Sean, you say it so well!

    Reply
  29. Richard Owen - July 20, 2022 12:15 pm

    Not only were some of us lucky to be born but 333 million of us really won the lottery when we were born in America!

    Reply
    • Ellen Johnson - July 21, 2022 2:23 am

      Amen to that, Richard!

      Reply
  30. Linda Lewis - July 20, 2022 12:18 pm

    You have such a beautiful way with words. Your words stir my soul. They bring tears to my eyes. They make me feel…not just read. Please don’t ever stop.

    Reply
  31. Susan faulkner - July 20, 2022 12:20 pm

    Your best column ever ❤️❤️❤️❤️

    Reply
  32. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - July 20, 2022 12:23 pm

    I want you to know how much we all love you! You have enriched my life with these daily emails.

    Reply
  33. Marana Parker - July 20, 2022 12:27 pm

    I needed to read this this morning. You are such a gift to me and I thank you and appreciate you every day. You are a treasure and I’m so glad you are a part of my daily life.

    Reply
  34. Sissy Lingle - July 20, 2022 12:43 pm

    Oh, Sean, This is one of your very best, and that is saying a lot! I am thanking our Lord that you are well and waking up to joy again. Thank you for this beautifully written story, and just for you. And thank you for quotes from a hymn in my Episcopal hymnal, love is indeed all around us.

    Reply
  35. Misha Benson - July 20, 2022 12:46 pm

    EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Your column amazes me!

    Reply
  36. Dianne Davis - July 20, 2022 12:49 pm

    I have shared this with a bunch of adult kids this morning. Right after it touched my soul. God has given you a wonderful gift, son, and you use it wisely and well. We are never too old to learn and to heal. My email address reflects our wedding anniversary,1964. So you know age is irrelevant.

    Reply
  37. Suellen - July 20, 2022 1:07 pm

    Oh Lord! You’ve done it again. I lost a very dear friend last night and I’ve been thinking that a little of the light has gone out of the world. You’ve made me look outside at the beautiful morning with it’s gentle breeze and bright sunshine. Tears are freely flowing but life goes on. It makes it even more significant that I’m going to a luncheon today at our local pregnancy care center. Life is precious. From the first flicker to the last spark. Love you Sean.

    Reply
  38. Rosemary Pilcher - July 20, 2022 1:07 pm

    The Best Yet!!!❤️🌹

    Reply
  39. Clark Hining - July 20, 2022 1:08 pm

    I had to go back and talk to me once. I had to tell me it was ok to be hurt by the one I looked up to the most. I was a better person for the conversation.

    Reply
  40. Rene - July 20, 2022 1:08 pm

    Oh Sean. You’ve left me speechless. Thank you!

    Reply
  41. Mary - July 20, 2022 1:23 pm

    Thank you for this letter, Sean. You are a rare and wonderful soul. I am so happy your tests came back negative. You and Jamie enjoy every minute of your life together.

    Reply
  42. Donna George-Moskovitz - July 20, 2022 1:27 pm

    Dear Sean,
    I read all your posts. I’ve read two of your books. Yet, this is the post I have cried the most from.
    Thank you. I think I needed to read this.
    P.S. I’m so glad your tests came back clear. God bless.
    Sincerely,
    Donna George-Moskovitz

    Reply
  43. Haline Gregory - July 20, 2022 1:30 pm

    You made me cry, Sean. Thank you.

    Reply
  44. jblackburn34 - July 20, 2022 1:42 pm

    Sean, you seem homesick for something you can’t quite put your finger on. I just said a prayer for you.

    Reply
  45. Martha Nealy - July 20, 2022 1:44 pm

    Sean, it’s uncanny how often something you write can hit home with someone else, which I suppose is your reason for writing. I’m going through the toughest fight of my life right now. I was recently diagnosed with cancer, and the prognosis isn’t good. Radiation and chemo therapy are planned, but the doctor says I only have 1-2 years max with treatment. I’m praying for a miracle though! I have family, churches, and friends all over the country praying for me. So God’s got this!!
    We had just gotten back from our bucket list road trip to Yellowstone when I got sick enough to go for tests. . Only God, sheer determination and will power, got me through that trip, as I knew something was wrong. It’s been a whirlwind of tests, and doctor visits.
    I rejoice in your positive diagnosis and pray you will continue to thrive in your career, and life. I’ve followed you for a few years, saw you in person in Milton, and watch for your daily posts. So many of your stories bring back memories from my childhood too. My alcoholic father, being raised by a single Mom, struggling financially while raising our family. They’re grown now and all 3 kids have beautiful kids, 7 in all, who are the joy of my life. My biggest blessing is my sweetheart of almost 53 years, the man who survived cancer last year who is now my caregiver. I just want you to know I love you, especially your heart for people and how you manage to bring their stories to life. Continue being your wonderful self and God bless.

    Reply
    • Ellen Johnson - July 21, 2022 2:27 am

      Saying a prayer for you, Martha!❤️

      Reply
  46. Elizabeth Mann - July 20, 2022 1:55 pm

    Wow!!!

    Reply
  47. B. D. Thrasher - July 20, 2022 1:55 pm

    The spectacularly unhidden and simple cosmos’ path to immortality…

    Reply
  48. Patricia Harris - July 20, 2022 2:01 pm

    Finally, Sean. I hope you never lose the love you have now for that little boy.

    Reply
    • Karen - July 20, 2022 2:30 pm

      You touch my soul. You have had quite a few losses and a health scare and yet you share yourself with us. Nice guys are the best.

      Reply
  49. Anita - July 20, 2022 2:07 pm

    I love this one as I too, have had an awakening this year after Covid/hospital 10 days/being very sick.

    Reply
  50. Ruth Mitchell - July 20, 2022 2:12 pm

    What a beautiful essay on life. I think you have discovered a truth we are all seeking. You have encouraged me to let go and let life! Thank you!

    Reply
  51. Steve - July 20, 2022 2:23 pm

    Prayers for your healing, Sean.

    Reply
  52. Carole Cornell - July 20, 2022 2:26 pm

    I loved reading this article. We all need reminders to LIVE in the time we have left. Thank you ☺️

    Reply
  53. Harriet Bryan - July 20, 2022 2:28 pm

    Sean Did you sit on the cannons in the park and look for sharks teeth like my kids used top do??hanks for the memories!

    Reply
  54. Sara Day - July 20, 2022 2:31 pm

    Was there a little nearsighted girl with blond pigtails standing there too? Because I have made that emotional journey too.

    Reply
  55. beachdreamer - July 20, 2022 2:43 pm

    Amazing insight. This is you, totally revealed! Also love what Bear said. God love you and all your readers. I love you too ❤️

    Reply
  56. Eshanne - July 20, 2022 2:46 pm

    Holy City. {w}Holy You.

    Reply
  57. Donna M - July 20, 2022 3:11 pm

    Oh, my friend, you have already reached immortality. Your words will be read and reread for centuries. And every once in a while they will find their way into that child within us and remind us to live.

    Reply
  58. Marilyn N Cook - July 20, 2022 3:17 pm

    Sean, what a powerful message for all of us. Thanks so much for your thoughts every day 🙏 ❤ 😊 Love you and Jamie

    Reply
  59. Jim Archibald - July 20, 2022 3:26 pm

    Thanks. Great story and thank you for reminding me that love is #1

    Reply
  60. carol k - July 20, 2022 3:32 pm

    We love him too Sean! I am so thankful that your soul was chosen in the celestial lottery, our lives would be less rich without you.

    Reply
  61. Ellouise - July 20, 2022 3:33 pm

    You haven’t wasted one single second of your life. You’ve educated thousands of people; taught us how to laugh. And cry. You know that breath you just took? It was a gift. Keep opening all your gifts. Don’t forget to say thank you. And keep doing just what you’re doing now!

    Reply
  62. MR - July 20, 2022 4:05 pm

    Your prayer is mine too. So sorry for all your losses. Life is but a vapor, but you already know that.

    Reply
  63. sjhl7 - July 20, 2022 4:07 pm

    Precious words and thoughts. Precious boy becoming man who shares so much love with so many people!

    Reply
  64. STEVE MOORE WATKINS - July 20, 2022 4:16 pm

    Love love love.

    Reply
  65. Linda Moon - July 20, 2022 4:29 pm

    So, I’m going out for a swim while I think about this post here. And my tears will be invisible to others in the pool.

    Reply
  66. Patricia Gibson - July 20, 2022 4:38 pm

    Live every single minute with love and joy❤️

    Reply
  67. Linda - July 20, 2022 4:45 pm

    This one made me cry. I understand.

    Reply
  68. Barbara+L - July 20, 2022 4:55 pm

    Check out ‘Don’t let the Old Man In’ by Toby Keith. Beautiful messages from you and from him.

    Reply
  69. DiAn - July 20, 2022 5:35 pm

    So True, Sean! And Beautiful! – Thank you for sharing this tender moment. We are all grateful. 🙂

    Reply
  70. Helen - July 20, 2022 5:43 pm

    So glad your scan was clear! You bring joy to many people with your witty responses to life!

    Reply
  71. pattym - July 20, 2022 5:49 pm

    Ditto the above for me!! And, Amen!!

    Reply
  72. David S Doom - July 20, 2022 6:07 pm

    Go for it and good luck!

    Reply
  73. nancymariedavis - July 20, 2022 6:39 pm

    It has been interesting to come to the message of love. It has taken me many turns to see all of the perspectives, so far. But, this particular writing has given me hope, that all is not lost from my own life, i can love that young girl, having known her, i can see and understand. At 66, she is still here.

    Reply
  74. MAM - July 20, 2022 7:22 pm

    My first thought was Sweet. Then I thought longer and I do love the depth of your writing, Sean. No matter who you plan to talk to in your daily messages to us, you always manage to make us think. And that is priceless! Thank you, Sean.

    Reply
  75. Mary McNeil - July 20, 2022 8:15 pm

    “…I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu-Manchu !”

    Reply
    • Te - July 21, 2022 11:56 am

      One of my favorites. Haven’t run across anyone else who likes it because I see it as a message of hope. Just like Sean’s.

      Reply
  76. LBJ - July 20, 2022 8:25 pm

    Love you!

    Reply
  77. T. K. Thorne - July 20, 2022 8:30 pm

    A beautiful post, Sean. It all comes back to that–to love, doesn’t it. Thank you for giving a piece of yourself and your unique view of stuff.

    Reply
  78. Judy - July 20, 2022 8:45 pm

    I love you Sean Dietrich

    Reply
  79. David Britnell - July 20, 2022 10:07 pm

    Enjoyed your article so much!

    Reply
  80. Patricia - July 20, 2022 10:59 pm

    Wonderful!

    Reply
  81. Steven Dupree - July 20, 2022 11:04 pm

    Dang Sean you figured this out a long time ago just needed a scare to burn it in. The secret of life is simply love one another as I have loved you. An undead guy said that once and everything has been different since. Go figure, people walking around living in the pure truth of it. Come y’all it’s there for everybody.

    Reply
  82. Mary J Neal - July 20, 2022 11:16 pm

    This is probably the most meaningful and beautiful piece you gave written —that I have read in the past several years. It has touched so many I’m certain.
    Love yourself and that little boy always.

    Reply
  83. Kay Morgenthaler - July 20, 2022 11:32 pm

    Don’t ever let anyone say you haven’t become an excellent writer. This was written from the heart and was beautiful. This touched my heart and that’s important. Of course I’ve had a glass of wine!

    Reply
  84. Mary Barks - July 20, 2022 11:42 pm

    You. You bring life to life. Thank you for deep diving Sean.

    Reply
  85. Donna Ivy - July 21, 2022 12:52 am

    Sean, thank you for being so exquisitely thought provoking. I need to love myself more and to be kinder to myself. Thank you, thank you for reminding me of that. Donna Ivy

    Reply
  86. Floyd (Budd) Dunson - July 21, 2022 2:39 am

    Sean Dietrich you wrote my life.

    Reply
  87. Eva - July 21, 2022 5:21 am

    Beautiful life giving truths spoken to my deep heart.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  88. Anne Arthur - July 21, 2022 9:45 am

    And I love that little boy with the big heart too. Wisdom comes with age but we all have to keep the little kid in us alive that was born fully trusting that pure love is real. Because it is.

    Reply
  89. Te - July 21, 2022 12:06 pm

    I”m at a loss for words. Read all the comments. You may never win any awards, or be a household name, or feel like you’ve done much with your life, but the people you touch are legion. And we are all grateful for you, your quirky sense of humor and unique way of conveying the ridiculous, beautiful, inexplicable world you see. Every journey, every roadside diner, every unseen person, every joyous moment that you share, we see it, too, and we are so blessed. We all hope that you feel our love, too.

    Reply
  90. B.B. Stumbaugh (Granny B) - July 21, 2022 12:56 pm

    Thank you so much, Sean. I want to live like that too . . . still – at 80 years old.

    Reply
  91. Susan W Fitch - July 21, 2022 1:06 pm

    Very deep! I think that most of us needed to read your column, I know that I did. Thanks for your insight, blessings!

    Reply
  92. Carolyn Jack - July 22, 2022 2:29 am

    Each day when my husband left for work, he told me “I love you”. If anything happened to him or he was in an accident. I would remember his last words to me.

    Reply
  93. GsimmonsSC - July 22, 2022 2:45 am

    Hey Sean – thank you…I needed this today. The last few years have not been the best, and I’ve lost something. I think you showed me where to look in this post. In 2019, I too had tests that were run, but they didn’t come back clear – I had prostate cancer…at 48. Then COVID, friends died, and depression set in. I think I forgot how to live. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a little kid out there for me to find and make peace with.

    Reply
    • froghotdog - July 27, 2022 8:24 pm

      GsimmonsSC, go for it, yep there is. You’re so young. The dark and negative can be driven away, just look up and tell God, okay I’m yours’ and I want to live in your beautiful world. And keep repeating that when you feel yourself slipping. He has you. God Bless Sean, you certainly are a special man, touching so many hearts and minds with your inspirations.

      Reply
  94. Debbie g - July 22, 2022 7:52 am

    Sean what awesome inspiring thoughts you have I and all of us are so blessed to have you Thanks so much
    Love given to you and Jamie and love to all of us

    Reply
  95. Robert Chiles - July 22, 2022 8:14 pm

    When you get done with your life, I don’t think you will have left anything on the table. You’re living it. Truly excellent article! And try some moose tracks ice cream- maybe pistachio.

    Reply
  96. IRina Meadows - July 30, 2022 10:43 pm

    Wow! Thank you Sean. You made me cry again.

    Reply
  97. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - August 2, 2022 2:12 am

    Reply

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