This morning, I went for a short walk with my dog. I don’t normally take morning walks because we live in West Florida. Here in this part of the world we have two seasons: Scorching Biblical Hell, and November.
Normally, if you were to go for a walk on a summer morning, you would dehydrate before you made it back home. They would find you lying in the dirt road, face down, with your last will and testament typed on your phone as a text message.
So it is officially autumn. The air is no longer quite so humid, it now has a little bite to it. I carry a mug of coffee in my hand while I wait for my dog to make pee-pee.
I wave to my neighbors who are sitting on porches. We have thirty-second conversations when I pass. Mostly about the weather.
A few kids are hiking to the bus stop, wearing backpacks that are bigger than General Electric washing machines. I give a few high-fives, which I understand kids don’t do anymore.
When I was coming along, all we had were high-fives, low-fives, and hand-cranked Victrolas. We also had the the behind-the-back-five, but that was extremely rare and only reserved for winning baseball games, or immediately following successful pranks involving explosive fireworks.
It’s a different world nowadays. High-fives aren’t as popular as they used to be. Tyler, a kid who lives on my street informs me that high-fives are “lame.” Nobody does them, he says. Everyone does the “fist bump” instead. Which I recently learned how to do.
A fist bump goes like this: Two individuals punch each other on the fist.
Tyler explains that this bumping transaction is not finished until directly after the bump when you open your hand, palm down, fingers splayed, and you make an explosion noise with your mouth.
“This is the boom part,” Tyler points out. “Always make it go boom.”
Always make it go boom. Check.
When I was a kid, I remember explaining the concept of a high-five to our elderly church usher, Mister Wayne, who was old enough to remember voting for Abraham Lincoln.
I slapped Mister Wayne’s hand. He slapped mine. After that, whenever I entered the church he’d present his hand and say, “Gimme some skin, fella!”
I pass the bus stop where the children all stand. I give four fist bumps. Then I continue walking. The sun is rising behind the trees and it’s beautiful.
I stop at a trail not far from my house. It’s an old trail, sandy, cutting through the forest. Not many people know about it. Soon, my dog and I are hiking alone in a quiet heaven.
This has been a big month for me. A lot has happened within the span of the last several days.
This past month, on the day after my late father’s birthday, I stood inside a book publisher’s building, surrounded by people who treated me like I mattered. I got to hold the first copy of a book I wrote about my father. I got to smell the pages.
Three days later, on the anniversary of my father’s death, I was sitting in a hotel room, eating a room-service chicken sandwich, watching the Atlanta Braves clinch the pennant. After the game, my wife and I jumped up and down holding each other because I love baseball.
I know that might seem like a silly thing to do—especially if you’re not into this sport. But it was huge for me. I was crying and everything.
My father was a baseball fanatic. On his final year, when September rolled around, it was almost definite that the Braves were going to go to the World Series.
But on the morning of my father’s self-inflicted death, the bottom fell out. Not only did my father die, but so did baseball. I don’t mean figuratively, I mean literally. The commissioner of baseball got on national TV and announced that the World Series had been cancelled due to a strike.
For the first time in ninety years there would be no Series. I lost interest in baseball altogether for a while. I lost interest in life too. I was so miserable for those following years that I had fantasies of going to sleep and never waking up.
I don’t mean that I wanted to die, I didn’t. What I mean is that nobody tells you what a full-time job being sad can be. It will exhaust you faster than manual labor.
For a long time I wanted a reason to smile. I wanted to laugh, or cheer for something important. But it took me decades to relearn this skill. I’m better at it now, and getting better every day. And now that I can finally do it again, all I want is to see other people do it too.
So with all my heart I hope you have a good day, and an even better life. I hope you enjoy this autumn. I hope you take a walk. And I hope you relearn to do things you’ve forgotten. Like smiling. I hope the Braves go all the way this season. And I hope you know that you’re loved.
I’d better go now, but before I leave you…
Give me a fist bump.
Now make it go boom.
Just A Mom - September 25, 2019 7:07 am
Wow! This essay hit me in my core. Six years ago last week my smart, funny 18 year old son was in an auto accident coming home from college. He suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. He has undergone 15 surgeries and been in 10 different hospitals in 5 states. He remains in a minimal state of consciousness; a limbo land between coma and alert. It has taken years for laughter to not sound obscene. Slowly, I’m learning to smile again. Thank you for showing there can be joy at the end of this road we are traveling.
theholtgirls - September 26, 2019 5:45 am
I am a mom too. I am not carrying a physical and emotional load like you are with your son, but I shoulder some weight of my own. These songs by Michael Card may encourage you to not become weary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfW61yKyirY and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mg91IWQuvJc
I will pray for you and your son, sweet mama, every time I make a PBJ sandwich.
Edna B. - September 26, 2019 5:50 pm
I’ve been here twice. The first time my little baby girl caught a meningitis virus and slipped into “somewhere other than here.” She cannot move, or talk or see, but she can hear and feel. She’s fifty four this year and she’s still beautiful. The second time, my second eldest daughter was in a head on automobile accident and died instantly. She was just forty four and so beautiful. Sorrow makes it difficult for laughter and happiness to show it’s face, but it can and it will. Enjoy that beautiful boy of yours, hugs, Edna B.
Paula Pace - September 25, 2019 7:35 am
Always love your column. You hit on such down-to-earth subjects in such a legitimate and insightful manner. You know people intimately and come from places and feelings we’ve all had but you, with your turn of a phrase, give us hope that we too can make it through difficult times and come out a little stronger on the other side.
Never give up writing these thoughts for all of us to read. Your words raise us up and give some us the encouragement we need to face another day.
Never, NEVER doubt the power of your words to encourage your readers. You give a lot of people another chance to have a moment of encouragement each day and you, Sean, are loved by a lot of people. May God bless you and your family as you continue to provide hope and health and laughter. We Love You.
Debbie Phillips Hughett - September 25, 2019 8:47 am
We have a few things in common;
1. Going for walks.
2 The weather
Keep writing. I am thankful you have been given a deep well to draw from.
Ann - September 25, 2019 8:48 am
This was a roller coaster read ending on the up….I see my some of my children in this and how some have come out of that sadness….your heart shares so much with your brain and you share, beautifully with the world…blessings and joy every day👊Boom!! ❤️
sharon - September 25, 2019 8:50 am
Thank you. I feel as if your words were a gift to me.
Donna - September 25, 2019 10:43 am
I just love you Sean. Thank you for sharing your wonderful gift. 👊
Anne - September 25, 2019 12:27 pm
You do matter! Your words matter. I’m thankful you’ve come to a place in your life where you can truly feel it. You’ll never know how you may help someone else avoid that pain of losing someone they love to death by suicide. You write hope. Keep writing the good stuff.
Shelton A. - September 25, 2019 1:06 pm
Fist bumps with “Boom” are lame (meant only for little kids). Older kids and adults-just bump fists (no boom). Here in Jax, it’s still hot. Y’all are lucky it’s already cooling down. Here, not so much. Enjoy it!
Shelton A. - September 25, 2019 1:09 pm
p.s.-Congratulations on your new book. See, you can tell all the writing snobs who tell you that you write poorly that you’ve got a library of books that are published.
Nell Thomas - September 25, 2019 1:12 pm
Love how you take the time to recognize the young ones and show interest in what they are up to these days. Love your stories and the way you close them by reemphasizing the main theme. Great technique.
Bobbi3 - September 25, 2019 1:50 pm
Over and over I tell you what a blessing you are! I feel your heartbeat as I read your words. You are very special, Sean Dietrich! And loved by many. Can’t wait to read your new book. Just finishing Stars of Alabama. I love it! The story and characters grabbed me and pulled me in. An amazing gift!
God bless you❤️‼️
Gail Pollock - September 25, 2019 1:52 pm
Dear Sean, God gave me a fist bump yesterday with a huge boom! After finding a spot on my lung, a biopsy was done and I was sent on to the surgeon. Yesterday the surgeon called for another more precise CT scan to see if a less invasive procedure was possible. He told me there was nothing there…no tumor, no spot, nothing. I’ve had a lot of people praying for me, and I think God wanted to show off a little bit of His glory. I’m so grateful that He picked me to show He’s still in the miracle business! Fist bump with a big BOOM!
I just wanted to share my joy, Gail
Mary T. - September 25, 2019 6:23 pm
Gail, I just prayed a prayer of thanksgiving for your miracle.
throughmyeyesusa - September 25, 2019 7:18 pm
God is Great!
Linda Moon - September 25, 2019 7:49 pm
I’m sharing your joy, too, Gail!
Wanda Willis - September 25, 2019 2:30 pm
Just what I needed to hear today. Thank you Sean. Fist bump, boom. 🙂
Frances Jones - September 25, 2019 2:38 pm
This story really grabbed me. My mother was a huge Braves fan as was I. The year she was diagnosed with cancer and given two months to live is the year they had the strike. My mother was heartbroken that she could not watch games. I have not watched a baseball game since then. God bless you. I love your stories and share them with all my friends. Keep on keeping on.
Jarred O Taylor II - September 25, 2019 3:15 pm
Linda Moon - September 25, 2019 4:29 pm
In Alabama, we’ve been experiencing Eternal Sunshine this season. Yesterday I took a walk at the indoor track before going to my afternoon of doctor appointments, tests, scans, and a very large shot from a very large needle administered by a former student of mine (who has now seen my backside). While in the waiting room, I ran into friends from long ago when our children were in school together. I learned that their family has experienced self-inflicted death, like mine and yours. We exchanged contact information, and that was as good as a fist bump. When I got into the infusion room, there were lots of reasons to smile: the shot-giving former student, an old guy who once played guitar with Lynard Skynard, and a woman named Lola who sang some Barry Manilow and Damn Yankees! So, here’s my fist bump to you: you give me many reasons to smile, Sean Dietrich!!
Connie Havard Ryland - September 25, 2019 4:30 pm
Have a great day Sean. Thanks for the smiles.
Ala Red Clay Girl - September 25, 2019 5:23 pm
What a beautiful post today! Thank you, Sean, for sharing your life with us.
Elizabeth Elkin - September 25, 2019 8:41 pm
Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
Kathy - September 26, 2019 12:10 am
Love this one, made my list of top 3!
Bill T - September 26, 2019 12:37 am
Had to study about this for a while, but to me it was big. There are no forests in Florida. Woods, they are woods. I just assumed you were considering folks that live north of I-10 and you wanted them to know that our woods are what they call forests. Whew! I have corrected a published author.
Gary Brookins - September 26, 2019 1:08 am
Hi Sean … I addressed the “high five/fist bump” dilemma in “Pluggers” a while back.
My wife and I love your column … Keep up the great work! (btw, we’re practically neighbors … we’re from Panama City).
Anyhow, here’s link to the cartoon: https://www.gocomics.com/pluggers/2014/05/18
Mary Ellen Hall - September 26, 2019 7:56 am
I’m SO VERY HAPPY for you, me, & ALL your fans & readers, that you are BETTER NOW & back to your “Old Self!” We are ALL VERY BLESSED that you have come into our lives, & SO VERY PROUD OF YOU!! PLEASE DON’T STOP YOUR INCREDIBLE STORIES!!
Sending you a “Fist Bump”-BOOM!!💥💣
Mary Ellen Hall
Jill Eckenrode - September 26, 2019 12:19 pm
Edna B. - September 26, 2019 5:53 pm
You have a wonderful day Sean, and congrats on that new book. Hugs, Edna B.
Michael Matthews - October 7, 2019 3:45 pm
I too lost my father but he did it with alcohol and camel non filter cigarettes. It really hurts he will never know my kids or their kids. Things in life we want to change but there is no backspace button in life, we just trod along make the best of it. But inside it still hurts. I like the braves but grew up a Cincinnati Reds fan Johnny Bench, and of course Pete Rose. I loved playing baseball and coached all three of my sons teams throughout their lives, a thing I would never go back and change. Here’s a fist bump my four year old grandson loves to do that and make the explosive sound. Thanks Sean you may continue.😉
Estelle - October 8, 2019 5:56 am
As Paula Pace said “never forget the power of your words”. They bring back good memories, some happy-some sad. They comfort, they remind us to be kind. How much better this world would be if we were all kind. Thanks!
Estelle - October 8, 2019 5:59 am
P.S. I have never heard southern woods called a forest. Where did that come from?🧐
Jeff - October 18, 2019 1:03 pm
My brother told me about meeting you in the concession line at the Braves game. He hollered our your name like he’d known you forever and you came and talked to him like you’d known him forever. After the game, you returned the favor and introduced him to your wife like you were old friends. That’s how folks can know you’re good people. Can’t too many folks make “old friends” in 5 minutes.
Linda - October 19, 2019 12:18 am
All the time
Joe Patterson - October 19, 2019 12:33 am
I think Freddie’s injury cost us a shot at the Series didn’t realize how bad it was until reading about surgery today.We will get them next year .
Mary Hicks - October 21, 2019 6:48 pm
My great grandson likes to high five. So we do. Thanks again Sean for making my day. God bless you and Jamie.
Steve W. - October 22, 2019 6:13 am
Paula Pace you said exactly what hundreds of us are thinking. Sean certainly has a way with words & we all love him so.
Very glad he’s younger than me & I hope he writes until my last day here. My days are just better after reading Sean. Really. Love you bro.