By Sean Dietrich
A few years ago, I played music in a rundown bar on my late father’s birthday. It was a slow night, which felt a lot like singing to a roomful of house cats.
The crowd fizzled. The bartender was reading Cosmo magazine.
On break, an older man offered to buy me a drink. He was droopy-eyed and long-faced. He told me his son had just ended his own life, days earlier.
He drained his bottle, then made small talk with a thick tongue. I don’t know how our conversation drifted. But conversations involving beer often do.
He said he didn’t believe in God. After his son’s death, he came to believe God was nothing but a cruel joke.
He fell from his barstool. I helped him off the ground.
He started crying. “Jeezus,” he said. “You look like my son.”
All I could think to do was hug him.
A cab arrived to carry him home. He tipped the band 50 bucks before he left.
On my drive home that evening, I rode the beach route. I pulled over and walked the shoreline. The moon and stars were putting on quite a show. I looked for major constellations, but I’m no good with astronomy.
So I thought about the man at the bar.
I reasoned that, if the Almighty were indeed real, He might have sent that poor man to that particular joint. And if that were true, maybe I was supposed to say something to him.
Something like: “Buck up, Daddy Warbucks, the sun’ll come out tomorrow.”
God knows, that’s the sort of thing everyone said to me after Daddy ended his own life.
Anyway, that night I listened to the Gulf water. The sound was hypnotizing. It made me imagine things.
I imagined the Almighty, sitting with me. I pretended like he was a few feet away, sitting in one of those fancy cabana chairs. He wore a soft smile.
“Hey God,” sayeth I to the Almighty. “Nice stars.”
“Thanks. I try.”
The truth was, I should’ve told that man at the bar that it’s okay to yell at the sky. I could’ve also told him the hurt might never go away. But one day, it quits bleeding.
By then, you’ve lived with it so long, the pain isn’t even unpleasant, and it helps you remember how lucky you are.
Lucky to be alive—even if only for a few years. Lucky to have a night sky, stars, Gulf water, the taste of fried chicken. Rundown bars. Strangers who call you cabs.
“I never got a chance to thank you,” I told the Almighty.
“For what?” He said.
“For everything. For family, ice cream, house cats, people who love me. For believing in me, even when I have a hard time believing in myself. For tonight.”
“You don’t have to thank me,” said the Maker of the Universe.
Maybe I don’t.
But tonight I want to.