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SEAN DIETRICH

By SEAN DIETRICH

I saw him across the crowded restaurant with his elderly parents. They didn’t look like they’d aged a bit. But he did. His face was lean, his skin was wrinkled, he was gaunt. And he still had his trademark sense of humor.

I told him I hardly recognized him.

“Yeah,” he said, “it’s this new diet I’m on. It’s called being sick. The weight just falls off.”

This is not his best joke. I’m not sure whether I should laugh.

Then he gave me the real story. It’s a long one. I don’t have room to tell it all. He became very ill with an autoimmune disease. Doctors said he was dying. His parents were braced for the worst. His mother and father became his caregivers.

His parents tell me that for two years, they did a lot of talking to the sky, asking for help.

Doctors still can’t explain how he was cured. Maybe it was the treatment. Maybe it was something else. They aren’t sure. All anyone knows is that one day he woke up better. No traces of illness are left.

“Now all I have to do is gain weight,” he tells me.

I have another friend I wanted to tell you about. I grew up with him. We once went to Mardi Gras together when we were young men — which is another long story that I don’t have time for. Let’s just say that I almost ended up as a permanent smear on a New Orleans sidewalk.

A few years ago my friend had the worst year of his life. His marriage sort of fell apart. His wife left him and took their son with her. Next he lost his business, then his money. He became suicidal.

One night, while asleep on his brother’s sofa-sleeper, he had decided that he was going to end it all on the following day. He had even worked out how he would do it.

He says he whispered to the ceiling, “You’re the only one who can stop me. If you give a damn about me, you will.”

The next morning, he was awoken by the sound of a car in the driveway. It was his wife and son. She had driven 300 miles overnight on a whim. She couldn’t explain why, but she wanted to patch things up. They are together today.

He’s never told anyone what I just told you. So try to keep that to yourself, if you don’t mind.

Here’s another. This morning I got an email from a gal who told me that all her life she wanted to play music. But you know how life goes. You don’t always get everything you want.

She married, had two kids; there was no time for music. Instead she worked a job that she hated and found herself in charge of the soccer carpool. She was falling apart inside.

Until one fateful week.

She got a call. A complete stranger offered her the lead role in a local acoustic folk band. She was so excited that she practiced for two weeks beforehand.

On the night of the performance, her husband and children were sitting in the front row eating onion rings. She sang her heart out and received a five-person standing ovation. Three people were immediate relatives. Two were cousins.

After a few gigs, a man from a nearby private school called her and told her that he had seen her perform. He said the school he worked for had just lost their music teacher. He asked if she would apply to teach music.

She is happy to report that she has been a music teacher for almost a year now, and her school’s Christmas program was a glorious train wreck. She still sings with the folk band sometimes.

Let’s see, what else?

Oh, I almost forgot. I got a letter in the mail from a 71-year-old woman in North Texas. The letter said that her dog recently died. A yellow Lab named Duke.

Duke was born in a shelter. She adopted him and loved him for six years until he got hit by a car.

A few weeks after his death, she got a call from the same shelter. The shelter said that a man had dropped off a dog because he couldn’t care for it anymore due to his job. The shelter was asking her to adopt it.

“No thanks,” she told them, “I just lost a dog, and I’m not ready for another.”

“Well, that’s why we’re calling you,” they told her. “This is Duke’s brother, from the same litter, six years ago. He’s an identical yellow Lab.”

That was all she needed to hear. Even though it was evening, she drove clear across town to the shelter, still wearing her ratty pajamas. Also at the time, she says — and this was actually written in her letter — that she wasn’t even wearing a bra. Older women can be a little nuts.

She burst into the shelter, “flopping and free,” she points out, and many young men had to divert their eyes.

The dog was the spitting image of Duke. She took him home. His new name is Luke, in case you’re curious. Though, if it had been me, I would have named him “Of Earl.” But that’s beside the point. Speaking of points, you were probably wondering if there was a point to this column. There is:

Don’t give up. Not yet.

Help is on the way.

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