Dear Sean

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Sean DietrichBy Sean Dietrich

I don’t think my school is going to have prom for 2021, everyone is guessing this is the case. We don’t know yet, but it’s probably not happening. It just sucks that we might not get to do this because we have nothing to look forward to.

First of all, I am sorry. I know this year has been a major let down. So I am not going to offer you some overused parental slogan like: “You oughta count your blessings, young lady.”

When I was a kid I heard versions of this phrase all the time from my mama. And I swore these words would never, EVER exit my lips. Because this is old-person talk, and I’m no fuddy-duddy.

Although, before I write another word, you should know something. Life is unfair and nothing you can do will change this. Not just a little unfair, either. A lot unfair.

Nowhere is this more clearly illustrated than in karaoke clubs. Have you ever been to one? They are totally criminal. Singers with the pitch sensitivity of tugboat airhorns try to sing “I Will Always Love You” while spilling their Harvey Wallbangers all over the audience. And these people get standing ovations.

Meanwhile, the guy who sings from memory all eight verses of Allan Sherman’s masterpiece, “Hello Mudda, Hello Fadduh,” gets booed off the stage. I ask you, is this fair?
Something else unfair? The price of automotive tires. I bought new truck tires a few days ago and they cost as much as a three-bedroom rambler. I remember buying secondhand tires when I was a younger man for $19 apiece from “Al’s Used Tire Barn.” Al even threw in a complimentary emergency flare gun.

You know what else really sucks? Body pain. I had spinal surgery when I was in my mid-20s; nobody ever tells you how quickly chronic pain can ruin your life. And here’s the worst part: chronic pain affects about 50 million Americans. That’s roughly the population of eight U.S. states. How’s that for unfair?

While we’re on a roll, here’s another. Last night, 390 million people went to bed hungry. Starving actually. And in your own national backyard, 11 million kids live with empty pantries.

I once knew a couple of kids in my town who grew up in “food insecure” households. One of them was in such brittle health he died from pneumonia.

Starvation, in case you’re wondering, happens like this: Your body starts eating its own muscular tissue in a last-ditch effort to fuel your brain. But after a while it’s no use. Without calories, your cells can’t fight off viruses and bacteria, so your body gives up. Your belly bloats, your skin starts flaking away. Your teeth fall out.

Whenever you have a bad day, think about this: Yesterday, 25,000 people died from hunger. Many were kids.

And hunger is preventable. What about things like cancer? Each year this disease kills 600,000, which equates to 69 people per hour. Or what about heart disease? Or COVID? Or diabetes?

Listen, I’m not trying to make you feel bad. I promise. Quite the contrary, I’m agreeing with you. Because, yes, this world is unfair. But this life shows no prejudice with its unfairness. Almost everyone is going through their own private hell right now.

Still, there is a tiny bright side to this pandemic mess. And I have been saving this part for last.

Back in the 1930s when the economy tanked and jobs were a myth, when the country fell into a Great Depression, people could have given up, moped around, and bitterly complained. But do you know what many Americans did instead?

They went dancing.

Yes. In a time when life expectancy was plummeting, and hunger was going up, and suicide was on a sharp rise, folks made their own fun. They started dancing like their pants were on fire. Towns threw big, fun bashes that would’ve made your prom look like a routine colonoscopy.

There were all-night dance contests in nearly every backwater, township, and major city across the nation. And when people couldn’t find any local dances, they threw parties of their own, scuffing up the floors in Mama’s living room.

Radio stations from Maine to California were broadcasting non-stop “musical dance hours.” Parents would waltz, brothers and sisters would foxtrot, Aunt Lucille and Uncle Ray Ray would two-step like lovebirds.

Radio ownership in the Depression skyrocketed. Which almost makes no logical sense when you think about it. But that’s what happened. Over 80 percent of U.S. homes owned radios by 1939. Dance music was, literally, everywhere.

This reminds me of my grandfather, who lived through the Depression. Like you, he didn’t get a prom, either. He dropped out of high school when his father died. He started doing a man’s work as a teenager. His brother got polio, his mother gave piano lessons to earn enough for supper.

And yet he danced. I have a picture of my baby-faced grandfather holding my brunette grandmother. The photograph was taken in some dancehall. They’re both on the pinewood floor, smiling wildly like two film stars.

They were about your age in this photo. And do you know what? They don’t look sad. In fact you’d never guess the world was crumbling by the looks on their faces. They appear downright hopeful.

These were two people who knew hunger. Two people who had occasionally gone barefoot. And yet they went dancing multiple times per week.

So I know this has been a tough year, and I’m on your side here. In fact, I’m just like you. Which is why I pray our mouths may never mistakenly claim that we have “nothing to look forward to.”

Because you and I really oughta count our blessings.

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