Many Thanks

I’m a reporter with an earring, from L.A., a Berkeley grad who doesn’t go to church. In the last year, I’ve spent a lot of time in small American towns, meeting people from fairly traditional, church-going places in the Midwest.

On paper, on social media, or on 24-hour cable news, we would seem to have little to share.IMG_0638

Yet in these places, meeting these people, I’m struck by how much we have in common. This may sound trite, but it is true. The commonality is there if you want to look for it. Not that hard to find when you look someone in the eye.

At each place, I’ve had the great privilege of talking with folks about their lives, their jobs. I’ve been struck by the intensity of feeling of the people with whom I’ve spoken, hugging folks I didn’t know. I remember a paramedic telling me of saving overdosing addicts, and of a chamber of commerce president telling me how many people couldn’t pass drug screens. I remember a grandfather in Portsmouth who wouldn’t let my hand go as he told me how he was raising his granddaughter, that his daughter was in prison. Many had lost children, and many others were cautious yet happy that their children were doing well now.

It is a humbling and powerful thing to be brought so quickly into the intimate lives of strangers, and I hope more than anything that I’ve been up to the responsibility.

Today, I want to say how thankful I am to the people I’ve met in those places – Peoria, Van Wert, Scottsburg, Logan, South Shore, Marysville, Portsmouth, Marion, Huntington, Albuquerque, Medford, Zanesville, Knoxville, Covington, Chillicothe – for their warmth and hospitality and, above all, their willingness to share a bit of their stories with a guy from out of town.

These are not towns typically on most authors’ book tour itinerary, and I feel so lucky that I was able to get there.

I’ve met folks at conferences of associations I didn’t know existed two years ago: Kentucky Association of Counties, National Association of Community Health Centers, Indiana Hospital Association, Ohio Association of School Nurses, Illinois Rural Hospital Association, Oregon Narcotics Officers Association, West Virginia Medical Association, National Association of Medicaid Directors, and the Iowa Association of County Medical Examiners, among them.

Meeting people at these conferences has been a real light of the last year as well. The Kentucky Association of Counties a couple weeks ago was an amazing event, as the state has 120 counties for four million people. So it was really like a small-town convention. Folks with strong Kentucky accents and me with my earring – yet I felt so welcome, and their reception to what I had to say was overwhelming.

I’m thankful for my family, who has been so important in all that’s happened. They were able to accompany me on a trip to Chillicothe, Ohio, which we’ll never forget.

I’m thankful that my wife and I are in good health, happy with our lives. My daughter is a cheerful, intelligent girl, healthy and polite to others. My wife and I are thankful for that.

It’s been a good, full year and I hope it was for you, too.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Filed under Dreamland, The Heroin Heartland

11 Responses to Many Thanks

  1. Norm Platt

    Sam, thank you for identifying the rampant growth in opiate abuse. We’ve lost many young people in their prime years here in the South Shore of Boston. I believe you’ve visited this area on your tour, and I wished I had met you. I’m many years into recovery from alcohol abuse, and we have family members who are in recovery programs from the addiction to opiates. I am reading your Dreamland Book and know that I will have a much better understanding of the problems with the addiction and also the source of the drugs. I attended a church meeting tonight in which we discussed what our small North Community Church of Marshfield, can do proactively to bring awareness of the dangers of drug addiction to our Marshfield and Surrounding Area. I’m wondering if it would be possible for you to come to our church and speak at a a “drug awareness” event that we are planning to offer as part of of our Church Outreach missions.? Also, we want to provide weekly or monthly events and invite all young people and their families to our church. Your presence at one of these events would be most appreciated and we would pay your travel and lodging expenses. My wife and I would welcome you into our home if you would prefer staying with a church member. Looking forward to hearing from you. God Bless!

  2. Well said. If your ever in Phoenix Arizona, please stop by the Phoenix Dream Center.

  3. Sam,
    Happy Thanksgiving. As I sit here in the North of the UK, your post reminds me of home. I know of these small towns in Illinois where I grew up. I cannot say I know them as intimately, but I know the people as I grew up with them and I too looked them in the eye and they me.
    I give thanks for your writing, your effort, and your commitment. It gives me hope for America and I want to give thanks for that hope.

  4. Brent Kagan


    Happy Thanksgiving; you have exposed an American dilemma and serious issue that needed to be brought up to all of us. You and I have communicated before, but I cannot say thanks to you too many times. You are an American hero. One day I hope to be able to shake your hand and express my gratitude in person.

    Best regards,
    Brent Kagan.

  5. We’ll, Sam, I sit here with no earring, not a church-goer now either after a career as a pastor, but a few miles from Marysville in Ohio, just west of Rt.23 that runs from Eastern KY to Lake Erie, probably a major black tar route. Your inspiring Thanksgiving greeting shames me as I’ve been mostly angry at the President ‘they’ elected. You’ve once again insisted, to my benefit, that I look my neighbors in the face and really see our commonness. Thanks, you’ve made my day a more grateful one. It is too easy, I guess, to fail at gratitude when one’s life is so unburdened and so full.

  6. Happy Thanksgiving, Sam. DREAMLAND is beyond important reading, on both sides of the border. You are the most compassionate and clear-sighted writer I know, able to write about people and places most writers would render through a heavy filter of prejudice and presumption. You know I am a big fan of all your books on Mexico.

  7. What an inspiration Sam! Thanks for reminding us that after all we’re not all that different! Your work is opening up windows to bridge the gap that’s currently dividing us all. What a gift you bring, and that you are! See you next Wednesday at the Zocalo event. Happy thanksgiving to you, your wife and daughter.
    Cheers, Susanna

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