Every time I’m convinced the internet was invented by Satan, it comes up with something that proves how valuable it can be.

My latest experience came earlier this month when, bored by political brouhahas, I started looking up old schoolmates who had dropped out of my life long ago. While searching for someone else, I came upon a blog for alumni of a Detroit Catholic high school that many of my elementary school friends had attended. What blew me away was a post by Dennis, who wrote about serving Mass with Pope John Paul II while stationed in Rome as a Jesuit priest.

Dennis and I spent eight years as classmates at Christ the Good Shepherd School in Lincoln Park, a blue-collar suburb. We weren’t close friends but got along very well even though he was everything I wasn’t: mild-mannered, well-groomed and handsome. The last time I saw him was on a bus in Detroit in 1970, when he was selling encyclopedias door-to-door to put himself through the University of Michigan.

My pastor spent close to two decades working in Vatican City, so after Mass the following Sunday I asked him if he had ever run into Dennis. His eyes opened wide in surprise. He not only knew Dennis but added that he’s now living in a retirement home for Jesuits just about 20 minutes from my place.

I called the facility the next day and was put through to Dennis. After chatting about old times, I invited him out to dinner. What ensued was one of the most fascinating afternoons of my life.

After graduating from college, he taught at a Jesuit-run high school for two years. Inspired by the priests and believing he was called by God, he entered the seminary. His studies took him to Paris, where he entered the diaconate. In fact, he was still only a deacon when he served at a Mass with John Paul the first time.

Ordained in 1984 at the age of 33, he was assigned to the Vatican, where he ultimately spent eight years. (He took a year off to do biblical research and archaeology in Jerusalem.) He got to know the pope a bit – he would never claim they were buddies, but he twice managed to arrange private meetings with John Paul for his parents and younger sister, who had Down syndrome. The pontiff was especially taken with the cheerful and gracious young lady.

Of the many stories Dennis told, my favorite is about the time he served at a Mass with the pope, who customarily had a receiving line after a service. John Paul would greet each server with a handclasp, then move on to the eminences who were in attendance.

When John Paul got to Dennis, he said, “So how is the little one?” For the next five minutes, the powerful church leaders — including the head of the Jesuit order — cooled their heels while Dennis updated the pope on how his sister was doing.

What a life he’s had, living four years in Paris and eight in Rome. He met Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and struck up a friendship with Martin Sheen, for whom he served as an informal tour guide when the actor visited Rome. (They became close enough that Dennis spent the Christmas holidays with the Sheens the year his mother died.)

Unfortunately, Dennis’ adventures came to an end in the mid-1990s, when he suffered a massive heart attack that permanently impaired him. While he no longer could work overseas, he recovered enough to resume teaching at the school where he was first drawn to the Jesuits.

Dennis’ flesh may be weak today, but his spirit remains as strong as ever. That the internet enabled me to re-connect with a soul like Dennis gives it partial absolution for its many sins.

The most expensive turkey I ever got was free.

It was a cold and bleak night in early December. Dinner hadn’t gone so well – my wife was worried over how we would handle Christmas, and I had no answers for her. My newspaper had gone on strike in September, and there was no end in sight. Happy holidays? Humbug!

While Shirley was still working as a schoolteacher, our financial situation was grim, especially since we had just bought a house the previous summer.

As I watched the evening news and Shirley was doing the dishes, a knock came at the door. I was surprised – we rarely had unannounced visitors at night – so I was wary when I got up to answer it. My surprise grew even greater when I saw the fire chief of the city I covered as a reporter standing on the porch.

“The guys were getting the list together for our Christmas turkey giveaway, and your name came up,” the chief said. “We figured things might be tight for you because you’ve been on strike so long.”

I was almost speechless as he handed me a 12-pound frozen turkey, but I finally stammered out my thanks. I called in Shirley from the kitchen, and she managed to express our gratitude more eloquently.

The fire chief probably forgot about his visit to my home long ago, but I never did. It changed my life.

Ever since, I give special attention to people in need when the holidays roll around.

For the first few years after the strike, I couldn’t do much more than throw pocket change into a Salvation Army kettle. Our finances remained precarious, particularly because Shirley was laid off within a month after I found a new job.

But I was able to step up my game even after the kids arrived as I moved up to a well-paying position at a daily paper. I diversified my giving, too, adding a range of local charities to my list of beneficiaries. I found out the more I gave, the better I felt.

Unlike some of my friends, I try to keep my donations a secret. I give to receive an inner reward, not to demonstrate my generosity to the public. In fact, the only reason I’m writing this post is because it won’t appear under my real name.

My giving won’t set any records – I admire (and am a bit envious of) the good souls who anonymously drop gold coins in Salvation Army kettles – but I hope my contributions lift the spirits of at least a few people in despair and possibly inspire them to be more generous when they see better days.

By my count, that free turkey from the firefighters has cost me more than $3,000 to date. And I’m not done paying for it yet.

It’s forgivable that Ben Franklin didn’t include governmental bureaucracies with death and taxes as being the only certainties of life. After all, he died 143 years before that other Franklin – Roosevelt – laid the groundwork for the America’s administrative state.

This revelation came to me in early October, five days after my wife passed away, when a letter from the Social Security Administration notified me I was entitled to $255 in spousal survivor death benefits. The funeral home had reported the death a day after it happened, so I was surprised by how quickly the SSA sprang into action.

The letter told me to call a toll-free number about the benefit claim, which I promptly did. After going through an irritating introductory robo spiel (“What are you calling about?” etc.), the cheerful electronic voice promised to connect me to the right person. Instead, I got a recording telling me I had an estimated wait time of 45 minutes before I could talk to a human being.

I called twice more at different times over the next two days and got the same results. Then I realized how lucky I had been to get that far when the recording said, “All our lines are busy. Please try again later,” on my fourth call.

After several more fruitless phone calls during the following week, I checked the Social Security website for a solution. As I anticipated, there was no way to file a death benefit claim online, but it did mention that I could call my local SSA office instead of Washington.

I punched in a number, told the operator what I needed and was transferred to a phone that was picked up by a person. “Aha!” I thought. “I’m finally getting this done” No such luck.

The representative I spoke with offered his sincere condolences and took down my basic information. He then told me he was only a middle man – to actually file my claim, I still would have to talk to someone in Washington, but he could schedule a time for someone to call me. After doing some checking, he told me the earliest time I could receive a call would be mid-November, nearly six weeks away. I immediately agreed and wrote down the info on my calendar.

Before I hung up, I told the rep my wife and I had needed only short and simple phone calls to sign up for Social Security, so I couldn’t understand why there was such a convoluted process to collect a measly $255. He commiserated with me and said the rigmarole baffled him, too. “I’ve been here for 25 years and have never understood why it isn’t easier to get the death benefit,” he said.

Such are the ways of Rooseveltian bureaucracies.

When I finally received the phone call last Friday, it lasted about 10 minutes and was completely pointless. Instead of asking questions, the rep had me confirm information he obviously had in front of him. The only real question he asked was the city of my birth. When I gave the correct answer, I apparently proved I was not a lowlife trying to cheat Uncle Sam out of a small fortune.

A little background about the spousal death benefit is in order. It was included in the original Social Security Act of 1935, presumably to help grieving wives and husbands pay for their spouses’ burial expenses. The law capped the benefit at 3.5% of a person’s covered earnings, which would have been a maximum of about $315 when the law was adopted. Possibly nobody ever received such a large sum; in 1939, the average payment was $97 (roughly $1,709 in inflated-adjusted dollars).

Congress capped the lump-sum death benefit at $255 in 1954 ($2,388 today), and the limit was retained the last time the provision was overhauled in 1981 ($723 today).

In one respect, I’m glad the size of the benefit hasn’t changed in 63 years – it’s extremely rare when Congress puts on a display of frugality. On the other hand, I feel compassion for the poverty-stricken families who receive such a pittance when they have to bury a loved one. I know people who have spent more than $255 on a pet burial.

But despite the show of thriftiness, the Social Security death benefit – as it’s now constituted – wastes millions of taxpayers’ dollars a year.

It’s not the payouts that are wasteful, it’s the process. How many thousands of SSA employees spend millions of hours every year to take care of phone calls like mine? These are jobs that easily could be replaced by a web page (which probably would be more efficient, too).

Not only would streamlining the system save money, but it also would spare surviving spouses extra grief in their time of mourning.

Some say the world will end in a bang, and some say with a whimper. My world ended with a ringtone.

Looking back, the whole thing played out like a farce but was really a tragedy. It all started in late August when my beloved Shirley complained about a sore on the top of her right foot that she blamed on a bug bite. As the days passed, the pain was a minor but constant irritant that she hardly mentioned.

But by the Friday after Labor Day, Shirley was in misery and hobbled around the house with a limp. Despite my protests, she refused to see the doctor. She changed her mind on Sunday when she could barely walk without pain shooting up her leg.

The doctor on Monday diagnosed the problem as an infection, not an insect bite, and prescribed a round of heavy-duty antibiotics. Shirley took the meds religiously, but the pain kept getting worse. By the following Sunday, she couldn’t get off the couch where she had set up her base of operations.

She didn’t complain the next day when I told her – and her doctor – that I was taking her to the hospital. I had to call an ambulance because she couldn’t walk. After we arrived, the emergency room doctor immediately administered a painkiller and hooked her up to an IV antibiotic.

Progress was slow, but by the fourth day of treatment, nurses and doctors could touch her foot without her screaming. On the seventh day, she was actually able to walk to the bathroom. Her doctors started saying she could be sent to rehab in a couple of days to prepare for her return home.

The big day was Wednesday, Sept. 27, when Shirley was released to a nursing home a mere block from our home. She was bubbling when an ambulance brought her to the facility at 4 p.m. Feeling better than she had been in weeks, she said she could be home after six days of rehab, but she might need a wheelchair for a few days until she got her legs back. She was especially happy because she had been able to watch the season debut of NCIS – her all-time favorite TV show – the night before without interruptions by pesky nurses. As she had done at the hospital, she offered me half her dinner when it arrived, but I wasn’t hungry. She couldn’t stop smiling.

Thursday morning was bright and beautiful, and I called Shirley at 11. I didn’t worry when she didn’t pick up, figuring she was either napping or going through physical therapy. Four more calls at half-hour intervals had the same results.

Then, at 1:15, the phone rang.

“There’s been a change in Shirley’s status,” said the woman, who identified herself as the rest home’s director. “Can you come in as soon as possible?”

Four minutes later I walked through the door, was ushered into the director’s office and took a seat.

“Shirley has coded,” she said.

“I don’t know what that means,” I said.

“She is non-responsive,” she replied.

I put my face into hands and froze as she said a team of paramedics and nurses were working on her.

She handed me a box of Kleenex and left the room. While shuddering uncontrollably, I prayed harder than I ever had before. Twenty minutes later she returned and said, “I’m sorry.”

My world came to an end. Only three months earlier we had celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary and talked about what we would do on our 50th. The odyssey that had opened with a silly little sore on her foot had closed with what the medical examiner called a pulmonary embolism.

It was a bad dream, a very bad dream, and I couldn’t wake up.

I thought back to when we had met at my brother’s wedding in June 1975. I had been bumming around the country Kerouac-style for several months but came back to stand up in the wedding. Shirley, meanwhile, was a Cincinnati girl who had become close friends with Mary, my future sister-in-law, while studying together for a semester at the University of Edinburgh.

Between the wedding in the morning and the evening reception, the guests gathered at the eastside Detroit house of Mary’s parents. I and my buddy Mike sat quietly on lawn chairs while Mike’s mom and a strikingly attractive girl were chatting up a storm. It was lust at first sight. I couldn’t stop taking side-wise glances at the beauty with long auburn hair and a figure that could have graced a Playboy centerfold.

When the girl left to get a Coke from the house, I acted with boldness and bravado. “Mrs. Roberts,” I said, “would you please introduce me to the girl you’re talking to?”

I don’t think Mike ever really forgave his mom for introducing me and not him to Shirley Sizemore.

We danced on air all that night, which ended with Shirley departing for Cincinnati, a five-hour drive away. But she didn’t leave before we exchanged scraps of paper with our names and phone numbers scribbled on them.

For the next year we endured a long-distance romance, but it wasn’t too bad. We managed to see each other at least three weekends a month, and a bit more when we had time off work. Finally, our physical attraction developed into something deeper, as I grew to cherish her intelligence, humor and common sense. She took a gamble and moved to Michigan in the Bicentennial summer of 1976, living with my parents while I roomed with friends in a sprawling old Victorian.

On June 25, 1977, the two of us became one, and my life truly began. As with many marriages, our honeymoon turned into a shakedown cruise, and we went through some rough patches in the early years. But there were plenty of good times to smooth things over.

The 1981 birth of our daughter Denise was a joyful event with a dark lining. As we anticipated Denise’s arrival, Shirley fell seriously ill with an abscess that caused her temperature to soar to 104 degrees. Immediately after doctors operated on the abscess, the baby popped out – seven weeks early. Denise spent her first month inside an incubator until she was big enough to come home.

That turned out to be our first experience with Crohn’s disease, which plagued Shirley for the rest of her life.

No such drama accompanied the birth of Sandy, our second daughter. Shirley was feeling so comfortable that I had to force her to go to the hospital because of the timing of her contractions. Fortunately, the hospital was close by because Sandy arrived about 50 minutes later.

As time passed, our lives grew full and rich. Shirley served eight years as a Brownie and Girl Scout leader, was a volunteer at her church and spent several years as a substitute teacher. Meanwhile, I was plugging away at the newspaper, taking various jobs and working different shifts to provide for the family. Luckily, Shirley and I preferred frugality over extravagance, which is how we were able to put Denise and Sandy through college on my less-than munificent salary.

But Crohn’s disease clawed its way back into our lives in the 1990s, and Shirley’s life slowly grew smaller and smaller. The first thing to go was her substitute teaching and then her church activities. Still, she never lost her joy or love of life even after the prednisone she took to control her Crohn’s was destroying her body in other ways.

For the past 15 years, Shirley was virtually homebound as she became hesitant to spend more than 45 minutes in a car or visit any place that didn’t have conveniently accessible restrooms. At the same time, I gladly imposed limits on myself so I could be there for her. It was the least I could do for someone who had given me two great children and such a terrific life.

In the weeks since her passing, I’ve had to go around the house with blinders because too many things bring up too many memories. The silliest trinket can make me break down if it evokes images of Shirley’s glee or excitement.

Her idiosyncrasies live on, too. She kept two file cabinets for our important (and not-so-important) documents, and I searched through them for her insurance policies. When I couldn’t find them, I remembered she told me a year ago she had put them in a strongbox that she kept “in a safe place.” The place is so safe I still haven’t found it.

Only two days ago did I dare to delve into Shirley’s purse to see if anything in it needed my attention. There, inside her wallet, was the most important paper of all: the small scrap with my name and phone number I had given her on a warm June night on the east side of Detroit 42 years ago. I had no clue then how my life would begin … or end.

Watching awards shows on television is as big a treat as having a colonoscopy without anesthesia. Well, actually, it’s worse. I’ve never had a colonoscopy that lasted three hours.

It doesn’t matter if the host is affable and funny — Billy Crystal and Johnny Carson come to mind — or amazingly irritating like David Letterman. The shows are overstuffed extravaganzas that drain your body and rot your brain.

With an attitude like that, I couldn’t wait to skip Sunday’s Emmy Awards broadcast. I couldn’t stand watching three minutes of Stephen Colbert’s past and present TV shows. Why in God’s name would I want to spend three hours with him and the croaking chorus  of Trump haters sharing the stage?

Apparently you and many others felt the same, sending the Emmy ratings to new depths. It’s good to know so many good folks have the good sense to avoid political poison masquerading as entertainment (and so few conservatives are masochists).

Meanwhile, the entertainment establishment, pink to its left-wing core, is studying birds’ flight patterns and reading beasts’ entrails to discern why viewers of its awards programs are vanishing. You don’t have to be a seer to figure out that your numbers will be weak if you don’t mind driving away half your audience. But the movers, shakers and moguls of Hollywood don’t know anybody who doesn’t think about politics as they do, so they’re simply stumped.

Just as fan disgust with Colin Kaepernick isn’t the only reason why ratings have plummeted for NFL broadcasts, partisanship isn’t the only cause for the decline in interest for the Emmys and Oscars.

Thirty years ago, cable TV was a relatively small operation, so most Americans were still stuck with the three major networks: ABC, CBS and NBC. Even poorly rated shows had a dozen million viewers. The series finale for CBS’ MASH was seen by nearly 106 million people in 1983; that audience record stood until 106.5 million viewers watched New Orleans beat Indianapolis in the 2010 Superbowl.

Cable has grown like a monster since 1983 and created a bigger stir in recent years by offering original programming. Many new shows are low-budget reality programs, but some basic cable channels — FX, USA, AMC and SyFy — offer top-notch stuff that was once the purview of HBO and Showtime.

Of course, Netflix was a huge game changer when it threw big money into new programming and brought instant relevance to streaming video.

And therein lies a big problem for the Emmys — they’re elitist. Only a handful of this year’s nominees represented broadcast TV, and even fewer of them took home awards. The big winner, as usual lately, was HBO.

Just as people in showbiz don’t know anyone who supported Donald Trump, they don’t know anybody who doesn’t have cable TV. More importantly, they don’t know anybody who doesn’t have HBO or Netflix, where they presume the best stuff appears. As of the end of 2016, HBO only had about 49 million subscribers, and Lord knows how many of those are hotels, motels and other businesses.

As a result, a good portion of the American public has no skin in the Emmy game since the awards revolve around programs they don’t even have the ability to watch. I guess the entertainment bigwigs have written them off as deplorables.

Then, too, there’s more than one aspect of elitism in terms of the type of shows the nominators enjoy. I watch more than my share of TV, and I’m the kind of guy who won’t abide stupidity on my flat screen. Yet only a couple of my favorites — Better Call Saul, The Americans, Stranger Things — even had an Emmy nomination. Instead, the voters exhumed the long-dead corpse of Saturday Night Live and showered it with glory.

The same thing goes for the Oscars. But that’s another story.