“So I fought,” he said. “You know, you just tell your body, ‘Fight, man.’ Maybe you win, maybe you lose. But all you can do is fight.”

The band was all right. They played to a crowded joint of people who’d clocked out for the weekend. Folks who needed something greasy to eat and cold to drink.

Band members had gray hair, Western-style shirts, hats, boots. The whole nine yards.

“They’re here every Friday,” said the bartender. “Aren’t they awesome?”

The jury’s still out on “awesome.” But their hearts were in the right places.

“At least they play REAL country,” the bartender went on.

We can agree on that much. They played classics. And classic country is a dying art. You can’t look at a superstar who wears $1400 boots and eyeliner and call him country.

The men on this stage looked like they knew how to operate nail guns.

A kid was bussing tables. He was early twenties. He set his tub beside me and watched the band.

I introduced myself.

He said he likes old-fashioned country music. His brother is the one who taught him to like antique songs about cheating hearts, boys named Sue, and wooden Indians.

He tells me he started listening to records a lot when he was diagnosed with cancer.

“That’s why I got this puffy face,” he explains. “All the pills I’ve taken make me like this.”

The chemo hasn’t helped either.

He was in the hospital for a month, once. He was fighting infection upon infection. His brother bought a portable record player. Together, they listened to classics.

Hank Williams, Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb, Merle Haggard. Music.

“I dunno,” he told me. “Those songs just make me feel good all over.”

In the hospital, he started taking guitar lessons from his brother. He liked guitar better than playing games on his phone, or watching daytime TV.

“Plus, I didn’t know if I was gonna die or not,” he added. “I was doing bucket-list stuff, I guess.”

I guess.

His parents bought him an electric guitar he could play through headphones. He practiced whenever he found energy. He also practiced whenever he didn’t have energy. He stayed up late, perfecting G-chords between bouts of nausea.

Doctors prepared his family for the worst. They said he might die in that bed. His infections were getting bad, and he kept developing new ones.

Pharmaceuticals were running through him by the gallon, the side effects were ruining him. His body was a living science project.

He remembers lying awake, heavily medicated, holding his mother’s hand. He remembers her tears making his gown wet.

“Please fight,” his mother told him. “Please don’t give up.”

“So I fought,” he said. “You know, you just tell your body, ‘Fight, man.’ Maybe you win, maybe you lose. But all you can do is fight.”

His cancer is in remission. One year.

He leads an almost normal life again. He even has a part-time job, bussing tables. But he gets tired quickly.

The band invited him onstage for a tune.

He borrowed a guitar. He concentrated on his fingers and griped the neck. Before the song began, he spoke into a mic.

“Sorry,” he said. “I’m not a good musician, guys, I’m still learning.”

People cheered for him.

He sang. His voice was shaky. His fingers were unsteady. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. The kid got a standing ovation.

His brother was in the audience. He clapped so hard he almost broke his wrist. “That’s my brother,” the young man told me, pointing to the kid onstage.

Yes sir, he certainly is.

And he’s mine too.

32 comments

  1. Phyllis Hamilton - March 9, 2018 7:16 am

    People can be amazing! It’s sad to think this young man has fought so hard to live while others are committing suicide or even worse killing other innocent people with them. My deepest congratulations to this young man. Keep fighting….

    Reply
  2. Pamela McEachern - March 9, 2018 7:48 am

    He must be an amazing musican because he is a strong young man with an amazing determination for life.
    Peace and Love from Birmingham

    Reply
  3. Saundra - March 9, 2018 7:50 am

    If anyone ever needs to ‘feel’ life again, I direct them to your writing. Truth is found there.

    Reply
  4. Gary - March 9, 2018 9:01 am

    I’m up at 3:59 a.m. just to read your stories. When my tears dry I’ll try to go back to sleep.

    Reply
  5. Jan - March 9, 2018 11:55 am

    Another beautiful story told well! Thank you.

    Reply
  6. Dianne - March 9, 2018 12:23 pm

    Another “make you feel good” story from you, Sean. Thank you for these stories about every day people. Makes my day start off on a good foot!

    Reply
  7. Tom - March 9, 2018 12:46 pm

    Keep on keeping on Sean, I am just one of many folks who need something positive to get our day started.

    Reply
  8. Melanie Tighe - March 9, 2018 12:57 pm

    Music has been my companion and salvation my entire life. Thank you Sean for showing how truly magical it really is.

    Reply
  9. Alan Brock - March 9, 2018 1:52 pm

    Love your stuff. I use to read another well known blogger, but he started sounding too much like just another angry young man. I find beauty,hope and calmness in your writings. Thank you from a 56 year old granddad in beautiful Ouray, CO.

    Reply
  10. jchutro - March 9, 2018 2:00 pm

    Often your posts bring me to near tears. Today, it succeeded.

    Reply
  11. Carol Houston Rothwell - March 9, 2018 2:04 pm

    Can I tell you how “awsome ” you are!!
    Thank you ! ❤

    Reply
  12. Sue Cronkite - March 9, 2018 2:18 pm

    I’m praying he comes out of this healthy and happy. I got a real lift this past Sunday when the praise team led I Saw The Light at Apalachicola First Methodist Church. Old Hank was right there in spirit, singing along with us.

    Reply
  13. Jack Darnell - March 9, 2018 2:30 pm

    Forwarded this to my guitar player (grandson, music major). Loved this ‘un!

    Reply
  14. Connie - March 9, 2018 2:31 pm

    Music heals. I grew up listening to old country music. My dad, uncles, cousins all played and/or sang. So music was the tapestry of my life. I’m glad this young man found his music and thankful it helped him. Thank you for sharing his story.

    Reply
  15. jackmokan - March 9, 2018 2:33 pm

    Great post! For REAL Country check out Sarah Shook and the Disarmers!!

    Reply
  16. Sandie - March 9, 2018 2:53 pm

    Love your daily stories. They ground me. Thank you.

    Reply
  17. Patricia Gibson - March 9, 2018 3:07 pm

    Wonderful story! Bless you for the joy you share!

    Reply
  18. Jan Fincher - March 9, 2018 3:10 pm

    Starting my day crying my eyes out. What a beautiful tale of pain, courage, love and family. I’m glad you’re here to tell us these stories everyday. They keep us connected with the rest of the human race in a real world kind of way. God bless you, your wife and Ellie Mae.

    Reply
  19. Arelene Mack - March 9, 2018 3:11 pm

    Our family band played nearly every weekend at somebody’s house during my growing up years. The women cooked and tended children, the menfolks drank and played in the band. I LOVE the old country songs. They are embedded deep in my soul.

    Reply
  20. Alan Stanley - March 9, 2018 3:24 pm

    In 1975 I too was clinging to life in a hospital bed. It finally got so bad I gave in and surrendered to death. My doctors brought me back, or they think they did. I know different. When I stepped across that threshold into heaven someone said I had to go back. My mission in life wasn’t done. I didn’t want to leave the wonderful place I had found, but I came back. It changes you, a lot. You become a better person. I’m still working on my bucket list, A lot of things have been checked off. That young man has a lot of life before him. God bless him. I’m 70 now. I was 28 when I died.

    Reply
    • Pat - March 9, 2018 6:08 pm

      Wow Alan you’re also a good writer. Love your last line…reminds me of Sean’s last lines!

      Reply
  21. Beverly - March 9, 2018 3:47 pm

    THAT’S IT! I’ve got tot stop reading your posts at work! Everyone thinks I’m clinically depressed!! This week I’ve been blaming the pollen!

    Reply
  22. Pam - March 9, 2018 4:02 pm

    Oh my heart!

    What you write makes blood cells healthy and tears flow

    Thank you, Sean

    Reply
  23. Juanita Ruth One - March 9, 2018 4:08 pm

    Alan, I understand. I died at age 24 after giving birth to my first daughter, but was given the choice to come back because my mission wasn’t done either. I am now 76 and am finding more grace and gratitude every day! Sean is definitely one of the people for whom I am so grateful. As someone who wrote a weekly op-ed newspaper column for 16 years, I so appreciate his compassionate talent! God bless us all!

    Reply
  24. Jack Quanstrum - March 9, 2018 4:14 pm

    Beautiful story!

    Reply
  25. muthahun - March 9, 2018 5:21 pm

    Love, life, music… doesn’t get much better than this.

    Reply
  26. Susan Hammett Poole - March 9, 2018 5:37 pm

    Wow, powerful story, filled with HOPE. Thank you, Sean, for another good, true one.

    Reply
  27. Jan Rowland - March 9, 2018 10:29 pm

    What a blessing your stories are to me and others. This one really pulled at my heartstrings. I grew up listening to country music on a juke box at my parents drive-in restaurant in the 1950-early 60’s. I recall where I was when I heard of the plane crash death of the Big Bopper, Buddy Holley and Richie Valens just as I recall where I was when JFK was shot and the Challenger exploded. Music plays a huge part in our lives. I’m thankful Alan found music and has the opportunity to work on completing his bucket list. You are on my bucket list. I plan to share a story that you may find noteworthy enough to share with your readers. Hope to check it off my list real soon. May the Good Lord continue to bless you as you share your talent with love and compassion through your stories.

    Reply
  28. Gay Beck - March 10, 2018 4:09 am

    Praise God, thank you!

    Reply
  29. Linda Chipman - March 10, 2018 6:49 pm

    I remember sitting in the cafe my uncles had next to their truck business and listening to REAL country music on the jukebox. Those were good times with good music.

    Reply
  30. KATHLEEN FAINA - March 10, 2018 8:58 pm

    I am so glad I found out about Sean Dietrich & his postings. I look forward to reading them every day. I wish I had found out about him sooner. Can I get his older posts?

    Reply
  31. Gretchen - March 11, 2018 7:20 pm

    Sean, you can turn a phrase!!! You bring the tears most every time with that last sentence!!!

    Reply

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