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 Kaw Liga.

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 gripped 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.

And he’s mine too.

50 comments

  1. Faye Hutt - September 6, 2021 7:15 am

    Oh Geez, Sean! 😍

    Reply
  2. Steve Winfield (Lifer) - September 6, 2021 7:43 am

    We’re triplets. I’ve known a few. Thank God it wasn’t me. My favorite bass player is on the tail end. Toughest SOB I’ve ever known. Probably outlive all of us. Was paying $1,000/ mo. child support before this. He’ll catch up every penny he’s missed. Bet your life on it.

    Reply
  3. Kathy - September 6, 2021 7:47 am

    I love your descriptions of the heart’s of people. I know it’s because of the pain and heartache of your past that allows you to clearly see the human condition. There comes a kind of Empathy for other humans that have had pain or hurt in their lives, from those of us who have been scared by the flames of heartbreak.
    I hope you never change seeing, touching or caring about these folks, because in truth and honesty it is everyone of us…

    Reply
  4. Kay Williams - September 6, 2021 7:48 am

    Bless his heart. He’s my brother as well.

    Reply
  5. Glenda E Hulbert - September 6, 2021 9:00 am

    Love this one Sean, you perfected the art of making me cry at 4:58 a.m. Thank you for your eloquence!

    Reply
  6. Joe Dorough - September 6, 2021 9:07 am

    One of your best Brother Sean! Precious❤️❤️🏆😢

    Reply
  7. Terry Alexander - September 6, 2021 10:07 am

    Sean, Thank you for your words….thank you for sharing your life and your heart. You have taken me back to so many places I have been and into places I have never experienced; I have grown and cried and laughed. Thank you. MamaT

    Reply
  8. Joan Moore - September 6, 2021 10:57 am

    God bless that young man and ALL of his family… that includes all of US. Thank you, again for reminding us that we are all one family.

    Reply
  9. Ann - September 6, 2021 11:11 am

    Beautiful faith and strength….God bless

    Reply
  10. Janet W. - September 6, 2021 11:16 am

    For a man who claims to not understand theology, you sure preach a good sermon!

    Reply
  11. Te - September 6, 2021 11:18 am

    Faith. It’s got us this far.

    Reply
  12. brenheart - September 6, 2021 11:24 am

    Such a heartfelt story. ❣️Thanks for putting your heart to the blog and sharing it out to us ! 🥰💜

    Reply
  13. Pingback: Brother – Shhh…

  14. Bar - September 6, 2021 11:51 am

    BEAUTIFUL!

    Reply
  15. Pondcrane - September 6, 2021 11:59 am

    I Love You, Brother:)

    Reply
  16. Paul McCutchen - September 6, 2021 12:17 pm

    Brings back memories of an old friend.

    Reply
  17. Nancy Crews - September 6, 2021 12:20 pm

    ❤your writing

    Reply
  18. Nick - September 6, 2021 12:43 pm

    Amen, Brother!! Keep on keepin on!

    Reply
  19. lydiamason17 - September 6, 2021 12:55 pm

    None better than to bring tears to my eyes!

    Reply
  20. Karen - September 6, 2021 12:59 pm

    Praying this beautiful young man gets to enjoy a full life. Thank you, Sean.

    Reply
  21. Donna from Iowa - September 6, 2021 1:06 pm

    A great influential article to start my Labor Day–I was reminded to be thankful!

    Reply
  22. Shelton A. - September 6, 2021 1:10 pm

    You, Jamie, the kid, and his brother are all our brothers and sisters. God bless the kid and may God’s grace and healing keep him in remission.

    Reply
  23. Jan - September 6, 2021 1:19 pm

    May God bless him and keep him and give him joy from the music he loves. Thank you, Sean!

    Reply
  24. Lucinda Harding - September 6, 2021 1:20 pm

    It’s empathetic souls like you that make this world a better place.

    Reply
  25. Maggie Priestaf - September 6, 2021 1:31 pm

    Mine, too…

    Reply
  26. Suellen - September 6, 2021 1:32 pm

    God bless that young man and may he have many more performances in his future.

    Reply
  27. Dean - September 6, 2021 1:45 pm

    ❤️ your column as always. Makes me more thankful for being able to do the things i can do and not stress over what I can’t do anymore.

    Reply
  28. Brenda - September 6, 2021 1:46 pm

    You have written a beautiful tribute to a special young man. I hope he knows the impact that conversation had on you…. And that enabled you to share with your readers. Too many of us know young people going through similar issues. Prayers for him and for you. Thanks.

    Reply
  29. Helen De Prima - September 6, 2021 2:11 pm

    I get it. Fighting through pain to do something you love is sometimes all that keeps me going. And it’s going to be an awesome book.

    Reply
  30. chip plyler - September 6, 2021 2:23 pm

    Amen, and A-men…

    Reply
  31. Karen Snyder - September 6, 2021 2:36 pm

    We need all the reminders we can get that we are all brothers and sisters first. Wishing this young man a long life with his music. Thank you, Sean.💙

    Reply
  32. Gayle Wilson - September 6, 2021 2:38 pm

    Wow Sean, this was a hard one to read. Our best friends for over forty years are like a brother and sister to us. The brother has been having some health issues that makes him black out. Well, last Thursday night he blacked out and when he fell it fractured his spine. He is now laying in trauma ICU paralyzed from the chest down. We are there for him and his wife (brother and sister). We are praying for him to fight. Just like the young man you described in your writing today. Will you please pray for our brother to fight too?

    Reply
  33. Christina - September 6, 2021 2:40 pm

    He just became my brother too!

    Reply
  34. Tom Wallin - September 6, 2021 3:09 pm

    Sweet story. I wish I was there with you so I could have clapped too! Saying a prayer for the young musician.

    Reply
  35. gary jensen - September 6, 2021 3:46 pm

    Damn! good one Sean… left me hankering and humming along…

    Reply
  36. Stacey Wallace - September 6, 2021 3:57 pm

    May God bless this young man with a long, happy, and healthy life. Also, may God do the same for Jamie and you, Sean.

    Reply
  37. Marge Clark - September 6, 2021 4:05 pm

    dayum, Sean…not supposed to make me cry on a holiday, and all.

    Reply
  38. Russell Moulton - September 6, 2021 4:50 pm

    Really a good one Sean. My brother too. God bless you both

    Reply
  39. Linda Moon - September 6, 2021 5:07 pm

    Aaahh…the art of classic country music in its Golden Age…nothing like it, except for cancer in remission. I’ve been in and out of that for 18 years, so the fighter, musician, and survivor is my brother too, Sean.

    Reply
  40. Bill - September 6, 2021 5:13 pm

    Now that’s fighting for your life and music helped. People that don’t do music of some kind don’t understand the joy of it or the good feeling from doing it. You don’t have to be good, just do it . It’s great medicine. It really is.

    Reply
  41. Melissa Simpson - September 6, 2021 6:07 pm

    That’s my son’s. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Nancy Griggs - September 9, 2021 11:01 pm

      Melissa, if you are the boys’ mother, God bless you all. Keep the faith. Your sons have become our teachers.

      Reply
  42. Gordon - September 6, 2021 6:13 pm

    Such a sweet, touching story. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  43. Ruth Barfield - September 6, 2021 6:46 pm

    For many reasons, I am thankful that you are such a good writer, Sean. Some folks with a welcoming nature just invite people into their world without hardly trying. You, kind soul, will then share these gently crafted stories with us. God Bless you and thanks, again.

    Reply
  44. Rebecca Souders - September 6, 2021 7:01 pm

    Great story, Sean…. as always. Thanks.

    Reply
  45. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - September 6, 2021 7:04 pm

    Now, that’s a good story! Thanks for sharing. I wish I had been in the audience!

    Reply
  46. MAM - September 6, 2021 9:38 pm

    Too sweet, Sean. You speak from the heart and to the heart. Keep it up. We rely on you for the good news every day and you deliver like a champ.
    Thanks!

    Reply
  47. W. Gary Smith - September 7, 2021 1:13 am

    Alsome and beautiful story ❤️ 🙏🏻Praying for continued remission and healing for this young man. Also blessed to have a great older brother.

    Reply
  48. Dixie Graham - September 11, 2021 10:23 pm

    ♥️

    Reply
  49. Bill Harris - September 17, 2021 12:30 am

    Thank you Sean. Your writing touches my heart.

    Reply

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