In the Garden

There we were, playing old hymns. We sang the song “In the Garden” to an empty auditorium. And it was the most fun I’ve had in a long, long, LONG time.

It almost felt like being normal again.

The Black Box Theater was virtually vacant. There were two men sitting in the concert hall listening. But these were audio engineers, broadcasting our show. Audio engineers don’t count.

Beside me were my musician friends: Josh, Barb, Todd, and Aaron. We held instruments. And we put on a show for a spindly broadcast microphones that stared back at us.

We sang the lyrics:

“Aaannnnnd he walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own….”

Our broadcast had started with “Keep On the Sunny Side,” in the key of D. It was peppy and bright. The fiddle kicked it off and immediately I felt more alive than I’ve felt all year, except for the time when I stockpiled a garden shed full of toilet paper a few months ago.

I’ve forgotten how much I miss playing old songs with friends. I’ve forgotten too much.

Long ago, before the advent of pandemics, I played music in a band. I was always shuttling sound equipment into wedding receptions, playing for Rotary Club Bingo nights, or lugging amplifiers into dark beer joints that smelled like the varsity basketball laundry bag.

Oh, the things I’ve forgotten during a COVID era.

“And the joy we share, as we tarry there, none other has ever known…”

The fiddle bowed a solo. I felt the pleasant thump of a bass, beating a two-beat country rhythm.

I spoke into the mic to read letters from our longtime listeners. The mailbag messages made me feel warm all over.

There was the heartfelt letter from Randy, in Tennessee. He’s been listening to our show from the early days. A funeral director who got into the business as a teenager, not long after his grandfather died. He once helped conduct the funeral service of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash.

I read a message from Sarah, who wanted to wish her sister happy birthday via the podcast airwaves. Sarah’s sister is turning 50. Her sister cared for her dying elderly father who suffered from ALS.

It was quite a letter.

So we all sang “Happy Birthday” over the air. Then a few more songs. I played the piano a little. There were a few laughs from the audio guys when I told jokes. I even heard someone applauding.

“And he walks with me, and he talks with me, and he teeellllllls me I am his own…”

I told a short story about my granny. About her paralyzed vocal cord. About her wandering eye, and how she tilted her head for family photographs so she could see the world in focus.

Her favorite hymn was “In the Garden.” At times I thought I felt the ghost of an old woman looking over my shoulder while we played.

When the broadcast was over, we packed our instruments, ate barbecue, sipped icy beer, and talked about olden times. Times that are gone right now.

We told stories about a pre-pandemic world. About what people’s kids are up to. About parents who raised us. We talked of life as it once was. The way people used to do. We did not talk about viral infections, mortality rates, massive endemics, or COVID-19.

For a few moments life was, more or less, ordinary again. Laughter abounded. A few times I had to wipe something from the corner of my eye.

I didn’t ever want to leave.

But nothing lasts forever. This is the nature of life. And, I guess you wouldn’t want good things to last forever because otherwise they would cease to be wonderful.

We finished our barbecue then wandered through a quiet amphitheater, one more time. Lights off. The evening was over.

On our walk down the center aisle the audio guy surprised us by replaying snippets from our podcast over the sound system.

We all stopped to listen. My eyes closed. Once again the fiddle whined. Once more the guitar sang. And the timeless harmonic joy of “In the Garden” came piping over the speakers.

“Did it all really happen?” I was thinking. “Did we just do that? It’s been so long.”

I was also thinking, “Where did normalcy go? And how long before it comes back?”

The recorded music ended. The nightman locked the theater doors. We donned surgical masks and carried beat-up instrument cases through a prairie-flat parking lot. The stars above were dazzling. The moon looked the same way it did two thousand years ago.

We all said goodbye, but we kept our distance. No hands were shaken, no hugs were exchanged. We are responsible adults. Many of us have elderly parents with weak immune systems. We touched elbows. We said we loved each other.

“We oughta do this again sometime,” someone said.

We know we probably won’t, of course. At least not for a while. But it felt good to say.

On my drive out of town I saw the lights of the theater’s marquee click off. The world went black. And there was a smile on my face that wouldn’t quit.

My wife was singing beneath her breath:

“I’d stay in the garden with him, though the night around me is falling. But he bids me go, through the voice of woe…”

It really was a lot of fun. Being normal again.


  1. Pat - September 28, 2020 6:53 am

    Every day we’re one week closer to this pandemic being over with. Meanwhile we have your wonderful stories to keep us going.

  2. Helen De Prima - September 28, 2020 6:58 am

    One of my favorite hymns, one of sing in my mind on nights like this when I can’t sleep. Thanks for letting me sing along with you.

  3. Shannon Costello Isbell Dye - September 28, 2020 7:19 am

    😢. Oh I love those and remember my greatgrands singing and playing banjos and spoons!!!

  4. Cynthia Harmon - September 28, 2020 8:32 am

    Oh, I miss your podcasts! This one just popped up in my Feedly. I listen while working in the kitchen and I think about my family. All together the best. Love to you and Jamie.

  5. Cheryl Hatter - September 28, 2020 9:58 am

    In The Garden is now stuck in my head……..I’ll sing it for weeks ❤️

  6. Southern Girl - September 28, 2020 11:09 am

    For me the best hymn ever. My grandmother sang it while she baked pure deliciousness for us children. Her son, my father, loved it too – it was played at both of their funerals and it will be at mind too. It’s beautiful whether performed by a 100-voice choir accompanied by an orchestra or by a group of southern country boys and girls with fiddles and guitars. I wish I could hear your rendition.

  7. Ann - September 28, 2020 11:30 am

    I love that hymn…thank you…we DO appreciate those fleeting moments more than ever..

  8. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - September 28, 2020 11:34 am

    I can’t wait for that day! So glad you got to do this and I hope you can figure out how to get back to doing podcasts!

  9. Xan - September 28, 2020 11:48 am

    I love that hymn, and when you said Jamie was saying those words, I could hear them in my head. But I can’t help but think about a little boy who said he didn’t know God’s last name, but knew his first name was Andy. When asked why, he said because it’s in that song that says, “Andy walks with me…” Have a great day!

  10. Jan - September 28, 2020 11:59 am

    Thank you!

  11. Susan - September 28, 2020 12:06 pm

    Loved it❣️That’s one of my favorite songs and I have sung so many times!

  12. Dianne - September 28, 2020 12:24 pm

    Sean, thank you for a wonderful start to my week. I think we are all really, really missing “normal” lives, and it’s time to bring them back. If nothing else, this pandemic/quarantine has made us all appreciate and realize how wonderful normal was, how great our family and friends are, and that we all need “gatherings” and God in our lives.

  13. Gwen Douglas - September 28, 2020 12:50 pm

    You can watch it on YouTube ❤️

  14. cronkitesue - September 28, 2020 12:54 pm

    Those old songs are blessings straight from the heart of God!

  15. Wanda Morgan - September 28, 2020 12:57 pm

    I’ll search for your podcast. Your writings are helping us through a very strange time in history. Thanks Sean.

  16. Pamela Williams - September 28, 2020 1:01 pm


  17. Susan A. Royal - September 28, 2020 1:05 pm

    When we were growing up, my sisters and I used to sit with my grandmother and sing. She sang alto to come to the Garden alone. I can hear her now. And her laugh. She enjoyed life. Thanks for the memory.

  18. Phillip and Beth Todd - September 28, 2020 1:13 pm

    When we used to sing that song at Alder Springs Independent Presbyterian Church, my son Andy always thought we were singing about him! 😂😂😂

  19. Jackie - September 28, 2020 1:24 pm

    How very fitting is this hymn! The pandemic will be over at some point and life will go back to normal. I just pray that we remember the words to In The Garden when it’s over – He is with us wherever we are & whatever situation we’re in. May God bless you & Jamie!

  20. Keloth Anne - September 28, 2020 1:27 pm

    Sean, this is just great and I didn’t read it—I sang most of it!! It was a wonderful night and I felt like my world was normal for that delightful time spent with you ♥️♥️
    Thank you, stay safe and hope we can see you and Jamie in the near future 🥰🥰
    You are loved

  21. Ginger Clifton - September 28, 2020 1:41 pm

    Love this hymn. It was my grandmother’s, mother’s favorite, and I hope someone will sing it over me one day. I did a hymn story about it, and it is a beautiful story of how it was written. I love it more than ever after I read about it. Daylight and Twilight are two precious times to a photographer, and they have always been the best parts of the day to this girl who loves sitting in her little screened gazebo watching and listening as God brings on the show.

  22. Lorne - September 28, 2020 2:05 pm

    This is my favorite, and my mother’s too, but she passed at 96 just 5 weeks ago. Though she didn’t really know me any more, she still remembered the words to “In the Garden” and we sang it together, over and over and over again. Thanks for touching my heart, Sean.

  23. Sue Rhodus - September 28, 2020 2:20 pm

    The old hymns..holding the hymnal..holding the Bible in your hands while reading God’s word..this is church !!! I like people knowing your name and not counting you as a number in attendance. This is church !!
    Enjoyed the show very much.

  24. Robyn Coffey - September 28, 2020 2:45 pm

    It was so good to hear y’all again!! Made the hard times better. Thank you & please keto it you!!!

  25. Jane Elder - September 28, 2020 3:51 pm

    So glad you got to do this. My husband was up in the chinquapin tree yesterday, harvesting nuts. Our neighbor came by on his 4-wheeler. He lives alone and loves to visit. So he stayed at social distance and they yelled back and forth for quite awhile. My husband…up in the tree…and the neighbor down on the ground. Not normal..but at least as close as it will be for the foreseeable future.

  26. Christina - September 28, 2020 4:01 pm

    It was my first time watching you perform on stage and I could sense the energy in the air. Once you hopped on the piano, it was like you were in the playground again! And your granny is definitely the coolest! Thanks for bringing us laughter, fun and the joy of music. Healing to the soul!

  27. Gloria Knight - September 28, 2020 4:19 pm

    My dad was a huge gospel music fan. When I was a child, we’d go to those gospel “all night sings” where I would fall asleep in the nearest lap.He played that music in his truck & I found cassettes there after he died. He was also a big fan of Alabama music. So keep playing those wonderful old songs- many of us still love them and remember the good old days when they played on the radio.

  28. Pete - September 28, 2020 4:36 pm

    Growing up, we sang that song many times at Wewa First Baptist and I’ll sing it the rest of the day now that you’ve reprogrammed me! Thanks Sean and have a great day!

  29. Linda - September 28, 2020 4:59 pm

    In The Garden ! My Mom’s favorite song. I sang it when she passed . She requested that I do this. A yellow rose on top of the tombstone & me singing . That was it simple & quick.
    I miss Mom & Pop so much. I feel so alone. No children , no brothers or sisters. A husband but I’m still very alone. I wish 2020 would go away.
    Can’t write anymore!
    Sad & crying!
    Thanks Sean for your words they mean a lot. Wish I could give you a hug. Anyway I’m sending one to you through the air. Be sure to catch it & pass it on!

  30. Linda Moon - September 28, 2020 5:06 pm

    The auditorium may have been empty, but my heart was full while I listened to the Black Box broadcast. I wish you could have heard my guy and me applauding. Sean, I don’t like to leave laughter and good things, either. So, I’m saying “I love you” to you and your wife for the times you’ve both brought each of these into my LIFE. Give your wife love and virtual hugs from “Uma”!

  31. Susan - September 28, 2020 5:24 pm

    In The Garden .. we were commenting on hymns just last night. We remembered my father-in-law, a man who was unable to read or write, who worked the fields at the age of 8 to help support a family of 8 children after his father died. He b loved In The Garden and as a grown man with his own family, plowing his fields, would sing and could be heard over the noise for acres away, In the Garden, Old Rugged Cross, Softly and Tenderly, singing as loud as he could. How Great Is Our God!
    Thank you Sean for this moment of peace singing along with you and the band and for your wife making it so personal.

  32. Dana - September 28, 2020 5:34 pm

    Precious…. so very precious. I am so thankful for your words and the smiles you give everyone who reads them. You are truly a gift to this world.

  33. Karen Peters - September 28, 2020 6:19 pm

    Reading this I’m having to wipe something from the corner of both my eyes. The podcast was great! That night our family was gathered at the home of a niece (Aaron’s cousin) whose mother (Aaron’s Aunt) had passed away the previous night. All the in-laws and cousins there took the time to watch the podcast and it brought smiles to our sad hearts. We thank you❤️
    Aaron’s Mom, Karen

  34. MAM - September 28, 2020 6:28 pm

    Thanks for reminding us of what can and should be normal again!

  35. Debora - September 28, 2020 9:28 pm

    My husband and I sat in our living room and watched your show. It was so wonderful! Almost normal. I wanted you to hear us clapping or laughing or singing along. Thank you, thank you for a lovely evening!!!!!

  36. Susan Hawkins - September 28, 2020 10:11 pm

    I’d love to hear that show – is there a youtube link for it?

  37. Nancy M - September 28, 2020 10:28 pm

    Susan Hawkins, here it is.
    There are 3 little lines in the upper right corner. Tap on that, and one of the choices is “Podcast.” Tap on that.

  38. Tom - September 29, 2020 12:18 am

    I like it, especially the song, one of my favorites!!

  39. Melanie - September 29, 2020 12:38 am

    “We know we probably won’t, of course. At least not for a while.” Man those are some sad words. Of all people Sean you know that time waits for no man. I hope you’ll reconsider.

  40. Lynn Pappas - September 29, 2020 1:36 am

    Singing hymns makes me happy, too. I wish I knew of a church that still had hymnals and sang hymns.

  41. Dee Cullen - September 29, 2020 3:03 am

    Enjoy reading your work! Is it called work? Well maybe stories. Also love seeing your commercial! Told my wife, there’s Sean!

  42. nebraskannie - September 29, 2020 6:00 pm

    I sang “In the Garden” at my grandmothers funeral. I think of her all the time when I do the things she taught me, and have no fear of surviving in this pandemic. She survived 1918, the depression, countless wars. If she could live with such grace, I can too. I loved your comment about the nature of life and that I guess you wouldn’t want good things to last forever because otherwise they would cease to be wonderful.

  43. Karen G - September 29, 2020 10:29 pm

    This was my Granny’s very favorite hymn. Mine, too. Many times I play it very slowly for the prelude for our church service . No frills or trills – just slow and meaningful. I would love to hear your version!

  44. Vicki Magure - September 29, 2020 11:32 pm

    So very true.

  45. goodroe - October 1, 2020 5:29 pm

    God Bless you for sharing your experience with this beautiful hymn, My favorite of all, wish I could have heard ya’ll singing it as well🤔 I am a 76 year old Southern lady born(raised in Georgia, now living in Florida to be near the Gulf & the Sun, thanks for bringing joy to my heart, I miss hearing that hymn🤔😢

  46. Dawn Bratcher - October 12, 2020 5:02 pm

    I watched that night – y’all’s playing and singing…it was grand! I, also, enjoyed the relaxed comraderie and pure enjoyment you all were experiencing. You & your friends certainly made me feel better! Thank you for providing the venue!

  47. Donna Beasley Oldford - October 14, 2020 6:22 pm

    This has always been my favorite hymn, from days attending the First Methodist Church in DeFuniak. It was one of the hymns sung at my mother’s funeral there, as it was a favorite of hers, too. When I go into my own garden here in CA or commune with nature in any respect, I’m reminded that Mother Nature doesn’t know a pandemic. And she reminds us that someday our lives will resume a normal rhythm and reason. I can hardly wait. Thanks for the memories, Sean.

  48. Kathryn Purnell - October 29, 2020 9:20 pm

    I love that song. I am so tired of being housebound, and having friends die from this vicious virus. I have bought daffodils to plant in my yard to brighten my Spring.

  49. Cathi Banks - October 29, 2020 9:28 pm

    My favorite hymn, and your story did it justice. Thanks, Sean. I needed that.

  50. Mary Anne Tomlinson - December 4, 2020 11:50 pm

    In The Garden was my daddy’s favorite hymn too. He used to go around whistling it to himself in the house or outside doing yard work. Of course, we had it sung at his funeral 46 years ago. Yes, I still miss him so much.


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