Those boyhood feelings never leave you. No matter how old you get. No matter what your station in life. Those feelings are like handprints embedded in a cement sidewalk.

Enterprise, Alabama—I stood before a small auditorium of people. Guitar strapped to my chest. I told a story about my cousin falling off a chicken house and breaking his big toe. People laughed at the punchline. I sang a song to go with it. I told another story. Another song.

And I was thinking to myself.

“I’m not qualified to be here,” that’s what I was thinking in the moment. “I’m not supposed to be doing this.”

After the show, I went to the back. I hugged necks. I shook hands with people who were kind enough to attend. One woman told me her son died this past month. Another man embraced me and said: “I’m eighty tonight, thanks for making my birthday good.”

And a nine-year-old named Emily gave me a handwritten letter. As it happens, I’ve written about Emily once before. Months ago, I mistakenly wrote that she was seven years old.

“I’m actually nine,” Emily clarified. “But you’re okay.”

Sometimes I feel like an impostor doing what I do for a living. I mean it. I have no idea what I’m doing. Furthermore, why would anyone read my words? Why would anyone care to hear to my stories?

I’m so painfully ordinary it hurts. I grew up among lots of grass, and plain people, and tiny post offices. I was not a good athlete, a terrible student, and I was chubby. With freckles. And a big nose. And ugly hair.

I remember when Mother used to take family photographs. She would position us just right. “Say cheese!” she’d yell. She’d send me to the drugstore to pick up the photos after a few weeks.

I would open the Kodak envelope and thumb through glossy photographs. When I’d see my own picture, I wanted to crawl under a flat rock.

Nothing was “okay” with the way I was put together. I was ugly, awkward, plump, with a haircut that practically screamed “fundamentalist.” Daddy cut my hair on our porch, using scissors and an enamel mixing bowl.

Worse still, I was a straight-C student, soft spoken, and you should’ve seen me hold a baseball bat.

When my father died, I became even more awkward—at least that’s what I saw in the mirror. I hated the way shirts clung to my little belly. And the way my ugly hair made me look like a wild-eyed evangelical. I slumped instead of standing straight. I even had puffy ankles.

I didn’t like me. I was not a charming kid. I was quiet, not too bright, and nobody would’ve ever picked me to play football. Even fewer would’ve picked me to go to a dance.

I tried to start jogging when I was fifteen. I wanted to lose weight and be skinnier. I wanted to be somebody. I wanted to love me. I wanted to be “okay.”

So, I would run gravel roads at night, in the dark, so nobody could see me. I ran every evening at eight.

I huffed and puffed. I remember my sneakers crunching on gravel. The sound of my own heavy breathing.

Sometimes, I would stop running and sit on the shoulder of the road. The constellations above me were marvelous. And I would wish I could be with them in the sky.

Those boyhood feelings never leave you. No matter how old you get. No matter what your station in life. Those feelings are like handprints embedded in a cement sidewalk.

But today, I’m sorry I ever felt that way. Because I am here, with you, doing this. Whatever this is. You’re reading these words, and you can’t know how much it means to me.

I never knew I was a storyteller, and it feels strange admitting that. To me, I will always be a child who hated his own photograph. A boy who wished he could tuck his head into his shell and not come out except to eat, drink, and maybe pee.

But I was wrong. I owe myself an apology for not being satisfied with what I was made to be. I realize this now.

Sadly, I didn’t come to this realization on my own. It happened earlier this week. In Enterprise. It was a nine-year-old (not a seven-year-old) named Emily. She was sent to me from the very same place the constellations come from, to remind me of an important thing.

I apologized to Emily for making a mistake when I wrote about her. She hugged me. Her eyes met mine. She said:

“You’re okay,” she said.

I know it’s only two words. And I know those words are simply nine letters hooked together.

But I am grateful she said them.

66 comments

  1. Sandi in FL. - September 21, 2018 5:38 am

    Bless young Emily’s sweet, precious heart, and bless you, too, Sean. You are loved, appreciated, admired and valued by so many people in so many different places, of so many varied ages and backgrounds. I’m guessing your fan base is as vast as the constellations you used to gaze at in the night sky.

    Reply
  2. John - September 21, 2018 5:44 am

    You are ok, Sean. Thanks for sharing your stories, memories, thoughts, and feelings. I look forward to listening to you next week at Bay Lights. John in Florida .

    Reply
  3. Jeanne Butler - September 21, 2018 5:51 am

    You are mire than okay. You are the reason I can now feel good about myself and my life. You have made me see how good life can be even when there is nothing good about it. And I love you for that Sean.

    Reply
  4. garden7daze - September 21, 2018 6:54 am

    I believe artists always feel vulnerable when they offer their purest self in their work. Maybe you should try on a new label!

    Reply
  5. Marilyn Vance - September 21, 2018 9:19 am

    Emily and I agree! You are okay….and I’m not 9, I’m 74!

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  6. Susan Swiderski - September 21, 2018 10:05 am

    You are far more than okay. You have a compassionate soul and the ability to see the beauty beneath the sometimes not-so-beautiful exterior. That is a true gift.

    Reply
  7. Susan - September 21, 2018 10:30 am

    You are every man but then again, like no other man. You bring rise to our fondest memories and our worst childhood feelings. You are all of us, Sean. Which is why we love you so.

    Reply
  8. GaryD - September 21, 2018 10:35 am

    Hey Sean, you ARE okay. Even better than okay. Keep writing and singing. My part of the world keeps getting better because of you!

    Reply
  9. Steve Winfield - September 21, 2018 10:35 am

    Even more than okay. Some of my days aren’t that easy to get through but you always help a little. Thanks.

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  10. Alice - September 21, 2018 10:37 am

    I love your stories and I love you Sean God Bless you

    Reply
  11. Suzanne - September 21, 2018 10:59 am

    Everybody has something extraordinary to offer. We just have to open our hearts to see it. You make this story teller believe that one day I’ll be as good at it as you are.

    Reply
  12. Jerenell Gorbutt - September 21, 2018 11:06 am

    Some days I laugh with You and some days I cry. Every day you touch my heart
    and that is another reason why you are more, so much more than okay Sean.
    You are a Blessing to me and to anyone
    that takes the time to read your words.
    God Bless You Son.

    Reply
  13. Rick - September 21, 2018 11:30 am

    You are more than okay! You remind me of my childhood in rural Arkansas where life was hard but simple!

    Reply
  14. Nancy Thomaston Rogers - September 21, 2018 11:40 am

    Thank you Sean (and Emily). We are all okay.

    Reply
  15. Barbara Pope - September 21, 2018 11:51 am

    I get it It’s a red headed affliction–we look so different and are teased so much growing up. For me all I wanted was be tanned, naturally pretty with eyelashes and eyebrows that accented my almost albino skin. 30+ years later I understood that being different is sometimes a plus–makes you try harder and really is not so bad after all.

    Reply
  16. Marilyn - September 21, 2018 11:52 am

    Sean, I was a chubby kid many years ago and still battle a weight problem. And I never was picked until last to be on a team for softball at my little grade school. But thank God at 80 I can like myself – most of the time. So I do understand your written words today. Keep writing, and story telling because you are okay – and so am I!

    Reply
  17. Mike Guilday - September 21, 2018 12:10 pm

    Unfortunately God didn’t put a meter on our head or chest that showed the size of someone’s heart. Your’s would be off the charts. So would a bunch of other folks. I can hear people saying, “Did you see the size of that man’s heart, wowzers!” There’s no meter but your words show us the size of yours. Thank you.

    Reply
  18. Jan - September 21, 2018 12:24 pm

    As the writer before me said, you can’t measure the size of a heart but your heart is one of the biggest ones ever. You are not only aware of other people’s pain, you actually feel it yourself. That takes a very special person and you are a very special person. I believe Emily said it best – “You are okay”.

    Reply
  19. Pamela McEachern - September 21, 2018 12:25 pm

    Sean you’re ok in the way it makes the rest of us know we are ok too. Thanks for your words of hope and humanity they go a long way each day.

    Peace and Love from Birmingham

    Reply
  20. ponder304 - September 21, 2018 12:27 pm

    I hope one day this 65 year old can say, “I am okay.”

    Reply
    • Connie Havard Ryland - September 21, 2018 12:35 pm

      I don’t know you but I’m sending you good vibes anyway. I’m 60+ and it took awhile to be okay with my life, but I am. And I wish that for you as well. Stay strong.

      Reply
  21. Connie Havard Ryland - September 21, 2018 12:29 pm

    I don’t know about everybody else. I read you because you are us, with all our collective sorrows and joys, bad memories and good ones. You make me remember that no matter what I went through to get here, I’m here. And I’m okay. Strong even. Just like you. Love ya.

    Reply
  22. Jo Ann - September 21, 2018 12:35 pm

    Sean, you tell us we’re all okay, & that’s pretty wonderful. Thanks.

    Reply
  23. Patricia A Schmaltz - September 21, 2018 12:39 pm

    Children are the wisest part of ourselves. They see through the BS and get right to the heart of the matter. You are more than OK. You are a bright spot in my day, every day. Thank you!

    Reply
  24. Shirley Northington (Skelton) - September 21, 2018 12:39 pm

    Actually, you are way more than okay.

    Reply
  25. Brenda - September 21, 2018 12:56 pm

    You are perfect, your words are like air, for people who need incouragment.

    Reply
  26. Bo - September 21, 2018 1:08 pm

    Another gentle man once said “the meek shall inherit the earth”. As i’ve gotten older I’ve come to realize that “kindness” is the most important attribute/virtue. Seek it out. Display it. Value it. Embrace it. Thank You Sean.

    Reply
  27. Kathy Smith - September 21, 2018 1:15 pm

    I love reading your stories. Please keep it up and I hope that when you come to Birmingham that I’m able to get a ticket fast because, I imagine, they’ll be sold out fast.

    Reply
  28. Laine Thayer - September 21, 2018 1:18 pm

    Yes, you are ‘okay’ and we all are ‘okay’! My prayer is for all to realize this and to have an Emily show up to state those words to each one of us! I thank you for connecting so many of us!

    Reply
  29. Candy Clark - September 21, 2018 1:20 pm

    Sean – I’m sure, at this point, you know that you are more than okay. You have a gift!! To see all the simple good in this world and knowing how to share it with us! You have helped us open our eyes, daily, and appreciate the world around us. Forever Grateful that you chose to share with us. Continue on, please………

    Reply
  30. Anne Isbell - September 21, 2018 1:23 pm

    You are much more than just okay. Your column brightens my day every morning. I hope that you get as much joy from what you do as I get when I read your words.

    Reply
  31. Jean Hinson - September 21, 2018 1:36 pm

    Sean, I was one of the fortunate ones to see and hear you in Enterprise. You are more than okay, you are fabulous!

    Reply
  32. Mary Burns - September 21, 2018 1:44 pm

    I can identify with a lot of those same feelings. Now that I’m old, it’s still there, but I have a good life, so I’m OK with those fleeting moments of self incriminations.
    But, you are okay. I’m glad one of my best friends told me about you. You are the first person I read every morning. I like your style and your thoughts and honesty! Keep up the good words. You are OK!

    Reply
  33. Jeff Corkran - September 21, 2018 1:51 pm

    Why would anyone want to read your writing? Because in these days of political turmoil, of natural disasters, of generally bad news, your writing reconnects people with everyday life and the joys that it holds.

    Yeah, you’re okay and so are most of the rest of us.

    Reply
  34. Marlene Tallie - September 21, 2018 1:53 pm

    Sean, I met you last night (9/20) in Gardendale. I.truly.enjoyed.EVERY.minute. Your humble nature is what makes you see things others don’t and appreciate the kindness and goodness that’s left of this world. Please don’t change. You’re a breath of fresh air and I wish I could go to another show tonight. I enjoyed meeting Jamie too. She’s as lovely as you describe her and deserves every word. I’m glad Emily’s words gave you that boost. She’s right – You’re okay, my favorite Chip Monk.
    Marlene Tallie
    Fultondale AL

    Reply
  35. Clark - September 21, 2018 1:59 pm

    All the reasons you gave for not feeling good enough are the same reasons you have my attention. I can relate to you and I believe most people can too. It’s the honesty and encouragement, and down to earthiness in your stories I like. Everyone wants to be noticed, and that’s what you do. You notice people; even the un-noticeable people. Nuff said, don’t want you getting a big head. 😄

    Reply
  36. Marty from Alabama - September 21, 2018 2:00 pm

    Normally, when nine year olds especially girls, tell you ”You’re OK.” that’s exactly what they mean. So do not doubt Emily knew what she was saying. I would much rather hear someone tell me I’m ok rather than being insincere.
    Please continue being OK and do not stop writing.

    Reply
  37. Helene Mewborn - September 21, 2018 2:13 pm

    Sean, I think you still don’t give yourself the credit you deserve! Just remind yourself what young Emily said!
    You have quite a following of people who enjoy and appreciate your “efforts”! We may never have met you, but we know you-and love your heart!
    Last of all: there is nothing wrong with “fundamentalists”-even if we don’t all travel that route.

    Reply
  38. Pat - September 21, 2018 2:27 pm

    Angels walk among us!

    Reply
  39. teachenglish67 - September 21, 2018 2:33 pm

    Yep, you’re o.k. Humble beginnings blend into wonderful, but sometimes painful, experiences to share with others who are questioning their humble beginnings. Wisdom comes from experiences. You’re wise, too.

    Reply
  40. Jack Quanstrum - September 21, 2018 2:45 pm

    That’s nice of her and nice of you! Your Okay, are powerful Words. They make everything okay!

    Reply
  41. Dianne - September 21, 2018 2:52 pm

    You are okay and more, Sean. You just don’t realize how wonderful the gift is that you bring to people every day. Thank you!

    Reply
  42. monette walker - September 21, 2018 2:54 pm

    Good morning, Sean, you are more than ok, you say words that most of us cannot say, you are a reflection of so many of us who love and adore you. Those of us who read your words, and come to hear you speak are an indication of our admiration for you. so keep on speaking and sharing your thoughts and remember: God has blessed you with a special gift of storytelling, and we are all blessed to hear you.

    Reply
  43. Kathy Daum - September 21, 2018 2:57 pm

    I was always chubby. I either had a dutch-boy cut or one of my mom’s home permanents. But I was smart. It’s taken 66 years to find out I’m more than just smart.

    Reply
  44. Edna B. - September 21, 2018 4:11 pm

    It took me almost forty years to figure out that I was really okay and worthy. I guess lots of us go through these feelings of inadequacy. Thankfully, most of us learn the truth about ourselves in time. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  45. Kimberly Mooney - September 21, 2018 4:38 pm

    You are so far beyond OK. You are amazing! I look forward to your post every single day! They touch my heart. Satan will always try to convince you that you are less. But you are not. You are smart, you are good, and you are important! Don’t you ever forget!

    Reply
  46. Connie Pearson - September 21, 2018 4:44 pm

    You’re so okay that I will be quoting you tomorrow in a presentation I’m giving for a ladies conference near Cullman — and I will be telling them about your website. 🙂 You said, “I believe the most beautiful thing you will ever get in this lifetime is your story,” and I will be encouraging those women to share their own stories.

    Reply
  47. EIleen - September 21, 2018 5:32 pm

    Love your humble,touching,down to earth column.A93 year old banjo players mother in London, Ontario.Won’t start my day with out reading it!

    Reply
  48. Gaylia - September 21, 2018 8:05 pm

    Sean, we all need a 9 year old Emily in our lives. We just need someone to tell us that we are OKAY. I have to thank one of your sweet friends for sharing you with me. I can relate to so many of the things you write about. Thank you for each day I get to read you take on something that I can relate to.

    Reply
  49. Susie - September 21, 2018 8:32 pm

    Sean, I saw you last night in Gardendale. I hugged you, you signed my book and told me I had your mother’s name. You are such an inspiration to me. And, you are more than OKAY!

    Reply
  50. Susan Kennedy - September 21, 2018 8:35 pm

    You are more than ok. And you are loved.

    Reply
  51. Jan Bruck - September 21, 2018 8:36 pm

    You are much more than “okay”! What you do with your writing every day to encourage and uplift people is incalculable. You’re a winner!

    Reply
  52. Gwenn Woods - September 21, 2018 9:29 pm

    Yes, you are more than okay. I look forward to your words every day. You bless so many.

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  53. Angie morton - September 21, 2018 11:04 pm

    Being ordinary is what makes you extra ordinary… I love your writing… I love your stories… thank you for continuing to do what you never thought you were qualified to do!!!! ❤️❤️❤️

    Reply
  54. Sherry G Bourgeois - September 21, 2018 11:52 pm

    Thank you for being you and for your inspiration!

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  55. Michael Hawke - September 22, 2018 2:32 am

    You’re more than okay. You feel like a friend. Thank you.

    Reply
  56. Becca Burke Allison - September 22, 2018 3:07 am

    I was a homely little girl with big teeth, glasses and scraggly hair, always caught daydreaming, as they called it back in the early ’60’s. It was decades later that I realized being a daydreamer meant I was a writer, and started writing in earnest. Last night at a local Open Mic where I read my poetry, I was told by a listener that I made her cry. You are a writer, a wonderful one, calling forth memories and laughter and sadness. You help me realize that I am okay. Thank you.

    Reply
  57. Nancy Lane - September 22, 2018 2:44 pm

    Sean, you make my heart happy. You give me hope.

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  58. Ronda Tedder - September 22, 2018 5:49 pm

    We are all too hard on ourselves, when we accept ourselves, we are okay. Thanks for another great post.

    Reply
    • Sandi in FL. - September 22, 2018 5:58 pm

      LOVE ths old vintage photo beside your name, Ronda. Is that your mother or grandmother? Beautiful lady and picture.

      Reply
      • Ronda Tedder - September 22, 2018 6:03 pm

        Thank you, it is my maternal grandmother Ruby at 17

        Reply
  59. Sandi in FL. - September 22, 2018 6:19 pm

    Friendly suggestion: Print out a small copy of her photo and cut it in size to fit inside a pretty locket! That’s what I’d do if she was my grandmother.

    Reply
  60. Jody - September 23, 2018 2:03 am

    Once again you have touched the hearts of many readers. Knowing that you are OK , And your thoughts and words matter We all identify and relate to that

    Reply
  61. Sandra Smith - September 23, 2018 1:51 pm

    You’re more than “ok” Sean,
    You’re a tapestry. A beautiful tapestry, made up of fibers that are everything that’s happened in your life, that when you look at it, each thread that’s woven into it, stitched together to make a picture that takes your breath away, when you step back & look at it. So full of depth and soul, that it stays with you for the rest of your life, and sets the bar for what you hope to find in every person you meet in this world, thereafter.
    Yep, you’re more than “ok” ! ❤

    Reply
  62. Janice Spivey - November 18, 2018 2:00 pm

    You are more than OK, you are quite wonderful… And so am I! . Thank you.. Sean of the South…
    JANICE (like your Mom) . Spivey… I met you in Gardendale AL this year.. My nickname is Spicey .. .

    Reply
  63. Jess Rawls - November 30, 2018 3:02 am

    Sean, in a number of your writings you write that you don’t know what you’re doing. However, I think you do know what you’re doing and your readers know for a fact that you know what you’re doing….and you are excellent at writing. Just don’t ever stop, we need to read your words because they make us happy, sad and cause us to reflect on our own lives and to recall memories of our youth and some of the people we’ve met along the way. Oh, you know what you’re doing….just don’t stop, please.

    Reply

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