Stay Strong

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It was on a June night last summer, about 10 p.m., that I heard strange music coming from a neighbor’s home. By “strange,” I mean uncommonly beautiful. It wasn’t trendy music or electronic or metallic. It was a single violin, played at the moment. I am not a classical music expert, but the tune was somewhat familiar.

It was one of those beautiful summer nights when the sky is full of stars. It was a night of recollections of youth, gratitude for the present and hopefulness for the future. As the violin was precise, flawlessly played, the stars seemed to shine a little brighter and the air smelled a little sweeter. The music stopped after 20 minutes or so, and stillness returned to the street.


Meet the New Neighbor

Kevin and his family are originally from a small town from outside of Des Moines. New to the neighborhood, I was to learn, it was Kevin who was responsible for the violin music.

In college, Kevin had one of two choices: be a reliable baseball player or an exceptional violinist. He chose violin. Kevin quickly gained the respect of his professors and peers, and he advanced within the university orchestra. I might add, he also played a mean banjo and a soulful guitar, but it is violin he loves.

By his senior year, he was the first violinist of the university orchestra, and upon graduation he went to graduate school for music and started a succession of jobs for smaller and then progressively more prestigious symphony orchestras.

Kevin came from a very humble background. He was a full scholarship student, and because he so appreciated the opportunities he had, one of his favorite pursuits was to teach inner city children how to read music and to play stringed instruments. He did so without any expectation of reward, of course. He did so because he loved working with children—and he loves music.


Magnify Your Strengths, Not Your Weaknesses

To see and speak to Kevin would be only to uncover one small part of his being. The night Kevin was spreading music over the neighborhood was around the time that a terrible truth was revealed to him.

He had been feeling run down for several months. An annual check-up revealed that he had an aggressive form of leukemia. He moved to North Carolina because there are exceptional oncologists in our area associated with the medical school.

Kevin entered chemotherapy and took his violin, guitar and banjo with him. Chemotherapy, as you know, can make some patients very ill, and when he was feeling particularly devastated he would close the door to his room and practice various pieces. The violin helped him drift off to sleep.

Nurses and physicians would drop in from time to time and listen to his concerts. One nurse, in particular, took a liking to Kevin, and as the chemotherapy worked its healing and Kevin went into remission, they dated for a little while.

Other staff members asked Kevin if he wouldn’t mind (when he was feeling up to it, of course) if he would return to the hospital and play for some of the children in the pediatric ward. He did so with glee, often encouraging the children to sing along with his strumming and plucking.

Toward the end of fall, Kevin felt optimistic enough to rent an apartment. He allowed himself to respond to symphony orchestras who had agreed to his requests for auditions.


Find the Strength You Need

Just as Kevin had convinced himself that the remission would last forever, his leukemia returned with a vengeance. It is a cruel disease, to be sure. He has just re-entered the hospital, and he is facing tough choices along the lines of bone marrow transplants. He brought his instruments with him, and he is learning some extremely complex pieces to keep his skills intact. For Kevin has not given up hope. Indeed, he refuses to give up hope.

We are still in the middle of Kevin’s story. He is inspirational in that he refuses to cave into despair. His weapon and his fight are in the strains of incredibly beautiful music. The notes reach the stars, and they are heard.

If you are facing a tough time, I ask you to please think of Kevin. Fight with whatever you have and never give up, for there is magic in even the simplest of tunes. I’ve learned that you can keep going long after you think you can’t. You were given this life because you’re strong enough to live it. You’re allowed to scream, you’re allowed to cry, but do not give up. Whenever you find yourself doubting how far you can go, just remember how far you have come. Remember everything you have faced, all the battles you have won, and all the fears you have overcome. Just like Kevin, stay strong!


For more information about Hall of Fame speaker and bestselling author Steve Gilliland and the Gilliland Foundation, please contact steve@stevegilliland.com / 724-540-5019 / www.stevegilliland.com.