“Life, Liberty, and uuuhhh, what’s the last word?”

I was leaving the pristine mountains of the Pisgah National Forest after 3 exhilarating mountain bike rides. After a perfect weekend with friends I stayed in Asheville one more day in order to get a few more miles of crazy exciting trails and to say Thank You to nature and her wonder.

As I left Bent Creek and headed for the interstate taking me back into Asheville, I was struck by the number of State Trooper vehicles speeding past me in both directions. I counted 17. Then, the colors and the banners and the lawn chairs and the people in ball caps and camouflage pants and shirts started to appear. American flags and confederate flags and MAGA hats were everywhere. With each mile there were more and more and more. It was like the lining of the boulevard for a parade. I was reminded that is was the first day of the RNC and perhaps POTUS was going to have a motorcade detour to this wonderful region of North Carolina. I prayed for an exit.

The crowds grew thicker by the mile. Folks with smiles and some with scowls waving their posters and banners. It looked like the 4th of July, but had more the feel of a Slender Man convention.

I had to stop for gas. I slowed and pulled in to a station along Brevard Highway, my 3 bikes loaded on my orange Subaru filled with bags and wine coolers, a guitar, and all manner of what is required to sustain life in the woods or with nutty friends at an Airbnb.

I had no sooner opened my driver-side door when a friendly-enough guy walked up and reached out to hand me a bumper sticker and a pamphlet. The organization: The Silent Majority. He wore jeans and work boots. His hands leathery and dirty from what I am certain is an honest job and one that adds value. His voice gritty from the combination of a lifetime of smoking and a couple of hours yelling at orange Subarus.

This is a close transcript of the conversation that ensued between me (ME) and the Silent Majority Guy (TSMGUY).

Hi. I’ll take the pamphlet, but keep the number sticker for someone else.

Why don’t you want the sticker? You’re not one of those Obama-loving socialists, are you?

Well, I am not a socialist and I was and am a fan of President Obama.

Well, seems to us that if you liked that muslim guy then you must be a socialist.

Another two-parter here. First of all, President Obama is not a muslim, although that would not change my support of him in the least as a man or as a politician. And, once again, I am not a socialist; I am a capitalist with a conscience.

And once again, my new friend, I am not a socialist; I am a capitalist with a conscience.

Roadside chat Me and TSMGUY

What the hell does that mean? Capitalist…communist…same thing.

ME (looking very confused):
Do you have any idea what you just said?

TSMGUY (walking away to next target):
You have a good day, man. Make America Great Again.

You do the same. Truer words never spoken. But not with this guy.

I offered a peace sign as he slowly jogged away. He returned a hand gesture of his own, minus one finger.

All I could do was invoke the southern phrase that is usually mixed with a touch of well-intended concern and disingenuous affection, “Bless his heart.”

I Choose Light this Day

This morning’s news was dark. More and more illness and death from a pandemic. More protests from non-violent and peace-seeking people bewildered and oppressed during their lifetime and representing the generations before them, blended with others who stand with and for them. More violent protests and violent response from those perhaps misguided, misjudged, and misled — who am I to say? I am not them, the protesters or the law enforcers. Angry weather breaking and entering the southern coast. And the stories of the rich and powerful having their way; or losing their way.

And then, fifth in line, the news of the celebration of the life of John Lewis and his final crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. A metaphorical tapestry masterpiece. A bridge. A casket. A flag. A body of honor was on its way to rest in the Nation’s capital, but first crossing the very place it was beaten, just under the name of a man who was a grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. A sweltering summer day in the south where the images of toil and suffering are not as distant as some would like to believe but where the hope and promise John Lewis labored for still shines as brightly as the July sun.

It would be easy to resign the day to everything that is dark. Easy to let cynicism overcome idealism in these days and in these moments. Easy to blame or subscribe to conspiracy theories in lieu of truth because the truth is less animate. Easy to just turn it off and pivot to social media to escape with dances and pictures of cats and memes of all kinds that serve as Teflon for the hard reality around us.

Today, I choose to focus on story #5. I choose to remember words that have the potential to unite humanity. A person who led with conviction and empathy, and kindness but did so with a strong will and a relentless quest of justice. I will bring my book with me to the woods and read some of my favorite passages from Walking With The Wind. I’ll be glad the rest of this day that despite the dark that so anxiously seeks to consume and divide and crush the spirit of good, we are…I am…seeking and appreciating what is beautiful in this life. My family. My friends. My love. My pursuits and passions. Nature. My opportunity, privilege, and burden to contribute to a better society and a better evolution of self.

“You are a light. You are the light. Never let anyone – any person or any force – dampen, dim or diminish your light. Study the path of others to make your way easier and more abundant.” ~ John Lewis

Not So Random Acts and the Blessings of May

It was late night. We were headed back from uptown when we saw a woman walking down Johnston Road. She was tugging a luggage cart with what appeared to be a suitcase and other items in strapped on. She wore a reflective vest. Vera said–in her emphatic and empathic voice–“We have to see if she needs help!” I was already headed for the next U-turn. As we pulled over near the Ballantyne Country Club, I got out of the car and approached the traveler. She didn’t appear too concerned or at threatened by my approach.

I introduced my self and she said, “Hello, my name is May.”

May is homeless—by choice. She said she was in North Carolina for a time and eventually headed for Baltimore. Vee got out of the car once she knew it was safe. We chatted with May for a few moments. As I observed her broken down cart I asked if she would allow me to give her one that I had stored in my garage that might be easier to tow. She was immediately grateful and said, “Why, yes. Are you sure?” We agreed to meet in a few moments as she journeyed further north toward Harris Teeter or the even further to i485. I raced home and got the beach wagon/cart and headed back to Johnston Road.

We saw her tugging her cargo of belongings just under the 485 overpass. We made the turn and pulled over on the shoulder just ahead of her. Our new friend was a little surprised at our return. I pulled the cart out of the Subaru and we started re-packing her belongings in it. May and Vee moved some things around and tested it for ergonomics and road readiness. It was an instant hit. We chatted a bit longer about her plans to stay in a local mission and eventually head for Maryland. We wished her well, gave her some money for meals and whatever else she might need, exchanged hugs, and got in the car and drove away. We worried about her, but we were grateful to have perhaps done something nice for someone in need.

Fast forward two weeks and our trip to Oak Island. We were driving on Interstate 74 on the outskirts east of Monroe, NC. We were actually talking about May and wondering how she was doing. Not five minutes later, Vee yelled (and I do mean, YELLED), “Look, look. It’s her. It’s May!” We couldn’t believe it. There she was, almost 80 miles from where we first met her, on the opposite side of the highway, pulling her green wagon toward the city.

I made an immediate U-turn and found a parking lot in front of an appliance store just ahead of her trek. We both jumped out and approached her. She looked a little surprised until I enthusiastically said, “Maaaay…It’s Sean and Vera…your friends from a couple of weeks ago that gave you the cart.” Her face lit up with the most delightful smile.

We gleefully expressed our joy in the serendipity. She said she was on her way to the library and working on getting some of her belongings shipped to Baltimore ahead of her upcoming quest. A few more moments of chat, another offering of some spending money, another embrace, a photo, and we went our separate ways.

We got back in the car and exchanged smiles mixed with joy and hope. This was a special moment. A reminder that we may not be able to save the world (today), but we can add something good to it from time to time. We can make new friends in the most unlikely of circumstances and we can find them again.

Godspeed, May. I hope you get home soon. Otherwise, we might find you again another day.

Sean’s Journal: Facing the Radical Bastards

It was a normal day. Not that any day is really “normal.” We gathered around the room to talk about the plans for the week. We discussed how we would lead through inquiry, narrative, rounding with purpose, and modeling what we are all about. It’s what we do.

I got a call. My dear friend and colleague asked that I take moment and be in a place that was private. The news was a diagnosis. Cancer. One that is relentless and stealthy. The news delivered almost as if a talking point in a corporate memo. Their intention was to offer it as news to those of us that are close and who care deeply before hearing it through the grapevine. I was numb. Quiet. I removed myself from my seat and stepped into the bathroom and threw up.

There were no signs. It began with a check up and a follow up with a concern and then another follow up and then the news.

Everyone responds differently. They will live fully and from a Bucket List perspective until the body says it can’t take another drop in it, so to speak. Others travel those last miles with different perspectives all their own.

I walk halls every day and see all manner of suffering and hope. I see men and women in white coats and in scrubs and in clothing dawned with artifacts and symbols that send visual signals we are there to do all we can to meet that suffering head on and be a partner in healing or transitioning. This work we do includes treatments and therapies and procedures in buildings and in rooms with equipment and beds lots of stuff aimed at making better. It also includes dialogue and support through conversations about the past and the future and the very real present.

We talked about it all. In the most ironic of twists, they also comforted me as my sadness and anger were clear in the moments together. Then, a few laughs at this mortality which is both villainous and heroic.

Cancer. A terrorist. It begins with a radical cell and moves through the urban streets of the body and consumes life. We fight back. We will, relentlessly. As many times as I visit its victims and its survivors, this beast does remind me of how precious and fragile life is. I am also reminded of how strong we humans can be in body and spirit.

To my dear friend—you inspire us all with your gift for healing others, through your leadership of those who hope to make their own mark in that healing, through your vision of care that looks beyond the barriers of bureaucracy and politics and the petty and the necessary pieces, and through your humanity and advocacy of the very patients of which you are now one. Fight. Live. Know you are loved. Know we will fight with you and fight for all the others who share your pain and your hope.


Sean’s Journal — December 22 “The doors behind me”

As the holiday approaches the meetings are fewer. Decorations and gifts and well-wishes lead to smiles and random acts of kindness. I finished one of those meetings with five of our clinical leaders. We spoke of what is possible and ideas around an early ’17 project that will effect people for the better. I left the nicely furnished and comfortable conference room and offered Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday wishes to the incredible executive assistants that line our suite. It was to be one of my last meetings of the year. As the sliding doors from the hospital to the garage closed behind me I heard the unmistakeable sound of grief.

the-healing-touch-jpg_sia-jpg-fit-to-width_800_trueThe sounds of prayer and weeping came from a family in a huddled embrace at the end of
the walkway. The gravity of sorrow brought two of them to their knees. It was clear they had just experienced a loss unimaginable and most likely unexpected. I approached and asked if I could offer them a place with some privacy. A woman turned and offered a muted smile through her tears and said, “Thank you, but we will stay here for a moment more.” I reached for her hand and she clutched mine as if we were old friends. We released and I slowly walked to the corner of the garage to make my turn for the line of cars waiting for those anxious to finish their rounds and their surgeries and their meetings and their small talk about plans and gifts and the little slice of joy that this time of year so often brings.

I glanced back at the family and offered a prayer for peace and comfort. As they so often do when I round and visit, my eyes welled up. I opened my car door and just stood. In just a few moments of uncharacteristic quiet, my mind raced through this last year. Its victories and tragedies. Its highs and lows and even the occasional uneventful.

My first thoughts were of those who were lost. Those whose lives ended so early and those who lived theirs out so well and just said, Farewell. No matter how expected or not, death takes away from the whole we know. The images of times we knew and experiences we had flood back in. There always seems to be a moment of doubt that they have actually “left”us.

My replay reminded me of how the depth of friendship can carry through the hardest times and complete the joy that comes with a milestone of good. I was awakened to the more shallow and fragile side of relationships when our flaws are exposed. I got to sing, and speak, and learn, and grow, and paddle, and pedal, and grow up how I hoped I would. I have loved well and have been loved so well. I realized how much I take for granted, especially with family and love, and I was ashamed. I became equally determined to change that; not in a New Years Eve kind of way, but in one of dialogue and awareness. I will battle cynicism and remain an idealist about this life.

To the family in their loss, I have thought of you every hour since walking through those doors yesterday. Peace be with you. And, in the most tragic of ironies, I am struck by how your loss—and tha
of so many others—gives me this grateful and grounded perspective.

Live well.


Sean’s Journal: Chronic pain and a little victory dance

We hold up in high regard those warriors on the athletic field who play through injury and pain. Impressive? Admirable? Sure.

But I see daily those whose pain is constant. Dull and then biting. Chronic. Genetic or illness-born. A product of a physiology fragile. Complex and mysterious.

sad-maskThey are among the heroes. They wake and face the day. Moving and stretching and finding ways to negotiate with their nemesis. They shower and make breakfast and raise their children. Go to work and labor through the tribulations of the day. They exercise to heal or to thrive in spite of the trials or to balance the pain here or the pain there.

Then, one day, after sucking it up and smiling through it, after finding ways to get the most out of life when the body says “I don’t want to,” after navigating through the maze of symptoms and root causes and the plethora of treatments, your patience and determination pays off. For the lucky few there is a potion in a script. A chemical cocktail that finds its paradoxical match.

Then, there is the victory dance. Hands moving freely. A morning wake without the long moments of adapting to the body’s need to move and greet the challenges ahead—holding a cup, writing a sentence, grabbing the wheel of a car, holding a hand, lifting a bag from the store. Things most of us take for granted.

Watching the ebb and flow has its emotional rhythm. Your quiet fight does not and did not go unnoticed. It isn’t the entertainers or the entrepreneurs or the athletes who command the respect stored in me. It is those who fight for our lives to live, and those who live to fight their own battles. You who war against demons that strike the mind or the toxins that grow and invade and steal us away. The spoils of injury. The aching that loiters and occupies the space between.

I watch with a quiet and empathic awe.

I am glad for you. I am inspired by you. I will do this work that might bring others to a place with less suffering and remember your example. Just wanted you to know.

Sean’s Journal: Godspeed (little man)

I looked in my son’s eyes at this reunion. Images flood as I retire to journal after the first day of time again. I see Lincoln Logs and Lego. Ninja Turtle moves and chasing a butterfly as goalkeeper while other 5-6 year olds mold around a soccer ball and move like tug-o-war somewhere at midfield. Laser Tag birthday parties and Pop Tarts after school. Later, at 15, walking in the den as I played and asking, “Dad, will you teach me that song on guitar?” One of my favorite moments. School plays where this peaceful teen transformed into animation and song. Baseball, football, wrestling and all things athletic while the arts tugged alongside. Books filled with the fantasies of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and of a boy named Harry. Flying in to Nashville just in time to hear him play his first gig and his first (and perfect) original. Pranks and bonfires and time with friends who stay friends. All boy. Always kind. Playful and pensive. Destined for something great

Then, the middle years. Somewhere between 11th grade, through college, and to this day. The years when when hobby and interests turn to passion and mission. When values and ideologies and philosophies are tested and changed. Or affirmed. A love. Vows, to a mate of a lifetime and vows to his country. And there are the dogs. Oh, the dogs that always seem to find a home in a Keyser pad. The decision to be a healer and a soldier. A leader of men and women. Between the studies, the weddings, the funerals, the contracts, the moves from base to base, the training, city to city, and hospital to hospital, we find ourselves here.

In these few days we did what we do. We talked about being human, being an American, a citizen. Politics and fast cars. Healthcare from the perspective of healers and administrators and advocates. We journeyed through the broken years and the moments and the days that have healed along the way. We laughed at the stories and how they are colorfully garnished with time. Watched a movie, and then another, and then another. Shared time in worship and song. We visited wineries and tasting rooms that line the hills and valleys of this pristine state. We offered our own tasting notes and made fun of the ones penned by others whose taste is something of another planet or palate (“graphite?). We placed targets along a pulley at a gun range and tested our skills and then watched my own Bonnie and Clyde at work. We went to the woods and gathered and chopped wood and built a fire and watched it light up the cool Washington night while the dogs chased and tirelessly played. Cheese and fruit and a bottle of Syrah. We walked through the personalities and the eccentricities of those we love and those we acquaint. We rested.

Then came time to leave. Breakfast and coffee. Small talk. A ride into the city and to the airport. A nervous look around the car for things forgotten just to add seconds or minutes. They never knew. An embrace and parting words like those as if returning in days. I walked into to a terminal full of hurried bodies. A glance back and the little Honda was gone. The tears find their release and the deep breaths keeps them at bay.


I don’t know if I have ever actually said those indelible parent’s words, “All grown up now.” But today, of all days, I find myself quietly offering them as my attention is fixed on the pictures on my phone while ignoring the TSA agent patiently motioning me through PreCheck, as if she knew.

To our beautiful Jenny—I love you. And I love the way you are.

Logan—I love you with a full heart and thank God every day for the treasure that is you.

“Godspeed, Little Man.”


Sean’s Journal: My Birthday Letter to Dad

Dear Dad,

Major Carmon Logan Keyser, USAF  April 13, 1962
Major Carmon Logan Keyser, USAF, circa 1962

I sit here on the eve of the anniversary of your passing. You left us the day before my birthday. April 13 was destined to forever be a day of sad memory and less one of celebration. Then, two years later, your grandson, Logan, was born on the 14th of the same month. As providence would have it, the quieting of your time here and the grief that came with it was redeemed with the joy of his arrival, and Chelsea’s only weeks before.

I am only seven years shy of the age you were when you left us and jetted to the ultimate TDY. Not one of these years has passed without a thought of you; who you were, what you stood for, what you wanted to be, and what you hoped for me—or at least what I imagined you hoped for me.

I think you would have been been proud of me. You would have been disappointed and a bit judgmental. You would have raised your patented eye brow at my choices and offered your Cheshire Cat grin at others. You would have questioned my reasoning and celebrated my curiosity and adventure.

You saw too many things we shouldn’t see. The emotional flak that seemed to burst relentlessly all around you for so many years took its toll and fed the cynic that was sure to mount after seeing all that you saw in defense of us.

As a patriotic teen, seated tightly in a turret, you shot guns that put men down from the sky. Later, as a pilot, you airlifted boys and dropped them over badlands. Many would never again see their mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and girls whose letters inspired them to live. You flew secretly in places we didn’t acknowledge. You served—even when the motive wasn’t clear, but the mission was never questioned. You attended ceremonies and wrote letters than no one should have to write and heard the macabre sound of twenty-one gun salutes too many times.

An army of dying cells would declare war on your decorated being. You and and your own squadron of medicine men and gadgets and chemicals fought and then surrendered. In those last days you became a child again. Curious and wondrous. Grateful and regretful. Kind and spiritual.

You greeted your beautiful granddaughter on the day of her birth, in my own hospital, and held her and spoke to her in your broken, but quietly clear voice with the words, “You be a good girl. I love you.” You kissed her forehead and let the next days be your last. Reconciled. Finding fragments of peace in this world of wars.

Logan has grown and has followed you. He graduated college a healer. He bypassed the prestige of OCS and enlisted with plans and a vision of the highest honor to be among the ranks of the most prestigious of fighting men. He has become that man. His legacy of defending this beautiful land is in the best hands.

Chelsea, the little girl held in your arms only days before you left us, fights for those who can’t fight. She listens empathically to stories that wage war in the minds of precious kids and young adults. She combines her learning and her intuition and offers hope through diagnosis, treatment, a kind touch, and words, and prayer.

I woke at the earliest hour. I remembered our time. Tonight I will sit on my deck and quietly meditate on the last days that were good, and too few. I will hold the letter in my hands that you wrote for my first birthday. You wrote it to me from one of those secret places in southeast Asia that would later become an awful killing ground. It never left you. I will think of how Chelsea and Logan inherited some of your spirit when your body resigned. And I will be forever grateful that the years and years of not knowing youDadsLetter - Version 2, of misunderstanding you, of unrequited pride would evaporate in a matter of those last months. Replaced by a round of golf, talks about a good book, revisiting and conquering regrets, and, finally, a gentle goodbye.

I will celebrate my own birth and stand grateful that you and mom chose to bring me in later in your lives (or at least that is the story you stuck to). I will celebrate Logan’s day the day after mine. We will salute you in our own traditional and civilian and loving way.

I miss you, Dad.

“The birds will keep us in touch”


Sean’s Journal: Personal Best(s)–More Lessons from the Trails

Personal best? The weekend’s rides were a series of little ones—not one overall. Getting to the best part of me as a son, a father, a partner, a businessman, a citizen, a musician, a writer, a paddler, a friend, or a rider, takes training and practice and a little gutsy resolve.

The trails are Nature’s mentor in many ways. Learning where the lines are cleanest and where the roots and jumps can be most treacherous. Constant attention and familiarity reduces risk and offers up a predictably better finish. But taking the familiar and continuously improving on the same path lures one into staying on that path because we know it. Living life, I mean living it, has much to do with trying, and failing, at the proverbial “less traveled.” I am drawn to the unknown. I love it best when the woods are quiet and deep and absent of other humanity, but full of an audience of wildlife whose bleachers are the trees and the creeks and under the logs and around the fallen things.

I rode various trails over the tGoatHillPosterPersBestwo days. For whatever reason, with each approach to the places that offered the safer (bypass) or Expert options, I chose only
the more challenging path. There are times I want to glide and enjoy the maturing of a faster outcome for the whole. But these two days were more about getting a little better at the edges, the hazards, the precarious. It was an attitude. I wanted to explore both new terrain and new potential.

So I pushed. I never clocked my overall time. I did find that my turns were sharper, some of my landings more solid, my acceleration out of the turns faster, and a little more air was under the frame.

Ramp2PersonalBestHippieAt the top of Whitewater’s Goat Hill, I smiled. The burn in my thighs was matched by a rapid pulse and mild gasps for the Spring air. I tried, and succeeded at single-gearing it all the way.

The next day, on the ramp at Beatty I did what I thought I would never do. I jumped off the down ramp instead of carefully leaning back and sliding through the descent. I landed hard but never lost stride. There is this adrenaline that is rooted in fear at the pull of the bars heading into the jump, then, an equal amount that turns to a rush of “Holy Shit, I just did that.” This chemistry of opposing highs mixed with the familiar racing through clean lines and the known paths made for a day to remember.

A blueprint for life.


Sean’s Journal: Practice, practice, practice…clear my head of that damned little bridge

What can a 20″ wide bridge over a small creek teach me about leadership and life. Riders ride and train on these trails all the time. There is

BeattyCreekBridge1this one bend that leads down to a short bridge over a tiny creek that, for whatever reason, is the nemesis for so many. I have watched for years and even succombed myself to flying around the bend only to throw on the brakes just prior to the bridge. There are MANY more technical elements on this nice set of trails. But THIS ONE gets in a rider’s head. The fear of not hitting it just center and possibly sliding off to a two-foot drop (not much even if it happened, but would require dumping the bike) is enough to almost give it a nickname.

On those days when I’m not thinking about it–or about the 3 or 4 other challenging ramps or drops–I fly right over it. Then on other other days when feeling less confident and thinking too much, the anxiety builds 1/4 mile away and often results in a redo.

I recently parked my jeep at the trails near the ballfields at the park. I stopped to watch the kids in practice and was taken back to the best times in the best places. The diamonds of my early and late youth. Those proverbial fields of dreams that so shaped me and caused me to love the sport … and all sports. As I watched the infielders taking grounders and the batters taking pitches I was reminded that skill may come naturally to some, but much of the game is about practice. As a second baseman and shortstop most of my baseball career I have taken thousands and thousands of grounders. It built a sense of timing and led to an almost intuitive response to the dance between the ball and the grass and the dirt and the velocity off of the bat. Kids in T-ball or the pros whose season began only days ago have the same routine. Grounder after grounder. Pitch after pitch. Swing after swing. Throw after throw. The result is confidence and continuous skill improvement.

I jumped on my bike and took the shortcut to the bridge. Not a rider in the woods this early evening. A cool breeze swirled around the trees just getting fitted in Spring’s green. The trail’s dirt just moist enough after the weekend’s rain to offer a little extra grip.

I got some speed, looked ahead at the descent and the bridge, took the high route and flew right over it. I had no sooner taken the bridge and the subsequent 90 degree turn uphill that I grabbed a shortcut and headed back to run it again. Two, three, ten, twelve times. With each turn and brake adjustment and gear change this tentative annoying 8 foot stretch over moss covered rock became insignificant.

There are these things in our lives that get in our head. We avoid them or go around them or excuse them away. The rear their ugly self and try and rob confidence. They wake me from time to time and attempt to distract me from the good.

I choose more these days to lean into them. To practice. To take the speedy grounders that hit me in the chest or brush my arm and leave a leather burn and, more often, land in the sweet spot of my life’s glove.

Practice, practice, practice. I will.