WILKES-BARRE — It was the late 1990s and I was attending a Make-A-Wish national conference in Phoenix when we were ushered into a huge room for lunch and a presentation.
It’s really weird how you never know when you’re about to experience something or somebody that will impact you for the rest of your life. It happened at that luncheon.
Kevin Sharp was introduced to us as a Wish Kid who got to meet big-time record producer David Foster. And, the story went, that Kevin, a country music fan, impressed Foster so much that he offered to produce a song for him; in turn, that had progressed into an entire album.
Sure, I thought, this ought to be good. Well, it was better than good. Sharp, who at the time was in his mid-20s, related his life story. At 17, he said, he received the news that he probably had no more than six months to live.
As part of his presentation, this cancer-defying Wish Kid got up there in front of about 1,000 Make-A-Wish volunteers and sang a song – “Nobody Knows” – and if there was a dry eye in the house, I didn’t detect it. Do a Google search for Kevin Sharp and that song title; give a listen and call me if you don’t cry. Call me if you do.
The point is, this young man told the story of spirit and faith and caring. It’s a story of how somebody’s life can change in such a dramatic fashion that it defies understanding.
And when you hear it, you just lean back and realize that there are forces at work beyond our control or comprehension.
In 1989, Sharp was a high school kid with a future. He was a good student, an exceptional athlete and popular with the girls. He had it all going for him, it seemed.
Then he woke up one day, and he didn’t feel like himself. He knew something was wrong but really couldn’t explain it. The doctors could. Those doctors told Sharp and his family that he had cancer. Not only that, Kevin’s cancer was rare and, at best, he would live another half a year.
Six months to live. What do you do?
Sharp always believed that meeting David Foster renewed his spirit and gave him a new lease on life.
Sharp’s wish was granted in 1989. I met him when he was 26.
He died Sunday at age 43, bringing an end to an astonishing career in which he recorded three CDs and garnered awards.
Sharp was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, the same cancer that my good friend Seth Zimolzak had. When I met Sharp and heard his story, I kept thinking of Seth back home in Shickshinny. I wished that Seth could meet Sharp to hear him sing and to listen to his inspirational story.
So when I had the opportunity, I told Sharp about my young friend back home. Seth was my buddy through Make-A-Wish. He had given so many inspirational talks of his own, and I still have those orange suede shoes he wore to his high school graduation three months before he died in 1999.
Sharp listened as I spoke about Seth and then he interrupted me to inform me that he would be playing at the Wyoming County Fair that summer. He invited me and Seth to come out for a chat and to hear him perform.
We went to the fair. We followed Sharp into his motor home. We met his future wife. We all chatted and then Sharp and Seth had a private chat.
I can’t imagine what those two talked about – two kids a few years apart, but who faced the same dark challenges of cancer and of coping with the fear that follows. I suppose they talked about the struggles and the battles. The doctors, the meds, the treatments, the inevitable.
All I know is that when Seth emerged from that meeting, he was energized. Not that Seth needed anything to charge his batteries, but the meeting was definitely a game-changer.
We then went to our seats and listened as Sharp performed. He dedicated “Nobody Knows” to Seth and had him stand and take a bow.
It was a night of healing. It was a moment between two kids who knew about things most of us have never known.
And it was good.