BD

A few days ago Brian Doyle passed on to a new dimension. He was a friend to many, and a father, husband, son, and brother to a very lucky few. He was a storycatcher, a writer and editor who saw a good lesson or yarn in every direction he looked, and a guy who was constantly, delightedly, gobsmacked by wonder and grace. He was also a deeply spiritual, hawk-obsessed, hoops-loving, wine-sipping, run-on sentence-using, mustelid aficionado who laughed and wept in equal measure, and often punctuated his spoken sentences with this funny little mmm sound. It is the exact noise I would expect a small bespectacled mammal  in an Irish children’s book to make as he enjoyed a taste of honey on a breezy summer day, and I know the great BD would grin at that thought.

I cannot pretend to know Brian so well as many others, though we did enjoy the odd lunch together, and years of bright and brief email correspondences, but my heart has been with him every day these past few months as his light began to flicker and shift. In my thoughts I have spent many walks pointing out birds to him, and many nights in vigil at his bedside. I have read a dozen of his books and countless essays over the last two months, (this for a project about which I hope to have good news to share soon,) and the regular updates I’ve received from close mutual friends have left me by turns heartbroken, astounded, humbled, and incredibly moved and inspired by the love and grace of the Family Doyle. That is to say, he has occupied my thoughts, and facilitated some new friendships in a very real and meaningful way that has left me changed. And I know I’m not alone in this, because Brian, and his words, have moved so many people.

I have a long list of personal favorites when it comes to Brian’s essays, some of which you can read here, here, here, and here. But just last week I found this one at the end of the last book in my pile, and it made me shiver. He died on a Saturday morning, and I heard the news with a baby sleeping in my arms. I looked down and remembered that morning I had dressed him in an otter shirt, thinking it was a day for otters. And so it was.

Brian, you are missed, even as you live on.

Last Prayer
by Brian Doyle

Dear Coherent Mercy: thanks. Best life ever.

Personally I never thought a cool woman would come close to understanding me, let alone understanding me but liking me anyway, but that happened!

And You and I both remember that doctor in Boston saying polite but businesslike that we would not have children but then came three children fast and furious!

And no man ever had better friends, and no man ever had a happier childhood and wilder brothers and a sweeter sister, and I was that rare guy who not only loved but liked his parents and loved sitting and drinking tea and listening to them!

And You let me write some books that weren’t half bad, and I got to have a career that actually no kidding helped some kids wake up to their best selves, and no one ever laughed more at the ocean of hilarious things in this world, or gaped more in astonishment at the wealth of miracles everywhere every moment.

I could complain a little right here about the long years of back pain and the occasional awful heartbreak, but Lord, those things were infinitesimal against the slather of gifts You gave mere me, a muddle of a man, so often selfish and small. But no man was ever more grateful for Your profligate generosity, and here at the very end, here in my last lines, I close my eyes and weep with joy that I was alive, and blessed beyond measure, and might well be headed back home to the incomprehensible Love from which I came, mewling, many years ago.

But hey, listen, can I ask one last favor? If I am sent back for another life, can I meet my lovely bride again? In whatever form? Could we be hawks, or otters maybe? And can we have the same kids again if possible? And if I get one friend again, can I have my buddy Pete? He was a huge guy in this life–make him the biggest otter ever and I’ll know him right away, okay? Thanks, Boss. Thanks from the bottom of my heart. See You soon.

Remember–otters. Otters rule. And so: amen.

In Which We Honor Our Namesake

A little levity from the folks over at The Dodo.

Recent Random Reading Recommendations

Image result1. Little Labors, by Rivka Galchen.
A friend recently sent along  this brilliant little collection, and it was the perfect thing to read through the haze of living with a newborn. Galchen’s musings on her newfound motherhood are whimsical (she refers to her daughter only as the puma), original, and brave, swinging from melancholic to joyful and back again. More than once she perfectly articulated a deep but hidden thought of mine, like when for example, she reflects on home movies here:  iPhone footage of the puma has the unfortunate quality of making it seem as if the puma has passed away and the watcher, me, is condemned to replaying the same scene again and again and again. The more banal the scene, the more intense this effect. The best essays in this slim volume shine like gems, and it makes an especially lovely gift for literary-minded new parents.

2. When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi.
An intense and soaring account of an ambitious and gifted young neurosurgeon’s terminal brain cancer diagnosis, and how he essentially learns how to die with grace. Obviously the book is devastating — I outright sobbed through the latter half — but Kalanithi writes beautifully, and it was a sad pleasure to spend a little time with him and his family on their journey.

3Image result. Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman.
Disclosure: I’m a big fan of Neil Gaiman, and I’ve read most of his books. The guy knows how to tell a dark tale. No doubt there are purists who would likely sniff at any Norse collection that lacked an Edda in its title, but I found Gaiman’s retelling of old tales to be fun and accessible. I wouldn’t rank this near the best of his original work — it’s no Sandman or American Gods — but I really enjoyed reading about Odin and Thor and Loki before bed for a few weeks. If anything it encouraged me to pick up an Edda again. Side note: I’m super jacked to watch the Gods duke it out in the new American Gods series . . . Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday is brilliant.

Image result for 19844. 1984, by George Orwell. 
Yeah. There’s a good reason why this book is suddenly a best seller again. In a new age of double think and alternative facts, it’s a great time to read, or re-read this chilling cautionary tale. Orwell was a genius. More times than I can count his lines turned my stomach, but this book should be required reading for all. Pick up Animal Farm again while you’re at it, and remember how much you loathed Napoleon.


Image result for treasure island5. Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson.

I’d never read this classic, but a friend of mine keeps extolling it, so.  But I can tell you now, it’s a really enjoyable read and more than refreshing to spend a few days in a less-complicated world of pirates and sea adventures. When you’re done, do yourself a favor and read this fabulous essay about its author by the indelible, adoring Brian Doyle.

 

Image result6. Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead.
Look, this riveting, breathless, brutal, and unflinching tale of escape and pursuit won a National Book Award AND a Pulitzer, so you don’t have to take my word for it. Just read it.

 

 

Image result for you'll grow out of it jessi klein7. You’ll Grow Out of It, by Jessi Klein.
Ms. Klein is a stand-up comedian who writes for Inside Amy Schumer and other sketch comedy shows. If you liked Tina Fey’s Bossypants, or Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, or any other witty, honest, self-deprecating comedy memoir/personal essay collections, you’ll definitely enjoy this one. It provided me with a little respite during this darkest of winters.

Dear Rose

Dear Rose,

Today is your birthday.

We are making your strawberry shortcake — the good, lumpy biscuity kind, not the chewy, spongy abomination — with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. It’s the last thing I specifically remember eating with you, two years ago to the day. I remember the day well, and the next, our good byes curbside at the Austin airport. The mockingbirds’ mechanical brrreees, the air slurpy in a way I never knew Texas air could be, the mountain laurels — or were they jacarandas? — blooming purple. You sidled in with that sort of pre-hug shuffle, and we hugged a long time, first me, then Vin. And though you were sick and we wiped away tears, I never imagined it would be our last embrace. Never thought all our plans would break apart. I wonder all the time what I, what any of us, may have said and done if we had known.

But today, we celebrate. Or at least do our best. The champagne is chilling, the 80’s music is bangin’, and there are bright coral roses on the table. Today we exalt the notion that of all the humans who were ever born throughout time and space, we were lucky to live with, love, and be loved by you in the time you were given.

I talk to you most on my walks now. Ambling down our country road toward the sky above the river, then back home again, facing the mountain. This is the road I walk when I just need to get out, but can’t get into the woods, and so I travel it most days with the dog in tow, or a baby, or both. It’s also the road I walked every day when you were in the hospital, dying before we knew you were, and the one I walked along so many subsequent days that autumn, dazed, when being outside was the only time I felt like I could breathe. So this is where I now feel closest to you, where I sometimes think I see you — a meadowlark on a fence post or spring’s first mountain bluebird — or hear you — in the wind rushing through tall grasses, in the chirps of chickadees.

And while we all know you were a deeply committed atheist, I like to think you’d condone this, if nothing else than from a purely scientific perspective — all glory to the ubiquitous atom, those masters of reinvention that never really leave us, but only shift and shuffle their allegiances from one shape into another. So I hope you don’t mind when I say I recognize you in the wind and in the odd bird that seems to stop and scrutinize, or that your parents look for you in ravens overhead, and in the heart-shaped river rocks they now collect.

And that’s all comforting and bittersweet, if not a little predictable, so I like to remind myself that by such logic you must surely also inhabit tumbling otter pups and ribbony jellyfish and lofty ponderosa pines and the scent of lightning before a storm and the badass mantis shrimp, who essentially lives in sandy-bottomed bathwater, and whom you may recall sees (according to cartoonist Matthew Inman) a thermonuclear bomb of light and beauty with its spectacular, dazzling color vision, which sounds pretty awesome to me. This also means you are in the pigments and fibers of jay feathers, and in the bluebonnets of the hill country, and even the neon tank tops and bright red lipstick you pulled off so well. Which is to say, we see you colors. In all things sassy and bright.

So it feels about right when we look at the big world map tacked to the kitchen wall and run through the litany of who lives where, that when we come to RoRo, Atticus swirls his hands and says everywhere. Well, it’s really more like ehv-we-air, but we know what he means. And it makes me smile every time, just as it does when he arranges the purple Rosie Train to cuddle with the fuchsia Mama Train, even knowing you and I might have had something to say about the color options for Lady trains. And even though they’re too little now, someday Atticus and Rosario will understand why mama starts grinning and crying and crying and grinning when freakin’ Band Aid comes on every Christmas, or when she sees a buzz-cut Pomeranian, and how that’s really quite a normal reaction within the friends of Rose consortium.

All of this is to say, we miss you, Rose. I miss you. I miss exchanging irreverent texts, and book recommendations. I miss planning visits, and discussing family matters, and being able to cuss about what is happening to our country. I miss your sense of humor, your sense of purpose. I miss your stories about the littlest of your students pooping their pants, and knowing how fiercely you fought for their right to learn, and for everything else you believed in and loved.

We were sisters too short a time, but you remain a sister of my heart. None of us has quite figured out a future in which our memories of you aren’t bolstered by new ones . . . but we carry you with us, and we feel you and love you in a thousand different ways.

Every day.

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