Mark Collins offers a heartfelt tribute to his fellow Daily Guideposts contributor Brian Doyle, who passed away on May 27, 2017.
- Posted on Jun 2, 2017
Beloved Daily Guideposts contributor Brian Doyle died on May 27. He was 60, but any age would've been too soon. I volunteered to write this tribute to Brian, despite the fact that I am neither worthy nor in any emotional condition to do so. But if you're familiar with Brian's work, you know he hated excuses as much as he loved laughter, so I will power past my manifold inadequacies and pray that the meditations of my heart will compensate for the words from my mouth.
I won't bore you with obit-like details—that he was born in New York, that he edited Portland Magazine at the University of Portland for more than 25 years, that he went to Notre Dame. ("Every Catholic family wanted to send their kid to Notre Dame," Brian once said, "because that's where the Virgin Mary stayed during her visit to America.") If you aren't familiar with his prodigious literary output—including Mink River and Wet Engine and countless others—you're in for a wonderful summer of reading. If you don't read his poem "Leap" every Sept. 11, then you just found yourself another tradition. If you don't laugh at his encounter with the Dalai Lama, you're without pulse. (Spoiler alert: when speaking with the Dalai Lama, there may be better phrases to utter than "perhaps you didn't hear me, pal...")
But his greatest works weren't published; they went by the titles of Mary Miller Doyle and their children Liam, Joseph, and Lily. I hope they know—they must know—how Brian absolutely adored his family, both publicly and privately. He was so unabashed in his love—to the point of tears—that he could make you (me) uncomfortable...until you (me) realize that you (me) have the problem, not Brian.
He was a man of uncommon faith—uncommon in this era, and just plain uncommon. His stories—and everything was a story to Brian—his stories about wrestling with/thanking the "Great Omniscient Narrator" are unique and yet stunningly universal. Reading Brian Doyle was like watching a bizarre carnival: his style was singular—long strings of endless adjectives, like circus clowns emerging from a VW—then suddenly he seemed to be writing to you. About you. For you. For us all.
They say the Inuit have a hundred words to describe snow. Brian had a thousand million words to describe God and laughter and love and tenderness. And right about now I think I need to hear them all, so I'll let Brian have the last word. I was honored that Brian wrote the forward to my second book, but it was a mistake on my part—his essay was the best essay in the collection. I looked bad by comparison. Here is part of what he wrote, and remember, he is always always always right:
We are all storytellers, from our first garbled words of mud and slugs to our last struggle to shape the words I love you in the holy cave of our mouths. "How was school?" our mother asked, and we told a story, and "who are you?" our lovers asked, and we told a story...an ancient shape of something true, something that twists up through tragedy and confusion, something true in and of all of us, something that makes us occasionally, haltingly, holy...We are stories told in the brief light between great darknesses.
As a person of faith, I should take solace in the knowledge that Brian's story isn't over but starting its eternal epilogue, that he has joined what he once called Coherence, that he no doubt has St. Peter doubled over with laughter ("perhaps you didn't hear me, pal...")—but I don't feel like laughing and nothing seems very coherent…
…but now that I've re-read what I wrote, I realize it's another story, his story, and stories, Brian said, are prayers and puzzles. Right now I'm living the latter, and trusting in the former. In the brief light between great darknesses, it's the only story I got, and I'll hold on to that.
* * *
Mark Collins, a Daily Guideposts contributor, is currently bereft.