Be tender and laugh

A writer whose work I love died yesterday.

Brian Doyle. Brain tumor. Sixty years old.

Seven years ago, I went to the Orem Public Library to hear him speak and read his work. My daughter was six months old and I brought her along.

Picture a shortish, skinny-ish guy with round glasses and a beard. Picture a writer who doesn’t just read his essay, but seems to go up on his toes when the lines feel urgent, and makes his voice reach the ceiling in a sort of beautiful insistence that stories, stories, stories can make us better people. Picture someone who is not physically imposing but clearly has the biggest heart in the room.

After the reading, he inscribed my book with my daughter’s name and signed it, “With my prayers on your roads.”

I’ve been thinking since yesterday about how to talk about a person whose words have made such a difference to me, whose essays have made me laugh and then cry when I reach the very last line. But maybe I don’t have to say much. He left so many of his own good words behind him:

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 along 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.