Reading Brian Doyle is a Spiritual Experience

The hotel smelled of perfume when I came home after a week of pet sitting. On tables, kitchen counters, bathroom counters, and window sills, purple hyacinths sat bringing the hope of spring. This same scent and color came to the hotel last year at this time. Robert is dutch. He loves flowers. Throughout the year, he brings home bouquets. We are lucky to have a farmer’s market across the street in the spring and summer. Each Saturday, he brings us fresh flowers for the community dining area. Otherwise, he picks up a bunch at the grocery store. But he goes all out with the hyacinths. Once we have enjoyed the blooms, Robert gathers all the bulbs to take to a friend who plants them in his garden.
Thankfully, I don’t have any pet sitting for a couple of weeks. Robert will have cataract surgery on Friday. Thursday I’ll make sure he gets the eye drops that have to administered four times that day, then drops each day for a week. He will be seeing the world through a new lens.
I woke up at 6:00 AM to the sound of wind pushing at my windows, the dumpster being pushed with it’s force in the alley and Brenda the cat meowing to be fed. My 3rd floor windows are practically at the mouth of the Hellgate Canyon, which is notorious for its winds that blow into Missoula from the northeast. An arctic front has blown in with temperatures in the teens. Thank goodness we have hyacinths to remind us this will pass. So Brenda and I are snuggled up under my down comforter going nowhere. At least not until 2:00 this afternoon for a physical therapy appointment.
Before I turned on my computer to write, check email and before I went to social media land for all it’s good and bad, I opened Brian Doyle‘s book of essays, One Long River of Song, Notes on Wonder. Reading his words are a spiritual experience. We lost him too soon to cancer.
I am making it a habit to not turn on my computer until I have done some reading each morning. As always I grabble with social media. Twitter has become my media of choice as of late as I follow and connect with writers. However, it can feel a bit overwhelming in the pressure to keep up with tweets.


For now I will leave you with the last paragraph of Brian Doyle’s essay,
The Greatest Nature Essay Ever:
“And finally the last paragraph. It turns out that the perfect nature essay is quite short, it’s a lean taut thing, an arrow and not a cannon, and here at the end there’s a flash of humor and hint or tone or subtext of sadness, a touch of rue, you can’t quite put your finger on it but it’s there, a dark thread in the fabric, and there’s also a shot of expresso hope, hope against all odds and sense, but riveting there’s no call to arms, no clarion brassy trumpet blast, no website to which you are directed, no hint that you, yes you, should be ashamed of how much water you use or the car you drive or the fact that you just turned the thermostat up to seventy, or that you actually have not voted in the past two elections despite what you told the kids and the goat. Nor is there a rimshot ending, a bang, a last twist of the dagger. Oddly, sweetly, the essay just ends with a feeling eerily like a warm hand brushed against your cheek, and you sit there, near tears, smiling, and then you stand up. Changed.” Brian Doyle

Excerpt from The Final Frontier

This morning, I read from One Long River of Song, Notes on Wonder. It is a wonder to read exactly what one needs to hear at just the right time. It is a wonder that some , namely Brian Doyle, here, are able to put in words what is called for. I share with you in the event you may need to read this as well.

Excerpt from The Final Frontier by Brian Doyle

Of course you do your absolute best to find and hone and wield your divine gifts against the dark. You do your best to reach out tenderly to touch and elevate as many people as you can reach. You bring your naked love and defiant courage and salty grace to bear as much as you can, with all the attentiveness and humor you can muster. This life after all a miracle and we ought to pay fierce attention every moment, as much as possible.

But you can not control anything. You cannot order or command everything. You cannot fix and repair everything. You cannot protect your children from pain and loss and tragedy and illness. You cannot be sure you will always be married, let alone happily married. You cannot be sure you will always be employed, or healthy, or relatively sane.

All you can do is face the world with quiet grace and hope you make a sliver of difference. Humility does not mean self-abnegation, lassitude, detachment; it’s more calm recognition that you must trust in that which does not make sense, that which is unreasonable, illogical, silly, ridiculous, crazy by the measure of most of our culture. You must trust the you being the best possible you matters somehow. That trying to be an honest and tender parent will echo for centuries through your tribe. That doing your chosen work with creativity and diligence will shiver people far beyond your ken. That being an attentive and generous friend and citizen will prevent a thread or two of the social fabric from unraveling. And you must do all of this with the certain knowledge that you will never get proper credit for it, and in fact the vast majority of things you do right will go utterly unremarked. Humility, the final frontier, as my brother Kevin used to say. When we are young we build a self, a persona, a story in which to reside, or several selves in succession, or several at once, sometimes; when we are older we take on other roles and personas, other masks and duties; and you and I both know men and women who become trapped in the selves they worked so hard to build, so desperately imprisoned that sometimes they smash their lives simply to escape who they no longer wish to be; but finally, I think, if we are lucky, if we read the book of pain and loss with humility, we realize that we are all broken and small and brief, that none amongst us is ultimately more vulnerable or rich or famous or beautiful that another; and then, perhaps, we begin to understand something deep and true about humility.

That is what I know: that the small is huge, that the tiny is vast, that pain is part and parcel of the gift of joy, and that this is love, and then there is everything else. You either walk toward love or away from it with every breath you draw. Humility is the road to love. Humility, maybe, is love. That could be. I wouldn’t know; I’m a muddle and a conundrum shuffling slowly along the road, gaping in wonder, trying to see and say what is, trying to leave shreds and shards of ego along the road like wisps of litter and chaff.