Be tender and laugh. That is what writer Brian Doyle said when people asked how to help, when they learned he had been diagnosed with what he called “a big honkin’ brain tumor.” He wrote of faith and beauty, love and grace, wine and basketball, mountains and molehills. He once said that stories are prayers. He bore the title editor of Portland Magazine and he called himself a storycatcher.
Indeed, he caught true stories and crafted imagined tales from the world seen and unseen. He wrote The Wet Engine: Exploring the Mad Wild Miracle of the Heart—of hummingbirds and humans and great blue whales. He wrote The Grail a whole book in pursuit of Oregon pinot noir. There is a cascade of books—novels and nonfiction—and score upon score of essays. In the pages of our magazine, you’ve seen his lyrical meditations on the beauty of celebrating Mass—tradition and community and above all the holy, and the improvised places in which we worship. He once wrote a letter to this editor and titled it: “Thesis: Steve Nash is God.” He loved basketball so deeply that he once got into an argument with the Dalai Lama about what was the greatest sport in the world. The Dalai Lama made the case for soccer. The encounter was brief, unresolved. The Dalai Lama finished by saying: “We’ll continue this discussion … in this life, or the next one!” And then the Dalai Lama gave a big belly laugh. Later, when Brian told his beloved wife, Mary, that he had met the Dalai Lama, she guessed how it had gone down: You talked about sports, didn’t you?
You might have seen his work in Best American Essays and read about his Pushcart Prizes. In his adopted state of Oregon, he was justly feted for writing so deeply and well of the place and its people. For the magazine Orion, he once wrote a list of Nine Places to Pee in the Great Outdoors.
Brian James Patrick Doyle was born in 1956 in New York to a teacher and a journalist. He studied at Notre Dame, worked for Boston College Magazine, then came west, to Oregon. He died on May 27 at three score years. Among the ways he made this world better, he offered sage advice that profoundly reshaped this magazine and inspired many others across the country. Let’s close with a few lines from his novel Mink River, in which a character meditates on What Matters:
Hawks huddled disgruntled against hissing snow. Wrens in winter thickets. Swallows carving and swimming and slicing fat grinning summer air. Frozen dew outlining every single blade of grass. Salmonberries blackberries thimbleberries raspberries cloudberries snowberries strawberries blueberries gooseberries. My children learning to read. The sinuous liquid flow of rivers and minks and cats. Fresh bread with waaaaaaay too much butter. My children’s hands when they cup my ancient grizzled face in their hands. Exuberance and ebullience. Tears of sorrow which are the salt sea of the heart.