One Long River of Song by Brian Doyle

March 26, 2023

Collection of Brian Doyle’s essays that celebrate his life and work.

Here I am again with Brian Doyle.

Stilled, heartened, delighted, and challenged by his words.

I’m lullled into a quiet, thoughtful place with a gentle, observant, playful narrator I want only to keep listening to. He insists there are no trivial things to overlook, but that stories are everywhere and some stories of small things need to be told. I’m grateful to see how he paints the things we have in common, and equally grateful for the portraits of people and places and animals that are strangers to me outside his words.

He wrote a lot about his reverence for listening, paying “fierce attention every moment”:

I am a guy who wanders around looking for nothing in particular, which is to say everything.

He cited his some of his writing influences in a hilarious self interview:

“Have you ever paid attention to Tolstoy’s language? Enormous sentences, one clause piled on top of another. Do not think this is accidental, that it is a flaw. It is art, and it is achieved through hard work.” — Anton Chekhov

I was surprised to catch something like a rant in his rebuke of someone who, at a party, asserted humor was for cowards. His answer was bold and sharp and gave me goosebumps, all the more because it ended with creative humility.

I was startled again at his humble reflection on being wrong and small-minded about people different than him at an earlier point in his life and “began to hear the pummel of blows rained down on people for merely being who they are.”

You’ll encounter that same person when he’s not the subject of the story:

This tribe of mole is thought to be largely solitary, I read, and I want to laugh and weep, as we are all largely solitary, and spend whole lifetimes digging tunnels toward each other, do we not?

And I don’t know what to say about this other than I’m glad to walk the same planet:

This 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 just see and say what is, trying to leave shreds and shards of ego along the road like wisps of litter and chaff.

Others close to him wrote about him too, ahead of and after his own words:

As much as any man or woman I’ve ever known, Brian James Patrick Doyle reveled in the act of awakening into the ten thousand things.

His greatest joy was using his to delight you.

I don’t know if it says more about me or about Brian Doyle, but his words very much feed my soul.

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 a 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 that you being the best possible you matters somehow.