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 is, after all, a miracle in which we live, and we ought to pay ferocious attention every moment, if possible.Brian Doyle
Brian Doyle, author and essayist, father of three children who went to school with Molly and Jimmy, husband of my friend Mary, died in May 2017 of brain cancer. He was 60 years old. I didn’t know him personally, although, I feel as though I did because of his essays. Brian writes in a way that makes you feel as though he’s an old friend, and that he’s written the essay you’re reading both for you and about you and your life.
Brian wrote about Jimmy in an essay, On Not Beating Cancer, that he penned in January 2009, saying “Cancer is to be endured, that’s all. The best you can hope for is to fend it off, like a savage dog, but cancer isn’t defeated, it only retreats, is held at bay, retires, bides its time, changes form, regroups.” And although I didn’t want to acknowledge it at the time, or perhaps I didn’t know enough to understand, Brian was so right when he quoted a nun he had met in Australia who said, “no one defeats cancer; cancer is a dance partner you don’t want and don’t like, but you have to dance, and either you die or the cancer fades into the darkness at the other end of the ballroom.”
Mary is another reason I feel connected to Brian. She’s an artist and a teacher. The kids, particularly Molly, took art classes in Mary’s home studio when they were little. Mary is warm and engaging, someone you meet and are immediately drawn to. She reached out soon after Jimmy was diagnosed. She extended an open invitation to Molly to create art in her home studio whenever Molly needed to get away from the stress, worry and illness at home. Mary visited Jimmy whenever she was in the hospital running art groups for the Children’s Healing Art Project and Jimmy was in-patient. She made us meals. And she sent us beautifully written notes, offering her love, compassion and hope, no matter how bad the news was.
In December, Mary sent me the gift of actor JK Simmons reading Brian’s essay Illuminos, about Brian and Mary’s children when they were young. Brian’s words transported me back to the days when the kids were little, holding my hand, holding each other’s hands. Although I can never go back to those precious days, Brian’s essay reminded me that those memories can never be taken from me either.