By Robert Wilson
March 6, 2017
In a corner of our office is a small cluster of gray metal filing boxes, artifacts of a predigital age when neatly typed note cards kept track of what writers had published in the SCHOLAR. The cards that follow the career of Brian Doyle show that his connection to us goes back to 1994. Between that date and 2010, when we presumably lost touch with anyone who could use a typewriter and thus keep the cards updated, Brian wrote for us 16 times, and in the years since then, other sources say, he has written another 10 times—poems, a remarkable essay about Edmund Burke, a tribute in our most recent issue to Errol Flynn, and much else that has done us proud. And in the post-filing-box era, Brian also wrote a weekly blog on our website called “Epiphanies,” producing just shy of 175 brief essays.
By far the most beloved of all these pieces, and quite possibly the most beloved essay the magazine has published in its 85 years, is his short tribute to the hummingbird and meditation on the heart called “Joyas Voladoras.” If you haven’t read it, or haven’t read it recently, please go immediately to our website and do so. It might just be the antidote you’ve been looking for to what was on the news last night.
In November, Brian sent us a message titled, as his often are, “heh heh heh,” with an attachment showing the latest in a series of comic mock rejection notes that Brian writes and shares with fellow editors. (In addition to being a prolific writer, Brian edits a magazine at the University of Portland.) When I wrote him back with an allusion to the recent election, I got a surprising response that said in part, “Even I, good Catholic boy alert to epiphany and resurrection and endless hope, am dark and weary and gray and bleak.” This didn’t sound like Brian at all. His interests have always tended to be on a higher plane than the political, and his expressions of hope and affirmation have been more than endless—they’ve been relentless.
Only a few days later, Brian’s editor here, Sudip Bose, got another message from him: “Sudip my friend: hard news: I have been diagnosed with a brain tumor and will be having surgery next week, followed by chemo, followed by God knows what. Sigh. Prayers welcome.” The news since has come from others, and has not been reassuring.
But as befits a Brian Doyle story, this one offers the dramatic entrance of what must be called grace. A family friend, Catherine Green, started a GoFundMe page to support Brian, his wife, Mary, and their children. At this writing, more than 1,100 people, many of them anonymous, have contributed nearly $120,000 to the fund. Of those who left their names, many wrote of how much joy and inspiration Brian’s essays, stories, and novels have brought to them. To us, too. Prayers, Brian.
Robert Wilson is the editor of the Scholar and the author of Mathew Brady: Portraits of a Nation.