Last August, Brian Doyle walked into The Beacon’s nook of a newsroom in the very back corner of St. Mary’s. He had his hands stretched deep into the pockets of his high-waisted trousers and I’m not sure he ever took them out.
There’s something about Brian. Right when you meet him. I think we human beings have certain expectations for each other. A veil of normalcy makes first impressions predictable almost always. But you know that Brian Doyle is different. Right when you meet him, you just know.
He was a poet that spoke like a poet and he had a voice that crooned at you, it pleaded with you and spoke to something within you — no, it coaxed something out of you. He talked in a way that made you want to respond, not verbally, but with some kind of action. Doyle spoke publicly quite often, about his first-hand experience watching the twin towers crumble in New York City, about writing, about life. It baffles me that his words never prompted a mass of people to stand on their chairs, push their hands to their foreheads and recite “O’ Captain, my Captain”.
But Brian was speaking to us now, his hands still in his pockets. When he spoke, he pushed his weight back and forth, leaning forward on his tippy toes and then rescinding back on his heels.
“Don’t let it just be news,” he said, he begged.
There was a sense of urgency in his voice that took you back. It was a step outside of what you’re used to.
Sometimes I think we all relate to each other like characters in a TV show with no stakes, wandering around a living room set with no fear that the floor might fall through. Every once in awhile, you meet someone who shakes you by the shoulders and reminds you that we’re all standing on a precipice, bits of rock slowly eroding underneath the sneakers we bought at Macy’s for half price.
He had these eyes that curved around his cheeks, issuing an earnest and acute plea for humanity upon anyone who meets them. His voice cracked and crooned and he swayed on the balls of his feet, all the while those hands stayed in his pockets, only unleashed when his most abundant and resounding message was hurled at an audience that couldn’t have been anything but enthralled in him.
“Don’t let it just be news.”
I didn’t know Brian Doyle that well. As this year’s Editor-in-Chief of The Beacon, I’m robbed of his sage advice and the overwhelming reassurance that he has our back, something that Editor-in-Chiefs before me have experienced in Brian. A mentor. A friend in the hallowed halls of Waldschmidt.
I know that Brian liked student media, that he was an advocate for it. He saw us as storytellers. A badge that carries the responsibility of tenderness and earnesty.
And honesty. Brian was good at being honest. A devout Catholic who had no trouble expressing his contention with the church or with any discrepancies he found in the everyday bullshit we’re all entangled in. Brian loved calling out bullshit. He used the word freely and with vigor but like his hands in his pockets, only unleashed it at the most pertinent moment. When Donald Trump was elected into office, when a man shot nine people at Umpqua College in Roseburg, Oregon, when an ‘unapologetic Catholic’ took issue with Portland Magazine’s celebration of the marriage of two men.
One might call it bullshit that a man with three children, one of the most thoughtful and unique literary voices of his generation, and no doubt a thousand more stories to tell would succumb to “a big honkin’ brain tumor”.
But I don’t think Brian would. I think Brian would be more upset that two good Samaritans had their throats slashed on a Portland MAX line last week defending teenage girls wearing hijabs from harassment.
A man who wanted us all working our asses off to make “violence something that you visit in the war museum.” That man would have called bullshit. That man would have been angry, but he’d turn that rage and that irreverence into a prayer or an essay or a poem and we’d all read it and it would fill us with something holy. We’d read it and know what I knew when he walked into our newsroom last August. That Brian Doyle is special.
On another note, Brian had a contentious relationship with punctuation. He had a special distaste for periods and the way they interrupt thoughts needlessly and arbitrarily, he said they give a sense of absolutism to an indefinite world.
We cringed as journalists and there are 45 periods already scattered throughout this article, but for the remainder of my time on this page, I’ll refrain from using them, for Brian, for the hope that perhaps without the interruptions, my words will sound as gentle and as thoughtful as his did on paper and in life
Though one can only hope
I didn’t know Brian Doyle that well, but there’s a light that goes off in your mind when you meet someone special, a little nudge in your stomach that tells you to sit up straight and pay attention
It was the urgency in his voice paired with the gentle kindness in his eyes as he was begging us to tell stories and understand that we shouldn’t take ordinary for granted, that nothing is ordinary
Brian saw a story in everyone and everything and there is a gentle optimism in the splendor of the human race that was apparent in his work and in his presence
He pleaded with us to not let it just be the news, don’t let it just be what happened, let it be more than that, let our words tell stories and shine a light, don’t just point and shoot, examine, understand
You know that Brian Doyle is different, right when you meet him, and when those kind eyes reason with your humanity, you listen