Too Many . . .

Too many funerals this year, he says, as he eyes the locomotive of his own old age steaming down the tracks: first, Lea Wait, of course, then a well-loved friend and colleague of Anne’s at the New Hampshire school where she used to teach, and most recently, the husband of a friend: a Colby professor from the years when we attended that institution. What struck me most at the memorials for these very accomplished and much-honored people was that, despite their prizes, the public recognition, the external successes, without exception what the survivors remembered most was relationships, the support these people had given them, the many intangible gifts of love, companionship, mentorship, the pleasures of meals shared, conversations, and merely presence

I’m probably as greedy as any of my writing peers for publication, honors, awards, recognition of the work that I do, that like all writers, is performed out of sight and away from anyone admiring our discipline and efforts. But it does seem to me, after listening to the memories both friends and family shared, that in the unlikely event I do go, I would rather be remembered for the quality of my friendship, the welcome I gave to people, the meals we shared, and the relationships, than anything else I’ve done.

I recently rediscovered an Oregon writer, Brian Doyle. Dead from a brain tumor at the young age of sixty, he was a writer of as beautiful and delicate essays as I can imagine. He focused on writing about the small moments of our lives, the beautiful words of his young children, the pain and pleasures of family, the trials of faith and spirit in a world unfriendly to the notion of either. His writing was sui generis, focused on daily life, the human, the pleasures of grace and kindness. Here he is at the ocean as a young boy, the first intimations of adulthood coming to him:

We were perhaps eight and ten, my brother and I, both invited to a house by the ocean, and that first night, after lots of hullabaloo, we were ladled into old summer camp cots that hadn’t been used since Lincoln’s time, and I remember, as if it was just last week, that we both felt something grim in the sea for the first time—a cold careless mastery. I still can’t articulate this very well. We lay there listening to the infinitesimally tiny increase in wavelet volume as the tide came in, rustling acres of mussel shells and old boats and horseshoe crabs and the pots that jailed uncountable families of lobsters, and the scents sliding through the windows were loud, dense, lurid, something to smell gingerly and back away from. I was scared more than I would ever admit to my brother.

What smaller moment could you choose to write about than the night-fear of a young child and yet how large a lesson Doyle teaches us of humanity, of shared experience.

I suppose my point is that Brian Doyle is the essence of a local writer—I’ve never met anyone on the East Coast who knows of his work, despite his having written six novels, two books of stories, six poetry collections, and fourteen books of essays. He was editor of Portland Magazine, the award-winning University of Portland publication, for more than twenty-five years. But he lived and worked in a small community of love and respect, and by his own words, that was enough for him.

The awards, the publications, the recognition are all very satisfying in the moment, but the honor that endures, I believe, is how you are remembered. And so, in this moment, right now, cherish your accomplishments, but cherish more your friends, your family, the people who make you whole. You need nothing more.

About Richard Cass

Dick is the author of the Elder Darrow Jazz Mystery series, the story of an alcoholic who walks into a dive bar in Boston . . . and buys it. Solo Act was a Finalist for the Maine Literary Award in Crime Fiction in 2017 and In Solo Time won the award in 2018. The third book in the series, Burton's Solo, came out in 2018 and Last Call at the Esposito in 2019. Sweetie Bogan's Sorrow was published in 2020, to thunderous pandemic acclaim. The sixth book in the series, Mickey's Mayhem, will come out in 2021. Dick lives and writes in Cape Elizabeth.
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8 Responses to Too Many . . .

  1. Robin Facer says:

    Lovely. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Wonderful!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Great post, Dick. I love elegantly written essays. Will track down his work. Interestingly enough, Ken was at a funeral this week and afterward we talked about good friends and memorial services. I think winter makes us more reflective and makes us feel our age.


  4. Beautiful post, Dick. Thank you so much for your pertinent, heartfelt thoughts and for sharing Brian Doyle’s name and a taste of his work. I will look for it.

  5. Oh my, lifting Prayers for This Talent and loss.😫and the lovely words spoken about him.
    I just read about the loss of Mary Higgins Clark.
    The first paragraph of this was about so many folks who have passed, successful yes, that a life of work showing success. When gone from their earthly vessel some of us Will have a small private family only memorial even though the folks may have given a life to Service, others will have a huge ceremony because of name recognition.
    I like what is said here 🙂 it gave me pause to be still and think.
    ALL over the media is The Ex basketball 🏀guy who went down in a helicopter. When then police./
    Sheriffs grounded all their choppers that day due to weather. Sadly. These folks wanted to travel to their kid’s games by air vs cars to avoid traffic. He did it all The time with daughter. Wow.
    Husband and I tried to wrap our minds around this way of life. Now all you hear is rah rah rah about him.. Other folks died that day, the day before and after. 🙁
    Like it says above – it is almost the BEST folks are found in small places, no one notices.
    Lifting Prayers to all the Lovely kind giving caring folks. Bless you and thanks for your your KINDNESS.

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