Brian Doyle is editor of Portland magazine at the University of Portland. He is the author of Leaping: Revelations and Epiphanies, A Shimmer of Something: Lean Stories of Spiritual Substance, and, most recently, Martin Marten, a novel.
Here’s your Ash Wednesday story. A mother carries her tiny daughter With her as she gets ashed and the Girl, curious and wriggly, squirms Into the path of the priest’s thumb Just as the finger is about to arrive On the mother’s forehead, and the Ashes go right in the kid’s left eye. She starts to cry, and there’s a split Second as the priest and the mother Gawk, and then they both burst out Laughing. The kid is too little to be Offended, and the line moves along, But this stays with me; not the ashy Eye as much as the instant when all Could have been pain and awkward But instead it led to mutual giggling. We are born of dust and star-scatter And unto this we shall return, this is The Law, but meantime, by God, we Can laugh our asses off. What a gift, You know? Let us snicker while we Can, brothers and sisters. Let us use That which makes dark things quail.
Today’s remarkable vision: a woman in her bridal dress Walking purposefully along the street. This was enough Of an amazing sight by itself, but the determined stride, The intent look, her I am going someplace, and I am not Worrying about how I look, even though I know you are All looking attitude—that got me. I mean, of course you Wonder where she was going, and where she came from, And why she is alone, and if this is a just little aberrance In an otherwise tightly plotted day, or if she was hustling To catch the bus, and where is the entourage you usually See flanking a bride, the cheerful best friends, the joyous But slightly jealous sisters although they would never say Such a thing even to each other after a few bottles of beer At the reception, or even perhaps the groom, where is he? I was caught in traffic and sped right along and only later Did I think should I have stopped, and offered her a ride? I mean, what if she was hustling to the actual ceremony? What if her Ford broke down and the groom was forlorn? But I have a lovely bride of my own, and I am on the one Bride per groom plan, which I renew every morning with A deep and amazed glee, so I hope the bride on the street Made it to wherever it was she was headed, or whomever. The whomever is a lucky soul, seems to me—a bride who Has the panache to stroll along unconcernedly even as she Knows full well folks are gaping; that’s a bride with brass.
Walked out to the car this morning to find a small brown Bird deceased on the windshield. A young song sparrow, Neither naked gawky nestling nor chesty feathered elder; A sort of a teenager, I guess. Cause of death not instantly Evident, nor did I spend time determining its gender; no, My brain got stuck on the teenager part. It’s so fearsome, Being a teenager. Everything is ten times louder. They’re Braver and stupider than any three older people; they are Three people, most of the time. This is discombobulating In the extreme. But we have no sympathy for them. We’d Prefer to forget we were them; we deny that we ever were. You know we do. If we wrote our histories we would skip From twelve to twenty, from generally bucolic childhood, At least fitfully, at least while finding refuge from trouble, To beginner older idiocy, which itself takes a decade or so. We get so impatient with teenagers. We want them to leap Past stupid. But stupid is a great teacher, isn’t it? Flailing At least teaches you what alleys to avoid, if at all possible. We have no mercy on them but they are in a thunderstorm, And probably it seems like it will never end, and we whine That they are wet yet again even after we advised as re wet. And how wet we were too, brothers and sisters, how moist And soaked and sopping and bedraggled we were, not even Fully feathered at the time, trying to figure out how to soar, And where to soar, and who, if anyone, would soar with us; And if we were blessed we had parents, maybe parents who Loved us even, but so often they just stood and sermonized As we fell out of the nest, frightened and thrilled and lonely.