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.
I gave a rambling talk recently and a long line of teenagers came Up to speak to me afterward and it was instantly clear that every Single one of them wanted to ask me something while ostensibly Asking me something else, or say one thing while seeming to say Something else. I was so instantly moved I could hardly stammer Any sort of answer. I tried hard to hear what they were not saying Aloud but were saying with remarkable courage. It takes startling Courage to be a teenager, you know. There are so many theatrical Personas to try, but masks and disguises can get stuck. Or you get Trapped behind walls that begin as protective but become prisons. One kid in particular stays with me. He’s tall and shy and nervous. He says How do you deal with rejection? and somehow I instantly Get it that he does not mean essays and stories and poems and how You handle people saying steadily bluntly no to your insistent yes! He’s asking me about hope and despair and lovers and heartbreaks. He’s asking about the girl or boy he adores who does not love him. He’s staring at me. The other kids wait politely. I want to reach up And cup his face in my hands as if he was my son, but you have to Be honest with kids, you cannot merely bloviate and issue arrogant Pomposity, so I tell him you have to learn to be neighborly with no. You are going to see it every day and you might as well be friendly With the concept. Someone else’s no doesn’t actually kill your yes; It only means that someone else’s yes is still out there waiting. You See where I am going here? There’s more yes than no, is what I am Trying to say. I suppose that’s what we mean by faith. Faith’s a big Word, bigger than any religion. It means yes where everything sure Looks like no as far as you can see. Am I making the slightest sense Here, son? I actually call him son. The other kids must have thought I was being avuncular but for a brief moment he was indeed my son, And yours too. We shook hands and he held only my hands just a bit Longer than the usual thing, which I took to be some sort of a prayer.
Called the cemetery this morning to begin to plot What happens to my mom and dad after they die. Yes, I just wrote plot. My parents would smile at That. They are not afraid. They have lived so wry And well. They survived wars and four dead sons And savage diseases, and they still reach for each Other here and there. I have seen it. The cemetery People are so very helpful. Discharge papers: that Is the first thing. The cemetery will donate a head Stone free of charge. And the casket liner. I admit The casket liner was not on my list of stuff to talk To the cemetery folks about. Plenty of room, says The cemetery lady. Yes, your mom will be buried With your dad, no charge. What do we engrave on The stone? The specific words? In loving memory, Usually. That is standard. Can you edit the words? Well, I suppose so. Within reason. There are space Concerns, of course. I suggest you talk to your dad And mom and brothers and sisters, and agree upon What it is you would like the stone to say. I would Like the stone to say grace, and sinewy, and young. They were so young when they married. He did not Expect to survive the war. Their first son died—his Name was Seamus. Can you find room for Seamus On the stone? Mom nearly died, too. But she is too Tough to die at thirty. A hundred and thirty, maybe. Can we say endurance, and prayerful, and compose A poem about how they like their tea, and who gets What section of the paper first, and how they never Ever forget a birthday or anniversary? Can we copy Their meticulous undamaged handwriting? Can you Show the note of her laughter, and the way he never Misses a day with the crossword and how he is right Now bending over the tomato plants to be sure he is Not about to water the tiny shy frogs who live there?