I am still mourning a man I never met.
Brian Doyle wrote extraordinary essays about the life of faith. Some of them are laugh-out-loud funny. All of them are piercing in their truthfulness. In many of them, he is poking fun at himself; using himself as an example of the imperfect and inadequate people God calls and showers grace upon and forgives and equips and uses, somehow. All of his essays come out of his personal experience and his own observations, which mean they describe the experiences of anyone who spends any time thinking about her own day-to-day journey, following Jesus. Brian Doyle lived in Portland, Oregon, which means he would have been in the path of the recent solar eclipse. I’ve been wishing I could read the essay he would have written about that experience, how he would have described experiencing God.
Brian Doyle also wrote novels about maddening, imperfect people; stubborn people; flawed and fallible; but simply trying to do the best that they can, stumbling upon what is truly important (which is never what they’re spending their time worrying about). Brian Doyle’s quirky novel, Mink River, in particular, is one of those I will read again and again, even though I have reached an age when I am realizing that I probably already have more unread books than I will have time to read.
Thinking about my own age brings me to the grief I feel from time to time over Brian Doyle. I never met him. We exchanged a few e-mails. Brian died this past June 2, of a sudden, virulent brain cancer. He was 60, which is younger than I am.
I nearly died when I was 52, as many of you know. (If you don’t know the story, ask me sometime — preferably after you’ve bought me a beer.) The blessing that came out of that terrible experience was learning how to practice the prayer of giving thanks for what is ordinary during the days of what I call my bonus years of life. However, too often, I forget the practice. I get wrapped up in all those things on my daily to-do list. I often lose sight of what is really important.
In recent days, though, I’ve been wishing I could read what Brian Doyle would have written about experiencing the solar eclipse. And that little squirt of grief has reminded me to give thanks for what is ordinary – because I have not died. I woke up this morning! God has given me another day of life.
And so: I thank God for a body that functions. I have been able to get out of bed today, to begin my activities for the day. Someday that may not be true. I give thanks for mental alertness today because, someday, that may not be true. I give thanks for Patty, who has also been given another day of life, and who has just bestowed a morning kiss. I give thanks for my hearing, as I listen to the rain this morning; and for the gift of sight, as I look out at our garden, lush and green in the rain. I give thanks for the work that God gives me to do today, work that engages and energizes me. I give thanks for …
What is on your list – of what is ordinary, because it is every-day?
Aren’t they, instead, extraordinary blessings, because you have been given this additional day of life?
— Pastor Andy Ballentine