Brevity Twelve

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by Brian Doyle

Summer reminds me, God knows why, of my friend Ed, who is a whole species of man unto himself, the only one of his kind, the very archetype and all possible subsequent permutations of Edness in his own singular person. He is sensible, brilliant, unusually accomplished - he's a neurosurgeon of great skill, a self-taught beekeeper, a sailor who has survived gales from hell, a husband, a father - yet he is also liable to being riveted suddenly and irretrievably by reef topography, canine physiology, or the history of collegiate eating clubs, and he can be utterly absorbed beyond recall at any hour, in any social situation, whether or not he is supposed to roast the roast or toast the toast.

This capacity for ferocious concentration is perhaps what makes him such a deft man with a scalpel, but it also drives his family and friends to distraction and delight, depending on the Eddish event. I think, for example, of the night he was supposed to be making coffee for many guests but became entranced by a clockmaker's explanation of the innards of ancient timepieces; or the summer he decided that lawns were best mowed at dawn; or his long and ultimately fruitless devotion to a Chevrolet Impala, an affair which ended finally in acrimonious divorce; or the year he became addicted to curry and single-handedly kept the economy of India humming; or the way in which he cheerfully shaved his head when his wife lost her locks to cancer; or the way in which his casual apiary interest turned into hundreds of jars of honey and enthusiastic entomological lectures; or the boundless pleasure with which he explains to a patient how he will make an incision here and here, and remove the top of the brain like a sardine can, and then go in and see what we can see, and nip and tuck a bit, and get everything shipshape, and then put everything back together in approximately the same order as before, and you'll be a new man by nightfall, God willing, although you'll have a new religion and you'll be left-handed.  

The face of the patient to whom he delivers this talk is a pearl without price.

You have but to meet Ed and you are Edified and Educated; the man is a force of nature, true to himself in every particular, forged by Russian Jewish parents, blessed by marriage to a Catholic girl from Idaho who once exploded a pie in a state baking contest, and graced finally by two children, male and female, who only grin when asked to explain their father, and it is this grin that seems to me a wonderfully summery thing, a flash of love in a world of pain, a warm pause in a cold year.

Their father -- that amiable shaven-headed man over there talking to his bees, and due at the hospital in an hour -- is a tale never told before and never to be told again, which is, if you ponder the incalculable odds, a stunning miracle, like all of us; and so, this bright summer morning, an Editorial.


Brian Doyle is is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, in Oregon.  He is the author of Credo (essays) and Saints Passionate and Peculiar (brief excitable headlong hagiographies) .  Doyle's essays and fitful poetry have appeared in The American Scholar, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, Orion, Commonweal, and The Georgia Review, among other periodicals. His essays have also been reprinted in The Best American Essays 1998, and The Best American Essays 1999, Best Spiritual Writing 1999, 2001, and 2002, and in a gaggle of anthologies.

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