Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Mary Beth Doyle

Today marks the anniversary of my sister's death, when a self-described Christian missionary ran her off the road, left the scene, then wrote to me (after being apprehended by the police a day later), that this was God's will.

Apparently some modern day apostles have the power to know these things.

I'm not an apostle, and I'm hardly a fan of what passes for Christianity these days (not sure Jesus Himself would be welcome at some of His more popular franchises), but I do enjoy the Gospels, which are at least as wise as, say Who Moved My Cheese, though actually practicing any of that ol' time kindness (in its finest sense of the word) would get you kicked off most corporate boards.

I take my solace from knowing what's left of her is in our hearts and in the now leafless limbs of some apple trees in Tipton, Michigan, her ashes overlooking Irish Hills.

Here is a story about her, told by a friend of hers, and I'm stealing it verbatim:

Twenty years ago today, Mary Beth and I arrived in the fabled Hunza Valley, the model for Shangri-La, in northern Pakistan. We stayed in a town on a cliff 4,000 feet above the valley floor, in a hotel that cost about 5 bucks with a view of 4-mile-tall Himalayan peaks. The poplars lining irrigation canals – brimming with pearly and opalescent glacier runoff, feeding stone terraces of apricot wheat, mulberry, grapes – had just come to full flame. An orange and yellow hearth fire lapping at the feet of the mountains 18,000 feet high, capped in blue glaciers.The altitude started getting to me. So, Mary Beth took a walk.

A few hours later, she came back, her fancy scarf from the Sindh – the one with real silver threads, presented to her by relatives of the mayor of the town of Khaipur – traded in for one of the rough cotton veils Hunza women wear working their terraced fields.

“I traded my scarf! And got some presents!!” She was carrying a huge bunch of grapes and a loaf of bread that smelled like a fire place and was so dense, huge, and nutritious it took us a week to finish off.

“I met some farmers! Check it out!” She’d spent the afternoon in the compound of a Hunza family, a rare privilege. “They all thought I was insane once I got them to understand I wasn’t lost. Kept asking ‘where’s your husband? (in this medieval world, it was just easier, and more sensible, to claim we were married)
Why did he let you come here alone?’ How the fuck am I supposed to explain I’m the one who dragged my ‘husband’ to Pakistan.” (Coming here was Mary Beth’s idea. That’s another story.)

She was glowing from the encounter. Not a lot of people are served tea in the kitchens of Hunzakot matriarchs. Not a lot of people are like Mary Beth. Travel is like being a rock star in that to succeed,
it takes a certain talent – the kind Mary Beth possessed in spades, wheel barrows, truck loads full.

Later, we shared this experience: that evening, Hunza was celebrating an Ismaili Muslim festival. After sundown, people scaled the surrounding mountains and set bonfires. As the peaks faded into the night, the whole valley – dozens of miles long, and thousands of feet deep – came alive with bonfires. The sight left even MB speechless. Unforgettable stuff like this made Pakistan her favorite location of the whole year we spent in Asia.
I'm going fishing in a moment, but it's not fish I'm looking for.
I miss you, Mary Beth.


Slowplum said...


Barbara said...

I think it is very appropriate that this anniversary of her death today is 11.12.13. A special distinction that won't come around again for another thousand years. Your tribute is beautiful as is the friend's remembrance of Pakistan. Thank you for sharing. She lives on through you and yours. I am glad to meet her. Thank you.

~A said...

You're the biology teacher. You're the doctor. Maybe you can explain how the loss of a loved one can tear out our heart, tear out our throat and yet somehow our heart continues to beat and we find our voice again. I hate it and I am humbled by it -- the suffering and the swallowing of all this pain so that we can continue to live on -- as we should, as we must. I am so sorry for your loss. Some days, I am so amazed any of us stay upright long enough to journey onward.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, Michael. Thank you so much.

Melanie said...

I knew Mary Beth through dancing, and always liked her for her warm, open personality. In one of the last conversations I had with Mary Beth, she encouraged me to travel. She made a difference in my life. I wish I'd asked her more about stories of her own travels, but it's a gift to read this story now.

JannaK said...

Thanks for this - know that her memory lives on in many of us.

doyle said...

Thanks, all.
I got no words

I will never be who I was, but she would have me be who I can.

So I do what I can.

Glinda Wyndorf said...

She taught me how much fun trouble could be.