Their Irrepressible Innocence

WHENEVER I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a moist, gray November in my soul; whenever I find myself expecting to be cut off in traffic, to be shortchanged at the store, to hear an ominous clank in the transmission, to catch a cold, to be ludicrously overbilled by the insurance company, to find the library closed early, to endure computer malfunction, to discover the wine sour, to lose my keys, to discover a city of slugs in the cellar, and to find a dead owlet under the cracked front picture window, then I account it high time to get to a kindergarten as fast as I can. There, I sit myself down in a tiny chair, in which I look not unlike a large, hairy, bespectacled, bookish giant, and inquire after the lives and dreams and feats of the small populace, and listen with the most assiduous and ferocious attention, for I find that as few as twenty minutes with people no taller than your belt buckle is enormously refreshing, and gloriously educational, and wonderfully startling, and endlessly hilarious, and very much like drinking a tremendous glass of crystalline water when you have been desperately thirsty for a long time, and in something of a personal desert.

They will tell you of the animals with whom they speak cheerfully and at length every day, and explain carefully what the animals say in return, speaking sometimes with their noses and their feet and their fingers. They will tell you of their dreams in which they are swifter than falcons and bigger than bears. They will tell you of their futures when they are absolutely going to be dancers and pilots and firefighters. They will tell you of the strange, wild, mysterious people in their lives, some of them visible and some not, as yet. They will talk knowledgeably of angels and spirits and voices that come out of the ground if you dig a deep enough hole. They will speak other languages than ones you know or they know. They will sing with or without the slightest provocation or solicitation. They love to explain things by drawing them, and colors for them have flavors and characters and tonal intimations and strict rules and regulations; depending on the artist, you can use green for buffalo, but you cannot use blue for cougars, because cougars are afraid of blue, everyone knows that.

If you give them time and afford them the clear sense that you are not judging or assessing or measuring them in any way, they will stretch out and tell you tales of adventure and derring-do that would make filmmakers and novelists drool. They hold hands and kiss each other without the slightest self-consciousness. They suddenly break off conversations to do headstands because when a headstand needs to be done it should be done without delay. They are inordinately proud of their socks and show you their socks at every opportunity, and you never saw such a wild welter of bright, animated, colorfully patterned socks in your life as those in kindergartens: it is sock paradise. They use the word cubby all the time, which is a pleasant, rotund word that we should use more often. When they are released into the school yard or the playground they sprint out into the welcoming embrace of the wild green world with all their might, with their arms flung wide and their mouths open and their shoes untied, and when I see this from my tiny chair, when I see them howling and thrilling into the delicious world that arose miraculously from the emptiness of the vast unknowable universe, I weep at their joy, and at some other thing I do not understand—their irrepressible innocence, my battered innocence, our assaulted, endangered innocence, their clean, fresh, unconscious grace, the fraught teetering of our species; and then I arise, and thank the teacher for allowing me to visit, and drive home, restored.

Brian Doyle (1956-2017) was the longtime editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, in Oregon. He was the author of six collections of essays, two nonfiction books, two collections of “proems,” the short story collection Bin Laden’s Bald Spot, the novella Cat’s Foot, and the novels Mink RiverThe Plover, and Martin Marten. He is also the editor of several anthologies, including Ho`olaule`a, a collection of writing about the Pacific islands. Doyle’s books have seven times been finalists for the Oregon Book Award, and his essays have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, OrionThe American ScholarThe Sun, The Georgia Review, and in newspapers and magazines around the world, including The New York TimesThe Times of London, and The Age (in Australia). His essays have also been reprinted in the annual Best American EssaysBest American Science & Nature Writing, and Best American Spiritual Writing anthologies. Among various honors for his work is a Catholic Book Award, three Pushcart Prizes, the John Burroughs Award for Nature Essays, Foreword Reviews’ Novel of the Year award in 2011, and the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2008 (previous recipients include Saul Bellow, Kurt Vonnegut, Flannery O’Connor, and Mary Oliver).”


  1. Sometimes, like this time, I start reading Orion from the back of the magazine forward. Brian Doyle’s Coda piece reminded me immediately why I cannot do without Orion Magazine, especially now. Thank you.

  2. Here, here. This is a beautiful testimony of the truth.

  3. Morning our loss of Brian Doyle this morning. He made my life better and I am grateful.

  4. Just knowing Brian Doyle is gone makes my world a little darker. But then I see a new bit of his writing, and things seem better. Those will never die!

  5. I had the wonderful good fortune of teaching kindergarten for 32 years. Imagine. I was not really teaching of course but of being tutored by the young. It has given me an ineffable amount of good memories from which to draw now in the last years of my life–remembering them. Little short people so close to the ground who “know how it is”. And I was so-leased to be reminded again of that joy today.

  6. It is indeed true
    I too cannot due
    Without kindergarten
    Even at seventy-two.

    }:- a.m. (anonemoose monk)

  7. Again I return
    Though not as spry as them
    But colorful socks I have
    I tire of adult things
    And to der garten
    I must go…

  8. I am an avid fan of the wonderful innocence and honesty of littles.

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