Thursday, December 23, 2010

For Mike Bryan, and the community he left behind him.

Karyn had asked that i post what i sent her to read at Mike's service:

I am truly sorry I cannot be with you today. Mike deserves to be celebrated the way you are, right now, coming together as a community, strengthening your connections to one another. That's kind of what Mike does. I remember, when it was my honor to be editor for the Portsmouth Free Press, titling one of Mike's articles “let's raise some hell” over his objections. His preferred title was “let's start a dialog”, a title that seemed to me hopelessly...Rotarian, but that now, with a little more time and wisdom on my side, I see the truth and necessity of. Mike's music, writing, activism, were always directed at making the world around him a better place and I am proud to say that Mike was my friend. I will remember him for his humor, and for his commitment and passion. A discussion with Mike could be an almost physical thing, ranging from room to room, from revolutionary politics to the absurd and back again, and Mike always laughing, always arguing with a kind of bemused, straight man look on his face, while he suggested the most outrageous Swiftian proposals ( the invasion of Appalachia was just one among many). Mike really cared about people, and his constant, tireless commitment to Habitat, to the peace movement,to Appalachia, to the local musical and artistic community were more than just political or aesthetic poses, they were an outgrowth of a genuine compassion and commitment to improving the world around him, and a kind of damnable bullheadedness when he was sure he was right, regardless of how the world swayed. I think I will miss that bullheadedness most of all. Mike could be relied on to be Mike, no matter what, and he kept us all honest. Mike was so incredibly prolific, always writing, always organizing, always making music and planning the next project, always running,always active, I don' t think it ever crossed my mind that that voice could fall silent, or that Mike would not be here for me to come home to some day, and talk and talk and talk. I will miss him more than I ever had the chance to tell him, and I miss the community that Mike has left behind him, the many people whose lives he touched, building houses, collecting food for the hungry, telling truth to power and singing his heart out, even if we kept turning the smoke machine on, just to give him a hard time. So many of us, those in this room and scattered around the country carry a piece of Mike with us, a memory of “di-aspora”, of marching in the snow together,of “Pudge Parchisi”twisting the night away, of a joke in the middle of chaos and cacophony, of a good talk. Mike leaves this world a more connected, better place than he found it, and I know with absolute certainty that the only way he would tolerate all of us saying nice things about him was if it was directed towards that greater goal, of continuing the struggle he so gladly took on himself again and again, to fight for the rights of people who cannot speak for themselves, to speak the truth no matter what, and to be some shadow of the good and gentle and committed man that he was. The world needs more men like Mike Bryan, committed to doing what is right as they see it in their corner of the world, of following their own vision, no matter where they find themselves. We can only do the best we can. He has left us each other, and a million jobs that still need doing and the only way I know to honor that kind of love and friendship and commitment is by doing what he would have wanted us to, to mourn him, to laugh with his friends about him and then to put our shoulders back to the wheel to making the world a little more like it seemed so clear to Mike it should be, to make it a place with more homes, and less hunger, more dialog and less hell raising, a few more twist songs and a lot more truth.

Mike, I miss you. I'm sorry we did not talk more in the last few years. I'm sorry I never convinced you to run for governor. I'm sorry I never properly thanked you for the work that you did. I'm sorry we had to lose you to tell you how much we love you, and miss you, and to realize the size of the hole you left in the world. Thanks for being my friend, and for letting me work alongside you for a while in your struggle. Thanks for singing and reading and organizing. Thanks for the houses and the soup kitchens and the Retros and every other project you had your hands in. Thanks for the stories, and the songs, and the dent you knocked in the world. Thanks for everything.


  1. God bless you Jake. It's beautiful.

  2. Well said Jake, awesome... We all should strive to be more like Mike.

  3. All of this is true, and still I remember that the last thing Mike said to me was that my crying baby should be cut into pieces like an abortion and flushed down the toilet.