Brian Mark Blue, formerly Brian Henke, died on Saturday, March 8, after a long battle with cancer. He was 37 and is survived by his young daughter, Isabella, and his sisters, Heather Wildin and Hillary Brestar, among his many loved ones. (For a full accounting, please visit Brian’s obituary is here.)
On Friday, March 14, I attended his memorial service, arranged by Hillary and Heather.
Brian was one of the most enthusiastic people I have had the pleasure to know. He was one of the first people I met when I moved to Seattle in 1995 and started working at Scarecrow Video. I was down on the floor putting out new additions to the inventory when my defining moment came. I was merely an observer – I didn’t even catch the conversation that led up to it, it was some testosterone movie or bizarre cult film that Brian was trumpeting with all the enthusiasm and excitement he brought to any discussion of a film that captured his heart – but I remember the response vividly. Ariana, his good friend and co-worker, simply eyed him with a look of appreciative amusement and said, “Brian, you are such a boy!” He simply beamed with his cat-that-caught-the-canary grin. The key there is that she said “boy” and not simply “guy.” While the word carries with it a hint of adolescence and immaturity, I think it captures something pure and youthful and fresh in Brian. As those who knew him would surely agree, Brian’s unrestrained enthusiasm and excitement made him seem younger than his years, someone who still responded to the jaded world with eyes wide open, ready and willing to be surprised and enchanted whenever he was.
I worked with Brian for three years at Scarecrow. I saw countless films with him. I was at his wedding to Holly Blue (Brian took his wife’s name, explaining: “How could I ask a woman I love to take the name Holly Henke?”). And when I left the store in 1998, I trained him to take my position. At the time, Scarecrow was teetering on bankruptcy and leadership was in a state of chaos and denial. The stress was making me miserable and, with mixed feelings and a great deal of anxiety, I gave my notice. The owner, George Latsios, treated my departure like some kind of betrayal and barely acknowledged me as I said my goodbyes on my last day. I was feeling all but abandoned when Brian and Holly invited me to spend the evening with them and gave me a tremendous amount of support. They probably had no idea how important that was to me, but it meant the world to me.
When Brian later left Scarecrow, he brought his enthusiasm to the Seattle International Film Festival and his sensibility to the offbeat programming of the festival’s Midnight Movie selection. More importantly, he became a father and lavished all of his love and attention on his daughter, Isabella. Even as our lives inevitably drifted apart, I could always count on seeing him at least once a year when he attended my annual Top Ten party. He never missed one, until his health finally overcame his energy.
Everyone has treasured memories of Brian. I’ll offer my favorite. It was in June of 1999, during the final weekend of the Seattle International Film Festival. I met Brian and Patrick Mathewes for the Midnight Movie screening of “Unlucky Monkey” at the Egyptian Theater. All week, Brian had been trying to find a hard-to-get ticket for the closing night party. He already had one ticket, but he wanted to bring Holly. And his chance came at the movie. Before the movie began, the venue manager took the stage and told the packed theater that he had a ticket for the closing night party. Rather than a raffle or a contest, he offered a challenge: the first person come on stage and take off all their clothes. The words were barely out of his mouth before Brian was pulling off his shirt while scrambling out of the row, and he kept shedding clothes as marched up to the stage, until he tossed off his knickers and strode across the stage – the long way, I might add, from stage left all the way over to stage right – wearing nothing but a smile. He took his ticket, took a bow, and marched right back off. The crowd went wild, cheering his aplomb as much as his daring. He may have lost his clothes, but he wore his dignity and pride and sense of purpose like a suit and came out with that Golden Ticket for Holly.
A lot of Brian’s friends from school and from his Scarecrow years have moved out of state and were not able to return in time for Brian’s Memorial service. So I offer this as a place to share your remembrances.
Update: March 20, 2008 –
Scarecrow’s tribute section went up this week. If you are in Seattle, head on over to Scarecrow Video and see his favorite films gathered together. Kevin Shannon wrote me to say it is renting well.
Also, you can read the remembrance to Brian written by his friend and longtime coworker, Kevin Shannon, on the Scarecrow website here.
Printed below, with the blessings of Hillary Brestar, is the memorial that was read at Brian’s service:
Brian Mark Blue
December 24, 1970- March 8, 2008
Good evening, my name is Michael Wyer. I would like to thank you all for inviting me into this moment in your lives.
We are gathered here to commemorate the life of Brian Mark Blue. This last Saturday, after a long and courageous fight with cancer, Brian left his pain and suffering behind, and moved on.
This is a very difficult time for those Brian left behind. As humans we always ask WHY? Why him? Why now? Why does this have to happen? The search for the answers to these questions has consumed the lives of some of the best minds this world has ever seen. And still there exists no answer upon which all are agreed. As the poet James Elroy Flecker said so beautifully:
…we shall go
Always a little further: it may be
Beyond that that last blue mountain barred with snow,
Across that angry or that glimmering sea,
White on a throne or guarded in a cave
There lives a prophet who can understand
Why men were born…
No, I cannot tell you why we are born, or why we must die. But I can tell you this. Once, an unimaginably long time ago, the entire universe would have fit into the space between my two cupped hands. The universe has grown and changed in ways not fully understood since then. But one thing is understood. All of the energy and all of the matter in the universe today was present in that that first instant. All of it has changed form countless times, but not one bit has ever been lost. So this we do know, nothing is ever truly lost, it only changes form.
Rossiter Worthington Raymond (1840-1918) wrote:
and death is only a horizon;
and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.
And so it is with Brian. He has moved over the horizon. He has moved on to a place where the pain he fought so valiantly no longer holds him. Like the wild geese do in their season, Brian has flown over the horizon. To help us in our understanding Brian left us this poem in his journal.
Wild Geese- by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have the soft animal of your body.
Love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
Are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees,
The mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clear blue air,
Are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
The world offers itself to your imagination.
Calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
Over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Brian’s place in the family of things was with the people that he loved.
He grew up in Illinois, the oldest child of three. He leaves here with us his two younger sisters, Heather Wildin and Hillary Brestar, strong loving women that surrounded him with their warm love as he fought his cancer and prepared for his journey over the horizon. Brian also leaves us with his two younger cousins, Darrin and Derek Hyde with whom he was very close.
And Brian always held a special place in his heart for his grandparents, Jeanette and Mark Sweet.
This love of family brought great comfort to Brian, and his family did not forsake him, visiting him and raising him up with their presence were Grandmother Jeanette Sweet and his mother’s two sisters Laurie Sweet and Connie Hyde. This is a touching tribute to their love and courage when we remember that their sister, and daughter, Brian’s mother Patricia Anne Henke, traveled over the horizon at the age of only thirty–seven, after her own battle with cancer. I am told Brian often wished that he would celebrate his own thirty-seventh birthday. Happily, that wish was granted.
Life, it is often said, is best thought of as a journey. Along the paths of his
journey Brian was able to explore who he was and who he wanted to be. He found, and married the love of his life, Holly Blue. So much did he love her that he took her name and kept to the end of his days. Holly gave Brian another gift, the greatest gift of all, his daughter Isabella. Brian’s devotion, dedication, and unconditional love for Isabella came from the deepest part of his soul. His smile when he looked at Isabella could melt any heart, and gladdened the hearts of his beloved parents in-law Richard and Barbara Blue.
Another of Brian’s great loves was film making. His ability to translate life’s experiences into film was a profound and moving gift that always made you want to know more about all the things that gave him his fierce drive for life.
Perhaps best of all, Brian was a friend that you wanted till the end. Even when the road of life became tough and rocky, he remembered to be grateful, and never missed a thank-you. As his journey came full circle, Brian held his head high and fought his battle with cancer with dignity and a strength that was a wonder to behold.
And now Brian has moved over the horizon from our sight. But he is not really gone. As Jeanne Willis wrote in her poem:
Inside our Dreams
Where do people go to when they die?
Somewhere down below or in the sky?
“I can’t be sure,” Said Granddad, but it seems
They simply set up home inside our dreams.”
So long as we hold Brian in our minds, he is never truly gone. I would like you to do this: Close your eyes and think of Brian’s face, listen inside of you and remember his voice as I read another poem Brian left us in his journal:
The journey– by Mary Oliver
One day you finally knew
What you had to do, and began,
Though the voices around you
Their bad advice-
Though the whole house
Began to tremble
And you felt the old tug at your ankles-
“ mend my life “
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
Though the wind pried
With its stiff fingers
At the very foundations,
Though their melancholy
It was already late enough, and a wild night,
And the road full of fallen branches and stones.
But little by little,
As you left their voices behind
The stars began to burn the sheets of clouds,
And there was a new voice
Which you slowly
Recognized as your own,
That kept you company
As you strode deeper and deeper
Into the world,
Determined to do
The only thing you could do-
Determined to save
The only life you could save
So long as we can do that, so long as we remember Brian, he is never truly gone, only just flown, like the wild geese, over the horizon.