Re-Examine Your Inner Life: A Fish Story


Sorry I haven’t posted much lately.  Got sick, low on energy, yada, yada, but beginning to bounce back!  I’ll write more tomorrow, but thought in the meantime, you might enjoy this (true) story I wrote a few years ago.  It fits very well with this month’s contemplative theme.

The story takes place in Crystal Beach, Texas, near Galveston, at my beach house.  When I moved to San Antonio from Houston, I had to sell my beloved home as it was too difficult to maintain from so far away.  A year later it was completely destroyed, along with most of the property on the peninsula, by Hurricane Ike. (“Phine”, short for Josephine,  is my black lab mix.  Travis is my son.)

Phine and I smugly step onto the deck this morning knowing, as we take in this salty, breezy, sunny, wave crashing on sand day, that it’s for this we pay the mortgage.  Actually, we’re in for a treat this early Sunday morning.  But we don’t know that as we skip forward down the path to the water.

As we move onto the beach I see a ragtag group of guys to my right.  The men are standing in line fishing from the shore, long fishing poles with even longer lines arcing optimistically into the water.  One is manning the ice chest.  Another is standing next to a young boy, his Dad I guess.  Because I’m sinking into a delicious surf fishing memory, I don’t pay much attention to them, except to note that the kid is surely there to learn what boys need to learn from men about fishing.

It’s this “rite of passage into manhood” thought that distracts me from wondering if the water will be cold when Phine and I step in and from paying attention to the fishing men.

It’s Trav I see in my mind’s eye, at eight, running from the water toward our rented beach cabin, fish flapping, mouth grinning.  Uncle Brian, who had awakened every day at the crack of dawn for one whole week to stand steadfastly but unproductively at the water’s edge, is right behind him, calling loudly for us to see the big catch.  Uncles love it when kids outdo them at their best game.  It’s part of their anthropological role in life.  And while my sister’s husband is an excellent fisherman, he is an even better uncle.

So I’m smiling as I reminisce about Trav and his Uncle Brian and the delicious taste of that first fish.  And now I’ve started laughing all over again at the memory of the razzing Uncle Brian got from the men when little Trav gets the first and only fish of that summer in Crystal Beach.

So it takes me a minute to realize that one of the fishermen has a fish.  Well, he’s gonna have a fish, a big fish, because he is pulling and reeling in and pulling and reeling in like it’s a marlin on the line.

I’m not, of course, the first to see what’s going on.  The guys with him are edgy.  As the pulling and reeling in continues for what seems like hours, they pace, get the camera ready.  No one talks.  Somebody grabs a measuring tape.  Do they all carry them?  Or just the ones who know it ain’t about fish, it’s about hope?  And somebody actually turns his back on his struggling buddy and ties his tennis shoe in a vain attempt to relieve his personal tension.

The kid stands back from the action as long as he can, his dad’s hand firmly on his shoulder, but finally breaks free.  He doesn’t run toward the water.  He knows better.  This is not his first time fishing with the men.  He creeps forward in slow motion actually in perfect rhythm with the rest of us, because we are all edging closer without realizing it.  His dad doesn’t notice.  He does take on a kind of keening, a push and pull motion, not as obvious as the one we are all fixed on, but just as intense.  I’m feeling the pangs of labor, push, pull, wait, rest while you can, sweaty, scared, it’s almost over, here it comes, one more time.  I’m seeing TV scenes of disciples at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

The old couple I recognize from other walks along the beach have seen this before, but now they stop to watch, virgin spectators.  Three teenagers pull over in their jeep, momentarily relinquishing their mission to piss off adults, and lend their adolescent angst to the pulling and the reeling in.

Finally we all exhale at once as we realize it’s over.  The fish is hoisted from the water and it thuds onto the sand.  It is big.  Worth the effort.  A drum, good size one, the Dad announces to the scattered onlookers.  I don’t hear the measurements, but the backslapping and head nodding tells it all.

When he stops grinning and the picture taking is done, the fisherman puts the fish back in the water.  It’s the right thing to do.  It’s not easy because the fish is big and slippery.  The kid helps.  They carefully step into the surf with the big fish in their hands, Olympians carrying the torch.  They slide the fish into the water.  Knowing how important his role is in this drama, the fish seems to flourish its tail and heads out to sea.  It’s a drum, for God’s sake, but we’re seeing Free Willy as we watch intensely, respectfully, silently, the teenagers, the fishermen, the old folks, Phine and me.

Heading home I realize I have once more received a precious gift from this place, an opportunity to be part of something important.  If we truly are all one being, a universe of seemingly separate bodies sharing but one soul, then we caught a big fish today, savored the win, and put it back so we can catch it again tomorrow.

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