On a Friday night way back in 1987, I think it was November, I found myself sitting in the back of a meeting of people, at the end of the table, feeling pretty hopeless. That’s generally not my nature, and in fact the exact opposite of how I have felt for many, many years now. But I was feeling that way that night. All that afternoon, working as a landscaper at a condominium resort in Florida, I had been feeling sorry for myself and it got to the point where I actually began visualizing ending it all. So I am sitting at the table and just before the meeting began a large group of people walked in, loud and laughing, it turns out most of the people at this meeting just having come from a wedding rehearsal for one of the guys in the group. His sister was down from Rhode Island, she led the meeting, and one after another people talked about how good life was. With a few minutes to go, just before 11:30 p.m., the woman from Rhode Island asked if that guy at the end of the table would like to say anything. I opened my mouth and began sobbing. I sobbed and sobbed in front of everyone, and got out a few words about hopelessness. Then I was done and the mood swang back up to party level, and the meeting was over. As I was walking out a very large person walked in front of me, blocking my way. This guy, who always identified himself as “Todd C, a comode-hugging drunk from Kansas City”, looked at me and said: “Do you know what you need?” At that moment I honestly thought he was going to give me some magic words, let me in on some life secret I had never received, tell me a life-changing affirmation, a mantra, something. But when I said “No”, what Todd said was, “You need to go fishing.” That was it.
As Todd C from Kansas City was the best man in the aforementioned wedding he was not available the next day. But the following Saturday Todd pulled into my driveway right at noon with two fishing poles and assorted equipment, and after stopping for bait along the way, we sat down on two overturned empty five-gallon paint buckets and threw our lines into a tributary of the Indian River, the intercoastal waterway on the east coast. We sat behind a strip mall and talked and laughed and caught a few fish and then he brought me home. And almost every Saturday for the next four or five months Todd C showed up around noon in my driveway and took me fishing. And a little at a time I got outside myself and forgot about the poor me’s and started living my life again, and seeing the adventure – not the sentence – in it.
Magic words? Life-changing mantra? Secret password to bliss? Maybe. But, I guess I shouldn’t have been completely surprised. Back when I was six years old my Dad took me fishing one time, in a little creek in South Wareham, MA. A few years later I started hanging around with a kid named Donnie Sisson, and we started fishing, first in Mill Pond not far from his house, and then all over town, fishing poles and a bait bucket dangling off the backs of our bikes as we explored the Wareham waterways. I recall that we were never particularly successful in terms of catching large fish, or somedays any fish – we weren’t going to be featured on a show on the Fishing Channel (if there had been one) – but that was okay. I mean, what exactly is success? Summer day after summer day – before there were summer jobs for us and turning into good adults – we went to the Wareham River behind the A & P and caught minnows and then rode our bikes to Mill Pond or somewhere and sat on the bank and watched our red and white bobbers, mostly do very little except float along with any breeze passing by, and lived completely and gratefully that young boy’s life. Talk about bliss. Talk about magic. Talk about the affirmation of life. A life second to none. No, it shouldn’t have been such a surprise when the man from Missouri said he was going to save me by taking me fishing.
A few years down the road from that Friday night I began a long period of my life going fishing with my son Cameron. All over Northeastern Massachusetts and sometime into southern New Hampshire. After work, weekend days, hours and hours and hours on end. Just him and me, sitting on the bank of some pond or lake, looking at our bobbers in the water, sometimes talking, often just being quiet, just fishing. We fished from the time Cameron was little right up through his sophomore year in high school, when he moved away with his Mom and his brother to Florida. It’s funny. Cameron got to go fishing in some of the very same places where Todd C had taken me when he was saving my life. Saving it by reminding me of how it had once been. Saving it by preparing me for how it would be again, with my son.
The other night Cameron called me. He is in his second enlistment in the US Army, stationed in Fairbanks, Alaska. He has a wife and two children. He called to tell me that he and Alison had lost the baby they were expecting due to a miscarraige. He then said they had gone to a sporting goods store and bought a kayak for Alison to go along with one Cameron had already bought for himself. Doing something to feel better. He was about to put it into the Chena River to test it. He gave the phone to Alison as he slid out into the cold Alaska water. She talked to me about a fishing trip they have planned in June. I told Alison that as a Dad there were a lot of things I never did that I wished I had done, and some I did that I wished I hadn’t. But one of the things I had done right – really right – was to take my son fishing about 10,000 times. That was good. And now he was carrying on the tradition. Already taking his three-year old son fishing. Planning a fishing vacation with his wife. I told Alison they would be alright.
It’s like God said to Cameron: “You know what you need? You need to go fishing.”