I don’t like fishing.
And as a vegetarian, it isn’t any great surprise as to why I don’t like fishing. I normally try, as best I can, to keep my personal views concerning something like fishing to myself. It’s something that people do – and I don’t. ‘Nuff said.
However, recently, while visiting the great state of North Carolina, my third son, Patrick, invited me to go fishing with him. Twice. And, as odd as it seemed to me, twice, I went.
The first time, he asked me to tag along with him to the ocean around noon. His plan was to fish while slightly off-shore in a kayak. With a pole, bait, oar, and a very small back pack full of odds and ends, he waded into the water with me behind. My job was two-fold: steady the kayak until he made it past the first barrage of waves and then return to shore and wait for him to return . . . which I did.
I sat on shore watching the yellow kayak swaying back and forth with the tide. And at first, I could see him clearly. I could see him casting, I could see him rowing, and I thought I could see him smiling. But as time passed, he moved farther and farther towards the horizon, and it became more and more difficult for me to see anything more than a flash of yellow between ocean waves.
My mind moved away from my thoughts about fishing and towards my thoughts about my son and the danger of water, in particular ocean water. Though thankful that he had put on a life jacket moments before jumping into the kayak, as time ticked forward, I still had that feeling in the pit of my stomach that says anything, anything can happen. So, I began to walk and wade into the Atlantic – as if I could somehow wade and swim to the bobbing kayak. Which realistically, I could not.
Within ten minutes, he either ran out of bait and decided on his own to end his journey or he saw me and figured that his mother was going to get herself into water-trouble and might need help, because the kayak was heading swiftly towards me. Once we were within shouting distance, I could tell that he was delighted with the fishing. Usually a quiet sort of guy, he rattled on about the ocean, the fish, the waves, those he caught and those he lost. He was happy and wanted nothing more than for me to be happy for him.
The second fishing experience was quite different. As the sun began to set one evening, he pointed towards the marsh, grabbed a pole, his tackle, and two chairs. He could see that the weather was perfect and the tide was up. The plan was to quickly – faster than lightning fast – head out with him to fish. Again, he asked me to go, and for some reason, I went.
With me literally running behind him, we stopped when he found the perfect spot. He set up my chair, dropped his, tossed me some stuff, waded out just beyond the water’s edge and began casting. He fished and I watched him fish. It was a fairly quiet experience with the reel making the most noise of the evening. We stayed for as long as we could see, which wasn’t all that long. In fact, it wasn’t long enough for him to actually catch anything. When the sun dipped below the horizon, he gave me the ‘let’s pack up’ signal, and we did. Walking back to our place, he explained the difference between fishing in the marsh and fishing in the ocean, between fishing in the morning and fishing in the evening, between fishing from shore and fishing in a kayak.
Though I am opposed to fishing – at all levels – and he knows it, I must admit that I did enjoy my fishing experience. First, he caught nothing that I could see. What he caught in the ocean, he tossed back. And he caught nothing in the marsh. Great for me. Not so great, I suppose, for him.
Next and more importantly, it was interesting entering someone else’s world – in particular a world that I would never enter. It was interesting changing my perspective – stepping out of my box and seeing something from a different viewpoint. I went fishing. Okay, my role was very limited – at best. I didn’t use a fishing pole. I was my son’s crowd, his groupie, his audience. I was there to observe . . . to learn . . . to understand.
And I learned that it is one thing to talk about having an open mind and talk about being accepting of the differing viewpoints and activities, and another thing to actually have that open mind and be accepting. I always thought I was accepting of his choice to fish, but in reality, I was only accepting of it at a distance. I really knew nothing about it. I was more critically sarcastic than honestly accepting.
But, walking in the shoes of others truly does heightening understanding. It takes time and effort to do so, and I had to jump out of my comfort zone and hope that I could see whatever it was that he was seeing – use his eyes, his mind as my guide.
I still do not want to fish, but I know a little bit more about why my son fishes, and I think I am a little more embracing of his choice.
And as the sun went down while we were standing in the marsh fishing, I thought about the poetry of yesterday . . . with e.e. cummings (1894 – 1962) drifting through my mind: