fishing-lesson-normal-rockwell-1I never considered myself much of a fisherman, so when my dad said, “Take a gaff,” I asked what that was. He held up a massive hook. “In case you get a big one,” he insisted. I reminded him that I’d fished before and had never needed a gaff. For whatever reason, I took it anyway.

My brother Andrew and I packed the rest of the rods into the Jeep and off-roaded past the cul-de-sac into the woods, where through the trees a river runs. I plopped on the bank so my feet could dangle above the water, and as Andrew set up a catfish line, I sorted through his tackle for bass lures. Most of my brother’s lures are cursed, except for the worm-shaped ones, which the bass usually go for. I tied a pink one to the line and cast it out, whizzing, across the water. It dropped. I flipped the bail, tightened the line, let the lure sink. Now the waiting. Ten seconds. Reeled it in, and cast again.

The thing about fishing is that you really can’t control it. Even the best fisherman can’t. Some days the fish just don’t bite. Countless days have passed when we’ve packed up the Jeep with all the right rods and lures and bottles and bug sprays and nothing comes. It’s far less about stubbornly waiting for a bite than about surrendering to the fact that my will alone can’t wrangle in a slimy bass.

I could not manipulate my circumstances, just had to enjoy them. The groaning river, the setting summer. I was out in nature, and I felt like Walt Whitman. In Leaves of Grass, he writes about the promise of the unexpected.

Shut not your doors to me, proud libraries,
For that which was lacking on all your well-fill’d shelves, yet needed most, I bring,
Forth from the war emerging, a book I have made.

Whitman’s talking about himself here. He’s trying to say that he’s a great book yet undiscovered by the best shelves. (Sure, Walt.) I also think he’s talking about fishing. And maybe God. In a similar way, a delicious fish waits to be caught, emerging from the water, perhaps even to satisfy my well-filled refrigerator.

That day, as much as I wanted to find Whitman’s metaphorical book or my metaphorical fish, I could not. The results were out of my hands. As the day cooled off, as the mosquitoes came out, as our stomachs rumbled for summertime burgers, we packed it up and went home.

Изображение7.5_О_нет_нет_нетThat’s how it usually went. But not that night. That night, I sent the lure sailing across the water one final time, and when it dropped, I felt a tremble, then a yank. Something was pulling from the other side of the river. I began reeling and Andrew called, “Did you set the hook?” and I was like, I don’t know. I was just reeling. And the fish was fighting. He was pulling my line back out and I was shouting and cussing and still reeling, and my arm was tired, but I was so excited I couldn’t see any other outcome except conquest and mounting this bastard on the wall! And as the fish drew near, I saw how big it was. How big and beautiful and
powerful. “GET THE GAFF!” Andrew retrieved it from the trunk and took my line while I swooped in and jabbed the beast. I hauled it, flipping, out of the water.

I held it high, posing for a Facebook picture of course. It was a glorious feeling, a glorious moment, and that was when I saw my dad back in the trees, watching the whole affair. He’d snuck down to see how we were doing.

Jesus says he will make his disciples fishers of men. It’s so improbable, and wholly undeserved, that in such a big, muddy river, a fish would choose my hook to get stuck on. As John Zahl said in The Mockingbird Devotional, “You do not know much of what the day will hold.”