There are few activities in life that provide for more personal and business self growth than fishing. When you go fishing off the pier your experience becomes even more valuable and insightful, due in part to the duality of interacting with the people coming and going while you are focusing on the water far below you as you attempt to catch a fish. It’s usually the perfect storm for giving you time to think while also enjoying a day outside.
It’s late August, a Friday morning in Ventura. Friends who have not fished in decades want me to show them what to do and we plan a half day excursion to the pier. I live in two cities, one an hour to the east and the other thirty minutes to the north and they live just two miles from the pier. We agree to meet at a local bait and tackle shop to pick up some bait and make sure they have the right gear. They suggest live lugworms and we each buy a scoop. The adventure has officially begun at eight that morning.
By nine we have parked the cars and the three of us are headed out towards the end of the pier to find the right spot, or at least a spot that feels right for us. We gaze down into the water but aren’t sure what we are looking for exactly. One side of the pier is windy and the other is calm. We each choose our preference and cast our lines into the water below.
Lots of time to think. I look up and down the pier to see if anyone else is fishing. Yes, a family at the far end is all set up on a bench. They appear to be serious about this venture. It’s a couple my age and their young adult son. In the other direction from where we came up the stairs from the parking area sits a lone man with his rod and reel, small tackle box, and a bucket. He has a plastic bag filled with some live bait. I wonder if he has the same kind of worms we bought earlier. I’ll ask him later. There is always later.
And there it is. The elephant in the room is now sitting next to me on the bench on the pier. I take a quick glance over to the calm side where my friends are fishing. The elephant leans in and it feels as though the bench is going to tilt upward on my side like a teeter totter when a heavier person gets on and you move closer to the sky.
One morning a couple of weeks ago it appeared. A lump of sorts and some discomfort. I spend ten minutes in front of the bathroom mirror, poking and prodding with my hands to see what I feel. I’ve been here before, in years past. Then I put it out of my mind for a few days until I’m in the pool and feel something again. It’s my neck. Or my chest. I call the doctor that afternoon and he wants to see me right away.
I’ve been a good customer for a business that depends on new and repeat business to keep growing. It’s easy to discount the medical profession and its global impact until it’s you, or a friend, or a loved one.
Please God, not again. I make a deal that may be falling on deaf ears.
“I think I have something!”
It’s one of my friends and I drop my rod and reel and go over to his side of the pier. He reels it in slowly and my other friend is ready with the bucket. The anticipation builds for over a minute before the catch is revealed to be seaweed, lots and lots of seaweed. The bait is gone so we tell a story of the big one that got away.
You can’t be in the game if you don’t make an effort. Standing over the railing with rod and reel in hand, tugging at you line every few minutes to get a feel for what’s happening. Gazing down into the ocean, feeling the spray on your face and arms when the wind moves in a certain way, that’s part of the experience. This life experience that can be so joyous one moment and so frustrating the next. It’s not if you catch a fish or not, it’s if you gave it your best effort.
And I’m back in school again, junior high where this microcosm of life first gets in your face. People you knew in elementary school look and act completely different now. The boy next door, my best friend all summer now tells me to “shut up!” when I ask him what class he has next. I cry until my mother takes me shopping to buy clothes I don’t like to impress people who aren’t nice so I can fit in.
Then I’m back in the present, fishing off the pier, hoping that something will tug on my line so I can feel like I am alive and in the game. It’s so beautiful here; a mixture of peace and excitement, fun and hard work. I’m glad I wore my oldest shirt and pants and shoes so I won’t have to think about them today. Fishing can be messy.
The winds have kicked up considerably since we arrived. I take out my phone. Ten forty-nine. Maybe someone is hungry. I walk over to the bench my friends have taken over and share the sandwiches I made early this morning. Whole grain bread, sliced meat, Colby cheese, tomato, and mayonnaise. They’re sliced into two odd shaped triangles to look store-bought. We make some small talk and I walk down the pier to talk to the family I spotted earlier.
They shake their heads and the woman waves me in closer. We become fast friends and she tells me of her husband’s issues with his feet. Her English isn’t good and my Farsi is non-existent so their son helps us to communicate. In a couple of minutes I realize he has the same problem I’ve had with my Achilles’ tendon for the past year. I show them how I was walking just weeks before by exaggerating my steps across the pier.
“But now, the walking is so good. How?”
I share the collagen powder supplement information with them. They hand me a phone so I can type it in. I again walk across the pier, showing how I can now practically dance. They translate for the man when I say my pain is gone completely and I can do anything now. He is sobbing openly as I look him in the eyes while I talk. The woman offers me the rest of their bait. The son shakes my hand. As they walk away I smile, knowing this is the reason I was meant to be on the pier today.
~ ~ ~
Now I’m at the City Council meeting three months ago where they decide my neighborhood doesn’t need the new library and cultural center that had been planned for years. Instead, we’ll get a shopping center and a gas station. There is only one dissenting vote from a new council member and he hangs his head as if he’s done something wrong. I hold my gaze until he swivels his chair and walks off the platform, our eyes never to meet.
~ ~ ~
It’s thirty years ago and the teachers are angry when our school is chosen to receive a privately funded grant that will pay us when we visit our students at home.
“She’s been doing that for years and now she’ll be paid,” they scoff.
I refrain from saying what I am thinking…
“Why don’t you join me? I’ll show you where to park. The families want to spend time with us.”
~ ~ ~
It’s decades ago and my mother is telling me to put my shoes on, but I won’t listen and I don’t hear because the cool dirt feels so good between my toes on a warm summer day.
I reach down to loosen my shoelaces and slip easily out of my shoes. The socks are next and now my feet are free. I wiggle my toes and yearn to step out on the sandy beach. The wind whips my hair round and round and I can no longer see. It doesn’t matter because my other senses have taken over.
I hang my upper body over the side of the pier to get the hair out of my face and notice a rock formation someone has created. It’s a beautiful work of art and I take a photo of it with my phone. If only I could freeze this moment in time to have as my souvenir for the day. I am at peace with whatever comes because I have had my joy and sorrow and the full range of emotions over my lifetime.
My left hand moves to the lump below my throat as I try to swallow and tears stream down my face. I don’t care if I didn’t catch anything today; I just want to come back here again someday. Someday…
I’m Connie Ragen Green, an imperfect work in progress. I’m also an author, entrepreneur, publisher, and online marketing strategist, serving people on six continents to help them achieve their goals..