I have often thought of my life in terms of a jigsaw puzzle. If I dumped the pieces of my life out on my dining room table, one would see a pile of all shapes and sizes, each one marked with a memory.
The smaller segments represent minor life events such as dinner parties, school award ceremonies, and summer nights spent chasing fireflies. These parts snuggly attach to the more grandiose pieces such as weddings, births, and anniversaries. Together they construct the design that is my life.
If you took a moment to sort through the puzzle pile, you’d notice a piece labeled “fishing” included in the mix. My childhood consisted of fishing trips, therefore fishing equates to a foundational corner piece of my life’s layout.
My dad loves to fish and for as long as I can remember he always possessed a tackle box. My mind summons pictures of a green plastic version with a white handle and simple removable tray. Throughout the years this tackle box has been replaced and he now owns a sizable black box that touts fisherman’s club stickers on the lid.
From an early age, he instilled in me the appreciation for the sport. I sat and watched as he organized all his artificial lures. He held them out and patiently explained the difference between swimbait and spinnerbait. Colorful and shiny, he taught the bait bass preferred and which ones best attracted the trout.
We lived in Chicago at the time and I remember how we ventured out to nearby Dresden Lake for me to accompany him on fishing outings.
Affectionately named “Paradise Pit” by the locals, the lake originated when miners dug holes searching for iron ore thereby creating giant craters. At one point in time, someone suggested the filling of the vast pits, which transformed the eyesore into a chain of lakes.
Tradition kept us returning to this spot. Dad’s father brought him to the same place and he often tells of how my grandfather would take the occasional Saturday off for the same family outings he took me on. They pulled rainbow trout from the lakes and cooked them on the shore.
At Dresden Lake my father taught me how to fish.
The Art of the Cast
I specifically remember him teaching me to cast. He helped me with my pole as he whispered instructions on how to properly hold the rod with my dominant hand. He showed me how to let a specific amount of the fishing line drop, turn my head, and position myself to create the perfect casting stance. The aim and release depended on me.
A sense of pride comes from achieving the perfect cast. The buzz of the reel releasing line and the plop as the lure greets the water still delights me.
Then we’d wait.
The Struggle of the Wait
I struggled a lot during this time of waiting. Never wanting to scare away the fish, I kept my loud noises to a minimum, but my eagerness to see what I’d catch bubbled inside. To pass the time, I’d lie back in the grass, which poked my arms like tiny needles, and try to spot figures in the clouds.
No agenda, no schedule, no urgency. Only silence around us as we waited.
The delay of the catch is the only part that caused me frustration. I falsely imagined slight tugs at my line and prematurely reeled it to land. The hook arrived empty and I would have to reset and cast again.
Sometimes the fish bit the line and we left with a good catch. Often, we left empty-handed.
Lessons from the Lake
Now I’m the parent and I sadly realize that I have taken my own children fishing a grand total of three times. I regret this and vow to pick up a pole more this season. The lake teaches timeless and valuable lessons that I am eager to pass along to my little ones.
Time dedicated to meaningful endeavors is never wasted.
Here is what I absorbed from countless hours spent at the water’s edge:
1. Be still. At the lake, I discovered appreciation for stillness of both my mind and spirit. Those days only held the sound of the spinning reel and the plop of the lure hitting the water. No outside clamor fought for my attention. Stillness is a rare companion to a life run at high speed. Yet, stillness is essential. It takes root in the soil of our souls and allows for growth to bloom.
2. You will not always succeed. As in fishing, there will be times in life when you walk away empty-handed. Many days I left the lake disappointed thinking that my success depended on what I reeled in that day.
These empty moments may lack joy, but they will never lack benefit. Leaving without a catch made me greatly appreciate the times when we left with full nets. Older mindset has taught me to glean all the gains from each experience. I now look back at all those fishing trips as uninterrupted time gained with my father as the day slowly unfolded.
3. Be patient. The catch will always be worth the wait. Time dedicated to meaningful endeavors is never wasted. Resist the temptation to pull your line in too early. Stay steady. Delayed gratification always delivers.
Lastly, maybe we all need a bit more time at the lake this year. Even if it is just to merely listen to the birds sing or to lie in the grass to see if we can spot figures in the clouds. Grab a pole and a tackle box and meet me at the water’s edge.