Friday 28 Oct 2016

Teach a Man to Fish
AJ Robinson

Theres a saying my dad taught me. It goes, Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Dad explained that it meant you teach people to do things for themselves and they can stand up for themselves. I had my own version of this saying and it was honestly true.

On my most recent visit to Marthas Vineyard, I chanced to go for a walk out onto the stone jetty that protects the entrance to Oak Bluffs Harbour. It was June, far too cold for swimming, but I wasnt there to swim. No, I wanted to see the site of so many of my childhood memories. It was here I learned to dive, it was here I fished and it was here I watched my father sail his boat.

Standing on that final stone at the end, of the jetty, a great promontory marking the harbour entrance, I stretched out my arms and closed my eyes. The firm gusts of salty air carried me back over the decades. I heard Reed, Dailis, Lisa and so many others calling to me. Strange, I realized, how years can melt into moments, in the blink of an eye.

There was another voice, too. Standing next to that massive boulder was a young man, maybe in his early twenties, trying to fish. He had all the appropriate accoutrements: pole, tackle box, some frozen squid, and a knife. The poor fellow hadnt caught a single fish and couldnt figure out what he was doing wrong. He asked if I knew anything about fishing. I had to stop to think for a moment.

It had been a long time for me, longer than this fine fellow had been alive! Gawd, now that made me feel old. I hopped down off the rock and looked over his gear; the smell of squid awakened long dormant memories buried in my mind. I told him I knew a thing or two about the subject. Taking his knife, I grabbed the squid; it was cold, sticky and gooey in my hand, but I didnt mind it one bit. Oh, Jo Ann would go ballistic when I came home smelling of this vile aquatic denizen. At that moment, I didnt care, I was eight years old and I was going fishing!

Cutting up the squid in small bite-sized pieces, bite-sized for fish, I showed the fellow how to bait the hook, and then gave him some tips on how to set it," once he got a bite. I had to laugh to myself; it was amazing how easily the movements and words came back to me, thirty-something years evaporated as a morning mist. I spoke with authority on something I truly knew.

After that, he thanked me and I headed on back across the jetty toward the land. Walking along, I sported an ear-to-ear grin, for a brief moment, ever so brief, I had recaptured a simple childhood joy and I think I was more grateful to the young fellow for that, than he was for the pointers on fishing. My feet easily found the footholds along the large and rough stones of the jetty, albeit my feet were quite a bit larger than before. Still, that walk back was one of sheer joy.

To top it off, when I was little more than halfway back, I heard a cry from behind me. Turning, I saw the man holding up his fishing pole in one hand; his other hand gripped the line. Dangling just below his hand, wiggling and squirming, was a fish! Hed already caught one, and was calling out a thank you to me.

Yeah, Id taught a man to fish. Its not a tremendous achievement in the annals of education. Still, its a special achievement for me; a delightful event for my student. It pointed out to me the importance of doing something you truly love in life. When you do that, you do your job with joy. Another thing my father taught me was, find something you love to do, and thats the last day youll ever spend working. I had to wonder, who had truly done the teaching this day?

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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