Fishing for Zen

A few weeks back, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend some good time with a good friend.  Ty and I live far away and rarely see each other, so when the opportunity arises to hang out, we take full advantage.  Ty’s a good dude who appreciates the small things in life and understands the true essence of rarity.  He collects empty lighters, for instance.

I once joked with Ty that he’s like a modern day version of Huckleberry Finn, and that I was going to make him a shirt that said simply, “WWHFD?”  Some people would laugh at this suggestion, while others may feel that be compared to Huck Finn is insulting, and that’s fine because Ty and I are not concerned with those people. Everyone’s right in their own minds, and I accept that.  The point is that we need to find inspiration in life, and a fictional child from a 130 year old book is as good an inspiration as you’re going to find in this world, so why not look to him for answers?

It took us about 15 minutes to walk (barefoot, of course) from Ty’s house on the beach out to the other side of the bay.  Because of the late start we didn’t have much light left, but the views were acceptable and the company was great.  The agenda for the night was quite simple:  sunset fishing and beers.

Clamoring over boulders, we eventually found an isolated spot, baited the hooks, cracked open a beer and settled in to do some fishing.  I don’t do it nearly enough, but I’ve always enjoyed fishing for the simple reason that it is an activity that is actually a variety of activities in one.  Further, none of these activities are exceptionally stressful, difficult or negative.  For instance, you could walk up to a serenely beautiful mountain stream, see a dude sitting, shirt off, belly hanging over his pants, eating a slice of pizza, smoking a cigar, drinking a beer and listening to the football game on the radio, and you could ask this portly gentleman, “Sir, what are you doing?” and he would probably just look up at you, puzzled, and say, “Fishing!”

Fishing contains easy going multitudes, and easy going multitudes are something I always enjoy.

“More people should do this,” I told Ty, while taking a sip from my beer and staring out into the ocean.


I shook my head.  “Life.”

He nodded in agreement.  “Yeah, man, but some people are just lost.”

And then it was my turn to nod and I took a moment to toss the conversation down the rabbit hole a little bit.  “We don’t want to admit it, but we’re all lost, man.  We’re all lost and we’re all trying to figure out how not to be.”

And then, much to my pleasant surprise, Ty dropkicked the conversation straight down the rabbit hole while simultaneously making me smile in appreciation of having a friend like him.

“And who says we have to be found?”

He smiled and looked my way.

“Touche, my friend.”

We were out fishing, but that wasn’t really the point.  If I’m being honest, I’m pretty certain that we both knew deep down that we weren’t going to catch anything that night – there was simply no way.  For one, we lacked preparation, foresight and skill.  For two, we had no idea if there were even any fish in this part of the bay as neither of us had ever been there.  For three, we were getting drunk and forgetting that we were actually fishing at all – at least I was.  Consequently, I’d find myself staring at the stars rather than noticing that my hook no longer had any bait.  We had no hope of catching a fish that night, but luckily, catching fish is only a minor part of fishing.  The fish were bound to elude us that night and there would be no changing that fact, but we did it anyways, because doing it anyways is all that matters, fishing or otherwise.  Doing it anyways even when you don’t believe in yourself is most important of all.  It’s about being hopeful and enjoying the experience, regardless of the outcome.  It’s about choosing to believe even when you really have no reason to believe.  It’s about faith and that night, on those cold dark rocks in that warm dark place, we believed that we were fishing, and we were absolutely loving it.

About 30 minutes later, as the skies were darkening and the buzz was deepening, there was a sudden SMASH!!!  Ty had inadvertently knocked over a beer bottle onto the boulder below and there was glass scattered all around us.  Instantly, a thought escaped my lips before I even realized what was happening.  “NO!”  I wasn’t upset about the mess, or the broken glass strewn around my bare feet, or the spilled beer.  Rather, I was upset because we’d come to this beautiful isolated bay and we’d now left our mark and there was no going back from that.  No matter how hard we tried, we’d impacted this spot on the planet.  I realized that day in that isolated darkness that sometimes you don’t want to make your mark, but in spite of yourself, you do anyways.  We can tidy things up as best we can but traces of us will always remain.  It was like a punch in the guts.  And I looked straight up into the night sky and WHOOSH!!! a collection of the brightest stars you can even imagine were staring right down into my stomach and I whispered, “Are you fucking kidding me?”

After a few moments of silence, Ty jumped in.  “My dad think’s I’m wasting my life living on this island.”  He looked out across the bay.  The light was slowly dying.

“Yeah, mine doesn’t necessarily understand me either, man.  Doesn’t get why I’m not killing myself to buy a house, to own a car, to climb the social ladder.  He doesn’t quite get it.  Imagine asking them, ‘Hey Dad, do you want to go somewhere you’ve never been and drink beer and go fishing and jump over big, slippery rocks in the dark?’  Doubtful, my friend…”

And it was quiet.  Ty was sitting next to me, but he was far away as well, off lost in conversations past and wrapped inside the pain of days gone by.  As if to answer the questions swirling inside of his own head, he told me, “We’re different and we have to accept that.  It’s okay.  And we’re okay…”

Jeremy Goldberg