Subject: Learning to be in the present moment.
The Oconomowoc river is a small river that runs by our home. Literally, an entry point to it is at the end of our street. When we moved in a few years ago, I must’ve envisioned having more free time to go exploring down it, but instead I’ve found that real life seems to soak up all of my time. Tonight however, I have a few hours, and am deciding to walk my kayak down to its banks.
With a paddle and fishing pole in one hand and a kayak in the other, I head towards the lake that the river empties into. In about two minutes time, I am ready to set out. I push off from the shore.
The evening sun beats down on me, milder now than it was earlier. I feel it on my right side, warming me lightly like a thin, warm blanket.
As I head out into open water, the lake gets deep and the shoreline gets smaller. I need to head towards the Oakwood bridge though, because that’s where the river lets in. I think my chances of catching fish will be best upriver.
I cast a few times by the bridge. Nothing yet, but that’s okay. The great thing about fishing is that you really can’t lose. Even if you catch nothing, you get the experience of being out in refreshing places. But even so… that doesn’t mean I’m relenting. I still have hopes to land a nice fish or two, because there is another thing about fishing that’s always true — that more is always better than less.
I paddle further upriver as the water narrows and the stream’s current becomes stronger. I fight it, every now and then pausing to take a few casts. After each unsuccessful cast, I can’t help but think I must not yet be where the fish are hiding. The remedy still seems to be that I should keep moving further upstream. I set my pole down and continue further upstream.
Dusk is setting, and the sun dips to meet the horizon. It tints everything with a yellow ocre glare. The cattails sway in the light breeze, and the silence makes me feel small, but in a good way. Part of me wants to sit and enjoy this fleeting moment, knowing that life is like a train that rarely stops. Another part wants to keep moving… to press on until I find where the fish are.
But as I sit there, unsure what to do, I suddenly realize that fish are breaking the surface all over. They aren’t just upriver (or downriver for that matter). They’re next to my kayak. In front of me. To my left and to my right. I carefully lean forward to free my lure from the pole, and do my best to cast without making too much movement or noise. Suddenly, something bites.
That awesome excitement surges through me, and the child in me takes over. My pole bends and the line moves to the side as I pull the fish closer. It jumps into the air and I get a good glimpse — A largemouth bass, probably about two pounds. The fish lets go of the lure in mid-air, and splashes back down into its wet home, disappearing like lightning.
I lost it, but that’s okay. I got to feel the rush I was seeking. The pleasure that you only seem to find under God’s ceiling, and in His terrain. But I realize something even more important that I almost missed — that there is a strange pull I feel, not just here, but in life, to believe that the destination is the place of importance, and that the journey doesn’t matter.
Just as I want to believe that all the fish are further upstream, some part of me thinks that all the meat of life is further ahead, past the next milestone or after completing the next goal. But the truth is, I’ve felt that way ever since I was sixteen, and I’ve never actually gotten closer to a point that lets me feel the sense of closure I’ve been pursuing. I can’t help but think… maybe the fish aren’t further upstream.
Maybe they’re here, in all the inbetween moments that happen as I go from one event to another. Those smiles I get from my daughter when I look into her eyes. The texts I get from my wife when I’m at work. The quiet moments I get to myself while I’m driving. Maybe these are life’s hidden fish, hidden in plain sight.
I think of Isaiah 43:18-19, which says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”
What I get from this is that life isn’t behind us. Or, in front of us. The only moment that any of us really have is the present. That’s where God is. It’s the moment He meets us in. The real goal is to realize this, and to undo some of the thinking that always keeps us living in the past or the future.
I head back in — fishless, but not without a sense of peace. I’m glad for the realizations I found out on the water. As I make my way back downstream, I must rely on the sky to tell me where I am, as the shorelines are now too dark to see. The stars are coming out. What a cool thing to see from the middle of a river.
I head back underneath the bridge I passed beneath on my way in. The lake opens up, and the Oconomowoc skyline lights up its far end. As I pull my kayak up onto land, a fish jumps just a few feet out from shore. Thanks God. I know. This is where the fish are.
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