“A bad day of fishing is better than a good day of work.” (sometimes attributed to Sir Izaak Walton)
I have enjoyed practicing the art of fly-fishing ever since a friend of mine coaxed me to buy my first rod and reel when I was a senior in college. Without false drama, I can state fly-fishing helped me cope with the ebb and flow of experiences that have, so far, made up my life. How about you? What has comforted you and helped you cope with your own ebb and flow of experiences?
I have had three general categories of employment. First, I was employed by a NYC bank that was merged out of memory into some vast financial conglomerate beast. Second, I spent 20 years teaching, coaching, and serving as an administrator in several independent K-12 schools. And finally, after an extraordinary amount of time soul-searching, I have labored the last 17 years serving as a United Methodist pastor in Northern Illinois. There are some holes in my “after college” resume, but the holes are for another post at another time.
Throughout times of my employment, when the job, a boss, colleagues, or my own insecurities and personal quirks got the best of me, I retreated to some stream-side or lakefront. As I settled down and got centered, I began those slow rhythmic casts that entice so many to try fly-fishing for themselves. I hoped my fly would land gently on the water, ready to encourage some hungry trout to rise to my chosen fly pattern. But honestly, part of a “bad day of fishing is still better than a good day at work,” is not found in the catching of fish but the pursuing of something hidden beneath the surface.
For many years, fly-fishing, sailing, hiking, and good food and beverage were the counterpoints to my unsettled life. My hope back then worked its effect on me as a result of those activities.
I am certain you have similar escape mechanisms you have employed when hope and joy seemed to be absent.
This post is about my grade school English teacher. I wonder about the source of hope in her life. I will not reveal her name, even though she most certainly has passed away by now.
In the three years she attempted to teach me and my ungrateful, unruly, unkind classmates, I don’t ever remember her smiling or laughing. For that matter, I can’t ever remember her in the company of another faculty member. She seemed only to be surrounded by those of us in her classroom. Yesterday, for some reason, I was led back to thinking of her.
I will call her Miss Jones for convenience. She was a miss, a spinster teacher, a stereotype upon which to meditate. Miss Jones was a character from a Dickens’ novel. She was always hunched over, as if the weight of the world actually was on her shoulders. She shuffled around the classroom. Her flat heeled, plain black shoes never were out of contact with the floor. There was no shine on the shoe leather, just scuff marks indicting heavy wear. I believe she owned one pair of shoes.
She wore black wire rimmed glasses with octagonal lenses. When she laid her glasses down, out of her sight, she needed one of us to help her find her glasses. You can imagine how we middle school boys abused the opportunity to assist her. “Oh no, Miss Jones, I can’t find your glasses either.” One of the deficits of my personality and character at that time was I joined in the games we played at Miss Jones’ expense. I wasn’t alone, but I was a participant and sometimes instigator of thoughtless, almost cruel behavior.
Miss Jones was frequently absent due to some recurring and unknown malady. In her absence, we rehearsed new tactics for tormenting Miss Jones, on the unsuspecting substitute teachers sent to be our temporary wardens. When Miss Jones returned from her sick days, we were ready for her.
To my knowledge Miss Jones had no friends, no family, no outside interests, no source of happiness or respite from her teaching assignments. She never spoke of her life or of weekend plans. Papers were always returned the next day, book reports within three days. She made editing marks on our work that seemed to have no educational purpose. They were just scratches of red ink, not suggestions for improved skill development.
Today, I wonder, I pray that Miss Jones had some distraction that allowed her some inner joy, some hope, some release from what appeared to be a very bleak life.
I talk about fly-fishing as my release. Strangely this hobby eventually helped lead me to understanding the necessity for hope in my life, in the lives of all of us. THE POWER AND PROMISE OF HOPE was born between casts upon the water.
I wonder on what principle or philosophy Miss Jones’ hope was based, or if she had hope at all in her life. Her purpose, her sole purpose, seemed to be to get through the lesson plan each day. I don’t know if that satisfied her or brought her a sense of purpose.
I mourn Miss Jones and how she was treated not just by us her students, but by her colleagues as well. I really hope someone cared for her. I suspect the principal of her school may have played that role. He always impressed me as a kind and caring man who was fiercely loyal to those he oversaw – faculty, staff, and students.
What was the source of Miss Jones’ hope?
I pray she found hope somewhere in life. No one should be left hopeless.
Miss Jones, it turns out, taught me more than I understood. I am grateful to her. But she never knew of my gratitude or heard a simple thank you from me. It didn’t dawn on me what she had taught me until I started to teach. Then it was too late to seek her out. At least, that’s what I told myself.
When you are having a tough day or “rough patch,” I pray that you will develop some habit, activity or interest that will carry you away from your circumstances and help you experience hope and renewal.
Perhaps a noble purpose for life might be be looking for folks we can walk alongside of, to be their source of hope and encouragement. Everyone needs encouragement. Everyone needs the friendship you and I can offer.
What was Miss Jones’ source of hope? I will never know. That thought haunts me.