Perhaps it’s part of the new normal to count your blessings even more these days. It’s something I have always tried to do, though often with mixed success. But this topsy-turvy world we are in, where a trip to get more milk is fraught with danger and disease, reminds me all the more to be thankful for all that I have.
At the time of this writing, I am able to report that I and my whole immediate family are healthy and safe. Health & wellbeing – check. I still have a comfortable home that keeps me warm in the cold, and cool in the heat, while shedding all manner of precipitation. Shelter – check. I am able to find, afford, prepare and enjoy good, healthy meals. Food – check. And despite the incredible disruption to our economy, I still have a job (and one that I truly love, to boot.) Income – check.
Beyond these basics, I am also grateful for a small but loyal group of friends. My sister-in-law once remarked how difficult it is to make real friends as we get older. I agree. Yet thankfully it still happens. I have a good friend who is also a client – and has been for more than half of my professional career. I still remember our first meeting, at some conference. A follow-up phone call led to our first project together. We are currently wrapping up what I think is our fifth or sixth school project together, both equally humbled by the awesome responsibility we have to help provide the best learning environments possible for generations of students to come.
I think that this shared humility is one the key uniting forces in our friendship. Almost immediately after beginning our client-architect relationship, we also struck up an early friendship. We both have children of a similar age, with similar challenges. We share a love of the beach, water, seafood – and fishing. I really like to fish. I cannot call myself an accomplished angler, though I have had the good fortune to have caught many, many fish over the years. From pulling bluegills out of my uncle’s pond to an unforgettable opportunity to join my brother as we tried to catch a tarpon in one of the world’s finest tarpon spots (which my brother did), I have had many opportunities to cast a rod and wait for that heart-racing strike by a fish. “Fish on!”
Very early in our friendship, I was invited to join my client-friend on his boat, in search of one of the Chesapeake Bay’s finest catches – the Rockfish (or Striped Bass to everyone else not from these parts.) Our vessel was the first of three that my friend has owned and that I have ridden on. It always kept us safe (though not always dry, due to the wonderful spray that would be thrown up and soak us as we raced along the water.) I cannot recall how many trips we’ve taken to date, but I can remember two in particular that have stood the test of time and have helped strengthen our friendship and appreciation for fishing and catching.
Anyone who has held a fishing rod knows the difference between fishing and catching. Fishing is what you do when you are out looking for and hoping to land a fish. Catching is when you actually get one. They are absolutely not the same thing. For all the catching I’ve done, I’ve done way more fishing. Most of my fishing trips have resulted in catching something, even if the fish was not of a legal size and had to be released, in hopes that he will grow and be near my bait or lure again in the future. My first fond fishing memory with my friend was a day that we did plenty of catching.
I think our trip began as an after-work excursion, planned a few days earlier. On the day we were to go, the weather conditions weren’t ideal. Grey, threatening rain. We almost called it off, but since I was there and we had both cleared our afternoon, we got into his boat and headed out. We motored to one of his favorite “honey holes”, a spot that had more often than not produced fish. My friend is definitely an accomplished fisherman and knew the type of tackle we needed. I think we were surface jigging, using a lure that mimicked a small fish in distress near the surface as we cast than reeled it in.
After a few casts and retrievals, we both started to get strikes. We each landed a few decent fish and then re-cast our lines. It seemed that on every cast, we hooked a fish. We had a couple of rods each going, and I remember looking down at one point and seeing several fish flopping around on the boat deck, with each of us having just yelled “Fish on!” as we simultaneously reeled in still more rockfish. We had the luxury of being able to pick the best of the haul to keep as our limit and return the rest to the water. Those magical minutes of wild, chaotic, near constant catching of fish was by far the most “catching” I’ve ever done while out fishing. And to think, we almost cancelled that trip.
The other trip that stays with me is a late afternoon outing we took, again likely after whatever project meeting we both had that day. This time the weather was much better – clear skies, not too hot, not too cool. We headed out as the late-day sun was making its journey to the western horizon. We stopped and set anchor at some beautiful spot and proceeded to get our lines in the water. I recall that we were in that fairly common condition of doing a lot of fishing, but very little catching.
But while we were not catching any rockfish, we did get to catch something I have never seen before – a simultaneous sunset and full-moon rise. As we faced west, the evening sky lit up with those gorgeous yellows, oranges, reds, pinks, purples and blues. Then we both did a 180 and looked east, just as the full moon emerged from that horizon. Thankful for having my phone with me, I was able to snap two images – one towards the west, then one towards the east. The power of that moment was palpable – seeing those two celestial events concurrently, while sitting on the calm water of the Little Choptank River, on a beautiful evening, with a good friend who appreciated the moment every bit as much as I did.
The other thing we both caught that evening was our breath. That excursion gave us both a desperately needed break from the demands and stresses of our lives. The peace and serenity one feels by being on the water is hard to describe. But I felt it that evening like I never had before. I often return to that memory during times of stress and despair. In my mind I replay those magical moments of catching way more than we had bargained for on that fishing trip. And I find myself feeling calm and at peace. And for that I am grateful.