The One That Got Away
This might seem to some a strange way to share my brother’s writings, and I plan to do something different in the near future (this is only a sample of what he wrote during his last days on this earth), but if you knew my brother, and his love for fishing, then this story would make perfect sense to you.
I miss you Eddie...
I stared at the gate in front of me. “I don’t want to get in any trouble.”
“You won’t Davey, I swear.”
Yeah, where have I heard that before? Seems anytime I went anywhere with my brother Eddie, especially on one of his ‘fishing adventures,’ I always ended up regretting it.
“Just jump out and open the gate, we’ll be down by the pond before anyone in the house notices we’re here.”
I gave him one more, ‘Please, oh please, don’t make me,’ look. It didn’t work, and as I climbed out of the car I kept my head down, thinking that would somehow prevent anyone who might be in the house from seeing me.
I opened the gate.
A few minutes later we pulled up to the small pond. The empty beer cans were still strewn out on the ground from our fishing excursion the day before, one that left me, yet again, without a fish to show for it.
Well, that’s not all true, or at least, I was about to find that out…
I began my travels shortly after graduating from high school, and consequently traveled alone…One of the first things I learned was that I prefer being as far away from the city as practically possible…This is at least partially due to my interest in hunting and fishing. As a young boy, I would lay in bed reading the outdoor magazines, then drift off to sleep, dreaming of untold adventures, lost in the great mountains of my imagination. The first time my parents took me to Yellowstone Park, it wasn't the anticipation of Old Faithful that intrigued me, but the prospect of catching a big trout from a mountain river. When I did catch that trout, I was more firmly hooked than the fish, and vowed to return someday, to live in the Rocky Mountains.
I never was very good at fishing. My brother, now that’s a different story. The man tied his own flies (see Fly Fishing 101) for goodness sake.
He’d even had an article or two published in those fishing magazines you see at the doctor’s office, or more likely in the waiting area of an auto repair shop.
So, as one looked upon this scene, my brother Eddie was the one with the clean rod and reel, the store bought lure, and the cast that landed on the water; where he wanted it to and when he wanted it to.
Me, I was the one with the worm.
On a hot September morning, in 1972, a company located in Dallas sent me to Montpelier, Idaho to work on a survey crew. While this was a dream come true for me, I have to admit to periods of loneliness. Soon I found myself calling my brother, and various friends, back in Dallas, trying to talk them into coming to Idaho to work on the survey crew with me. That first year, no one came, and I was forced to learn to live alone.
In time, I made friends with some of the locals, found a few girlfriends, and figured out how to fish the mountain streams. But it was a long, cold winter until spring of 1973. As it turned out, the more my friends back in Dallas thought about how I was living, compared to themselves, the more inviting Idaho became to them. It was my brother Tommy who first came to work with me, followed by a fair number of friends and casual acquaintances.
I followed a variety of companies across the country, surveying for whatever the current contract specified. Each time I was sent to a new place, after learning the area, some friend would follow along. It was as though my job became that of a scout, finding new places to live, mostly for other people. Of course, the last person to follow along was a girl named Rhonda, who eventually became my wife, and the mother of my children [Aaron and Traci]. The traveling became more and more infrequent, and we spent the years raising our kids in the Rockies.
It was back in Texas, in the land of my birth, that I began to get ill. Now, like any red-blooded male person, I figured my sickness would just go away. Or, at worst, I would be forced into acting my age, cleaning up my lifestyle, so to speak.
So, as you can imagine, it came as quite a surprise when I was told I had cancer, and a very short time to live. This would be the last relocation assignment of my life.
I watched Eddie as he lit a cigarette. I watched as he slowly inhaled the first drag. The act seemed almost ceremonious, for this was his time, his place.
I believe the happiest I ever saw my brother was when he had a fishing rod in his hand.
He used to preach to me about it.
“Davey,” he’d say, “there’s no better therapy in the world than when a man is out on the water…
I quit attending church many years ago. I reasoned that if God created the beauty of the mountains where I fish on Sundays, am I not in his sanctuary? Can I not be as close, maybe closer, to Him amid His creation, as I would be in a church? Is the church not full of hypocrites? And why does he come to me now, in my time of most need? Of course, I know the answers to these questions.
How would I know God at all, if not for the church of my youth? How will my neighbor know Him, if he has never been taught? Sure, a man can live a good, clean life, and never know the Bible. A man can recognize sin, and evil, having never attended a church. But to whom does this man pray, when prayer really counts?
I do not pray that I will live longer. I do not feel compelled to try to make some deal, if He would let me live longer, I will never do this or that again. Christ has a purpose for each of us, and I feel fortunate that I have had some time to contemplate my purpose…
“Davey, I don’t have many more floats left. You’re gonna have to quit getting them tangled in the weeds.”
Wrestling with the rod and reel (a fight that I usually lost), I did my best to put the ‘latest’ hook on the end of my line, and at the same time convey a note of confidence in my voice. “I know, I know. I think I’m beginning to get the hang of it, though.” With that said, and my rod equipped with a fresh hook, float, and minnow; I set out to cast again.
And cast I did, and I immediately ‘caught’ my brother. Hooked him clean as a matter of fact, right between his thumb and index finger.
Pain is a strange concept. And to realize the rest of your life, however brief, is to be filled with increasingly acute pain can be at times overwhelming. There are the drugs, which bring relief, but the side effects can be uncomfortable. On the other hand, I cannot imagine how a person could endure a certain level of pain without some respite. What must it have been like centuries ago?
Think of Heaven, where there is no pain. I equate pain with evil, and sin, and fear. In fact, man's greatest fear may well be of pain. For without the threat of pain, I can fear no other person, nor can he fear me.
There are many types of pain. Sin brings pain, both to those who practice it, and those affected by the sins of others.
I stared at where the hook entered the skin of his hand and came out on the other side. “I am so sorry.”
“It’s okay, it really is. Get me the pair of pliers out of the lure box.”
Pliers? What did he have in mind?
“I read somewhere (he was always reading, this man would read the daily newspaper cover to cover; everyday) that if you pull quick and hard it won’t hurt.”
Sounded good. Go ahead, Eddie. Give it a try.
“You’ve got to do it, Davey.”
Huh? “I…can’t. I’ll hurt you.”
“No you won’t, I swear.”
Here we go again.
I took the pliers and my hand, grabbed the hook, and pulled. And he yelled, and the hook was still in his hand.
“You’ve got to pull harder. Here, let me try.”
And he did. He pulled quick and hard. And the hook came out, smooth and clean. Unbelievable.
After that things began to settle down.
This was my favorite part of the trip. I mean hey, maybe I wasn’t catching anything, I needed to save that for my brother anyway, right?
But I sure loved the serenity of the moment. Listening to the birds sing, watching a fish hit the still water; it was all so quiet and peaceful.
If I could guess what heaven was going to be like, this would be close…
As the cancer gets worse, and begins to take the energy from your body, indeed, the very life, you begin to think differently. I suppose most of us believe in God, and we pray from time to time. Certainly, we are aware we will someday die, although we tend to avoid the thought as much as possible. But as death draws nearer and nearer, it no longer seems like some abstract theory. Now it seems very real, and becomes worthy of careful, prolonged consideration. Now you think of God, of Heaven, in a way you never could before.
I find these thoughts comforting. No one wants to die at the current moment. There are things I still wish to do. But, at some point, I feel death is fully accepted.
“Is that your float from yesterday?”
I looked in the direction that Eddie was pointing. Yes, that was it all right, nice and tangled in more weeds protruding from the water, that you very much. Not sure why Eddie was pointing it out now. “Yeah, that looks like it.”
“You could wade out there, untangle it, and bring it back.”
I looked at him in disbelief.
“In case you need it later.”
Well, there’s no doubt that I would need it later, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to wade out in that nasty water and…”
He was pointing at the float from yesterday. “What?”
“There’s a fish on the end of that line.”
“I’m serious, just watch for a minute.”
I watched. After a few seconds, the float bobbed up and down on the top of the water. I kept watching as the float would go under for a few seconds and then plop back to the surface of the pond. I smiled. It was true; there was a fish there.
I cannot conceive of God creating the magnificent places I love to fish, and where I find myself closest to Him, and such places not exist in Heaven. For in my pain, as I fall asleep in exhaustion, I dream of a river whose beauty is beyond description. This river flows through a great canyon, with walls made of God's love. The waters of this river wash over me with joy, and I hear the music of never ending love. And I think, this is God's love, and I know I will soon dwell along this river.
As I walk effortlessly through this canyon, I am with all the people I have ever loved, and those who have loved me. Indeed, I am amongst all who have ever loved God, and all whom He has ever loved. I walk with the spirit, the soul, of mankind, shrouded in a love I have never known before, and I awake frightened, once again in the grip of pain.
After some time, I will fall asleep again, and again I will dream of God's Heavenly creation. This time I stand at the edge of a vast, windswept prairie. I see all creatures God ever created. The wind sings the same song of love as before, and the blowing grasses softly caress me. Groups of gray partridge fly near me, so close I can almost touch them. A light snow is falling, yet I feel a warmth I have never before felt.
I can see forever. Moreover, I get the feeling I can see time itself. Somehow, I know there was once pain across this prairie, but this pain is no more. The animals graze without fear, and again I am overcome with joy.
These are my dreams of Heaven, tempered by pain, animated by the effects of the drugs. But does this place really exist? And if so, do I deserve to go there? Maybe I know too little of God's word, of His scriptures, to dream of Heaven as it truly is.
I find it fascinating I do not attempt to catch the fish of the river, or shoot the animals of the prairie. I do not recognize any particular person who has passed on before me, persons I assume to be in Heaven today. Yet I feel close to these people in my dreams of Heaven, sometimes individually, sometimes collectively.
These dreams of Heaven are different from any of my past dreams. Obviously, I have never been so inclined to have such dreams. But I have often dreamed of hunting and fishing, and in these dreams, I did catch fish, and I did shoot animals. I did not feel the presence of those I believe to be in Heaven, and I did not feel this presence of what I understand to be God, manifest by feelings of overwhelming joy.
“Now you’ve got to go out there.”
“Only if you’re coming with me.”
If there were a chance that we could catch a fish out of the deal, my brother would go to any and all extremes…so he didn’t hesitate one bit about going with me.
And out into the water we went.
By the time we got to where the weeds were, the water was up to our waist.
We slowly approached the float. Eddie got there first and grabbed it and began pulling it up out of the water. The fishing line followed.
I watched. And I saw. A shape was beginning to appear. It was a fish! A big one, too!
“It’s a cat.”
Uh-oh. Time out. Now, I don’t know if anyone is aware of this fact or not (if it indeed is a fact), but I’ve always been told that a catfish can cut you. I believe it’s the fin on the top of him that is razor sharp, and if it gets you just right…
“You’ve got to grab him as I pull him up.”
“No-way, he’ll cut me.”
“No he won’t Davey, I swear.”
Oh, no. Not again. “Okay…I’ll try.”
And try I did. And as my brother Eddie pulled on the line, and as the great fish (oh, it’s a great fish now, is it?), as the great fish became clearer and clearer, and closer and closer, I reached down into the water and grabbed a hold of him and pulled him up out of the water and…let him go!
That’s right. He slipped right out of my fingers. I was so scared that when he surfaced, and I saw that razor-sharp, send you to the hospital, we’ll notify your next of kin fin, I just freaked out…and I let him go.
I let him go…he got away…I never saw him again.
Oh, for another chance to hold on to that fish…to hold on to that moment.
To hold on to…the one that got away…
…in my pain, as I fall asleep in exhaustion, I dream of a river whose beauty is beyond description. This river flows through a great canyon, with walls made of God’s love. The waters of this river wash over me with joy, and I hear the music of never ending love. And I think, this is God’s love, and I know I will soon dwell along this river.
As I walk effortlessly through this canyon, I am with all the people I have ever loved, and those who have loved me…
…we stand arm in arm, our hearts fulfilled from the revelation of bounty, we are joined by all souls we have ever loved. We are consumed by the sounds of love, and immense joy, as our spirits become one with Him. There is no time, as forever passes before us, again and again.
As morning comes, I walk along the banks of the river, my voice blending with the music from the mountains, singing praise to God on high. I have been here for thousands of years, or maybe a day.
Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
- Revelation 7:15-17 (KJV)
Note: My brother’s writings are exactly as he ‘typed’ them, the worse he got the less correct his grammar and spelling became (truth be told, I wish I could write like him when he was on his worst day). I believe it necessary, however, to leave it as he wrote it.
A special thanks goes out to my nephew Aaron, who helped push me to write this article. I hope you like it, Head.
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WOW! What a very heartwarming brotherly love way to share your bother's thoughts and feeling. He is smiling upon you... and so is the Lord..