Tag Archives: Aquarium

Fish, part 3 (revised)

saltwater-fish-720
The third decade of my life was the most unpredictable, wondrous and insanely gratifying period of my life. It began my senior year at Roberts Wesleyan College.  The cast of characters in my life remained essentially the same except for the appearance of her.

I was determined to play out my senior year like the grand finale punctuating a fireworks display. Out of the starting gate, I competed on the cross-country team.  We were an unusually close-knit team and often participated in social activities as a group.  Wouldn’t you know it, she happened to be at some of these socials.

I continued to immerse myself in campus life, voted by my peers to escort the homecoming queen and serving as a lead character in the all college play, Cheaper By The Dozen.  My academic pursuits kept me unusually busy,  but somehow I kept running into her.

As the fall semester began winding down, I caught myself taking an interest in her.  She seemed to take her sweet time acknowledging my interest.  Worried that the semester would end before I had my chance to ask her out, I decided to get creative by distinguishing myself.  She committed to going on a date with me if I could run a personal best time in what amounted to our last home cross-country meet. (This meant running a sub 30-minute race over a distance of 5 miles, and faster than any previous attempt).  What had I gotten myself into?

The race itself was a journey to hell and back, as the course punished my body.  The effort helped our team win the meet and secure a winning record for our cross-country team.  The time, 29:46, qualified me for a date with her.

IMG_0409…Maybe it was the anticipation of having to wait a month to go out with her but after that first date magic was in the air. There was no question I was like a deer caught in the headlights, enchanted by the inner and outer beauty of this woman.            

Patty and I corresponded over the weeks separating first and second semester. Our letters deepened our mutual affection, and each of us hinted of a future together. A flame was now lit within my heart and it danced wildly like a flame on the bare wick of a candle fighting to stay ablaze as it burns itself down to the renewing and sustaining body of the candle wax below.

Bill Roushey, from the book Junior’s Hope

I became engaged to Patty in the spring, during my final semester of college life.  Immediately, she was welcomed into my family but I had yet to meet hers. When Patty called home to notify her parents of the news, I can only imagine what thoughts were going through their minds.

“Mom, I’m getting married!”

“To who?” Her mother asked, not expecting any news of this sort.

“Bill Roushey asked me to marry him and I said yes!”

“When are we going to meet this boy?” Her dad inquired, quickly picking up the phone extension.

“We’re coming home on spring break.”

I hadn’t thought about inheriting another set of parents until that moment.  I was in the process of separating myself from my own parents and now I was inheriting another set. Never in my life had I been this nervous about anything, but then again I had never been more in love either.

Sweat pooled under my armpits as I sat in an empty living room waiting for her father to meet me. The sound of  the shower running indicated it wouldn’t be anytime soon. Patty and her mom were off in another room having a mother/daughter reunion.  When her father came out and laid eyes on me for the first time, our conversation went something like this.

“Hello, sir.” I said warmly trying to hide my nervousness.

“You must be Bill,” he responded trying to assess the character of the man about to steal away his daughter.

“I’d like to marry your daughter.”

“Do you have a job? How do you plan on supporting her?”

“Yes. I have one lined up after graduation.”

“We want our daughter to graduate from college. Are you planning to let her continue on with her schooling?”

“Yes sir, that’s important to both of us.”

IMG_0377“Well then, okay,” he said as I felt the tension in the room evaporate.  Then, he added, “… and we’d like to pay for her tuition.”

I realized at that moment what kind and generous parents she had.

Several years later Patty and I had the means to build our own home.  It was during that time we entered into what I call the “Noah’s ark” phase of our lives, acquiring fresh and saltwater aquariums, birds, cats and a dog.

The Lord soon blessed us with two boys, which we taught to fish among other things. They experienced first hand the thrill of having unseen objects tug on their fishing line as they dangled a worm into the watery abyss.  Eyes went wide when they reeled in their prize.

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My freshwater aquarium experience of the previous decade paled in comparison to the unfathomable splendor of gazing into a salt-water aquarium.  The personal cost to acquire and retain such beauty is far greater, the care more delicate and tedious, the hardships more severe, but the final result is breathtaking.  Such is my comparison to my love and my life with her.

My spiritual journey this decade was one of continuance, generation to generation, father to son.IMG_0364  The closer I walk with God the greater my appreciation for His continuance, an eternal God whose love has no limit or end. (Psalm 36:5-7)

For all practical purposes this is a storybook ending, but as it turns out this is not the end.

To be continued…

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Fish, part 2 (revised)

IMG_0392St. Andrews Lake was not huge, but you couldn’t see the far end of it even from our elevated vantage point. The lake was kidney-shaped and its clear water darkened to blue as it deepened…Most importantly, lurking in the water like buried treasure, were largemouth bass, northern pike, pan fish and perch. All of them hidden from view…  

Bill Roushey, from the book Junior’s Hope

The August sun beat down on Dad and me as we waited for the fish to surrender or make another run for it. Impatience bubbled up inside me. Holding on to my fishing pole kept my hands occupied but the rest of my body squirmed, longing to do anything but remain pinned against the sun baked boat seat. The life vest hanging around my neck made me hot and sweaty. The vest’s past history became evident as it wicked up the moisture from my body and produced a rotten smell.  My standoff with the fish showed no sign of ending. The huge northern pike had done something to prevent me from reeling it in. My head hurt and I was ready to give up.

“Dad, the fish isn’t tugging on the line anymore,” I complained.

“That doesn’t mean its not there. Don’t give up,” Dad said trying to encourage me.

My father wasn’t ready to give up. An engineer by profession, part of his job involved coming up with solutions to problems. He took an oar out of the oarlock and pushed it into the water following the fishing line down, hoping to gain some understanding of why I couldn’t bring up the fish. Unfortunately, the depth of the water exceeded the length of the oar. Dad also rowed the boat in a wide arc around the spot where the line plunged into the water. He stopped four or five times during the trek to give me a chance to pull on the line from different angles. Nothing he tried worked.  We both knew there was only one thing left to do.

“Billy, pull steadily on the line so you don’t break the pole,” Dad said, voicing his solidarity.

“Like this,” I replied as I stood up and leaned back against the line.

The tension broke before I had a chance to brace myself.  I was pitched backwards by the sudden release of the line and landed in a heap between the seats.  I didn’t cry as I reeled in the empty line. Instead, I felt more like one of Dad’s fishing buddies and less like a kid who got to sneak off early that morning to fish with his father.

Fish or fishing in my earliest years validated the idea that just because something couldn’t be seen that didn’t mean it didn’t exist.  Fish, though unseen, were real and could be interacted with. To this day one of the most exhilarating things about fishing is the feeling of an unseen object tugging on your line. Being a person of faith, the picture of unseen fish models the existence of God who is present though not seen.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  2 Corinthians 4:18

My fish story does not end here, however.

The next decade of my life was one of drastic changes. Our family vacations to Canada continued. Fishing became truly a family affair. As our skill improved, so did the number of fish we caught. For me, fishing with Dad became an important way of relating to him.

Those carefree years came to an abrupt end, however, when I graduated from high school. I no longer had time for family vacations. Holding down a job and going to college were my priorities now. The remaining years of my second decade afforded me little or no time for fishing.

In my second year in college I happened to meet a freshmen who turned out to be a very funny guy. I don’t make it a habit of hanging around comedians but for some reason we hit it off and become good friends. He made me laugh more than anyone I knew.  Our definition of fun, however, sometimes clashed with the college rules.   In an effort to protect his identity, I’ll call him Boris.

Boris and I made plans to room together our senior year. Oops, I just gave away his identity. Anyway, we arrived early on campus in the fall and immediately began decorating our “bachelor pad.”  Because we arrived early, we were able to pillage the best room furnishings out of nearby dorm rooms. Conversations between us went something like this.

“Boris, our room is missing something.” I said

“All my stuff is here,” he countered.

“I’m not missing anything either. The room is missing something!”

“You mean besides the stereo, speakers, sofa and television?” Boris said.

This was 1979, before the widespread use of cell phones, personal computers, flat screen TVs and all of the game consoles we can’t seem to live with out.

“I need something for my desk.”

“How about a lamp?” He said, chuckling as only Boris could.

“I’m being serious.”

“How serious can getting something for your desk be.”

His cackle was contagious and soon he had me laughing.

“Let’s go down and take a look at brother Jim’s room.” Boris said pressing his palms together as if to portray himself as a wise sage.  Boris was studying to be a minister and often got carried away with the whole brother/sister thing.

“What does Jim have that we don’t?” I said, suddenly curious.

“You’ll see.”

We went down the hall to Jim’s room but he was not there. His door, however, was slightly ajar.  I had just recently met Jim but already I had him pegged as a bit of an eccentric.  Living in a dorm, it had been my practice to give eccentrics a wide birth until I understood them better.  Boris knocked hard on the heavy oak door, hard enough to make it open completely.

“Brother Bill, shall we enter?” Boris stated like he was rolling out a welcome mat.

“Can’t we get in trouble for doing this?” I said more afraid of being misunderstood by Jim than anything else.

“I’m an RA.”

I should explain that each floor in our dorm had a resident advisor, or RA, who was the liaison between the students and the dorm’s resident director, or RD. Boris was permitted to enter rooms on our floor as part of his responsibilities.  Tentatively, I entered Jim’s room and Boris followed.

“What do you think?” Boris said, gesturing towards the aquarium in the back corner of the room.

“Yeah, that would do the trick.” I said growing excited about the possibility,  “I wonder why it looks like he’s trying to hide it behind the door.”

“Are you working for the FBI now?” Boris said sarcastically.

“You’re the RA, you should be investigating stuff like this.”

“What kind of fish do you suppose those are?” he inquired, taking a closer look at them.

“Okay Sherlock, lets go get the fish tank.”

IMG_0374I can’t remember exactly how we acquired a fish tank, but I’m sure we did it legally. Putting fish in an aquarium drew me closer to them, close enough where I could fully appreciate their beauty. I felt a part of their world as they swam by me at eye level.  It’s a much different perspective than viewing fish from afar or looking down at them from above.

I would characterize this decade of life as the discovery of genuine relationships. These were more personal and fulfilling than the juvenile ones of my earliest years.  I fully immersed myself in these relationships and learned the joy of putting effort into them rather than just taking what I could out of them and moving on.

Spiritually, I was going through a major transition as well. As a child I believed in God because my parents did. It was their faith I held on to. In my second decade of life I discovered the beauty of a God who didn’t look down on me from above, rather his habitation was with me. He became my God.

What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” 2 Corinthians 6:16

As wonderful as this realization was, I was unprepared for what was about to happen.

To be continued…

Fish, part 1 (revised)

IMG_0360As I stumbled around my bedroom getting ready for work, I had no clue that inspiration was about to strike. I placed my wife’s coffee on her nightstand as a beeping alarm clock roused her from sleep. Being thoughtful, I shuffled across the floor to her aquarium thinking its light would be easier on sleepy eyes. The instant the tank flooded with light the epiphany came. I felt the need to write about fish. What? I questioned the thought immediately.  What does writing about fish swimming in an aquarium have to do with anything other than lowering someone’s blood pressure?

Immediately, I concluded two things. The thought had nothing to do with work since I am not a commercial fisherman, nor was it about food, because I don’t normally think of fried fish immediately after breakfast. I left the house confused.

I arrived at work and began making my way through the building. Robotically, I turned on a light to illuminate a corridor I had walked down a thousand times. On my left I noticed an expanse of blue paper hanging on the wall. Pasted on the paper was an assortment of hand-colored fish of the sort you would find in a coloring book.

I wonder how long it had been there?

Another light revealed more fish. Hmmm.

I made my way to my desk. Certainly a cup of coffee would help me think more clearly. I retrieved my thermos and a coffee mug I stored in a drawer. Placing both items on my desk, I flicked on the overhead light and sank into my chair, already anticipating the positive effect pouring hot black liquid down my throat would have. As I reached for my cup, I noticed a card lying beside it. Believe it or not, it was a subscription card to the “In-Fisherman” magazine. My immediate thought, you’ve have got to be kidding me. I seemed to have just experienced a three-fold affirmation to write about fish. Since I subscribe to the belief that there is a Divine Being who works in all areas of my life, I resolved to give the subject matter a bit of serious thought.

I reflected on what I had to work with. All three instances involved fish-related subject matter already present in the darkness and appeared visibly when I turned on a light. I spent the rest of the morning physically working on maintenance projects while my mind tried to determine what direction to take on this project.

Just ask the animals, and they will teach you. Ask the birds of the sky, and they will tell you. Speak to the earth, and it will instruct you. Let the fish in the sea speak to you. Job 12: 7-8

I began by tapping into my earliest memories of fish or fishing. Several hours later I had a shirt pocket stuffed full of notes written on paper scraps spanning six decades. I’ll begin with my earliest recollection.

During the first ten years or so of my life, going fishing with my dad would definitely make my highlight reel. Our family began taking vacations to Ontario, Canada about that time. Somehow my parents managed to get in touch with a farmer who rented out a pair of cottages on a private lake. My most special memory while staying in one of those cabins involved Dad taking me out fishing early in the morning while my brothers and sister slept. This I imagined equated to having a position of privilege.

The expedition began before dawn. We were in the boat as a pre-dawn mist rose up from the tranquil waters.  Dad rowed into the mist.  The oars creaked as he drew them through the water. This felt to me like an adventure.  Once my father reached the intended spot we cast our lines in the water.

My excitement quickly waned, and the hours began to drag slowly by. No fish were biting.  By late morning my stomach was growling.  I’d already consumed my peanut butter and jelly sandwich earlier.

I remember boredom biting me as I sat in the front bench seat in the nose of the boat. Sometimes the best games grow out of boredom.  I decided make a game out of leaning over the side of the boat and trying to get my face as close to the water as possible. My father was oblivious to this folly as he occupied the middle seat and had his back to me.

It was hard leaning over the side with a faded orange life-jacket on but somehow I managed it. I decided to add some interest to the game by grabbing the middle of my fishing pole and dangling a lure into the water close to my face. The green rubber frog appeared lifelike as I manipulated it like a marionette.

IMG_0369I stared into the dark void as I played.  Suddenly, a pair of ghostly eyes emerged from the black depths.  A large gaping mouth full of teeth opened, inhaling the frog bobbing on the water.   My face was so close to the water that I fell backwards into the boat trying to distance myself from the creature. A mammoth northern pike sunk back into the depths without the slightest splash, my lure still in its mouth.

Had I imagined the whole thing? No way. The fishing pole I still held was pinching my hand against the side of the boat. A grating sound emanated from the reel as line peeled off it. Filled with excitement, I felt the need to stand up. The boat rocked wildly as I rose to my full height. I almost fell overboard as I grabbed the pole with both hands and yanked upwards, attempting to set the hook. From behind me I could hear my father yelling, “Sit down!”

His words did nothing to quell my excitement, as I watched the tip of my pole bend down below the water line. The fish swam away from the boat taking fishing line with it and I could do nothing to stop it. Dad got excited once he saw what was happening. He spun around quickly to face me.

“It’s a monster, Dad, I saw it,” I screamed, trembling all over.

“Don’t pull to hard, you might snap the line,” he advised.

The fish suddenly stopped. My line, now taunt as a guitar string, felt as if it had the anchor tied to it.

“Dad, it won’t budge,” I said quickly growing frustrated.

My father never attempted to take the fishing pole from me; he instead concentrated on offering me encouragement. He rowed the boat towards the fish to take some of the pressure off the line. We left a cove overrun with lily pads and edged closer to a rocky bank that tumbled into the lake.

“Reel in some line Billy and take up the slack. Keep tension on the line.”

He stopped rowing when the angle of the fishing line running into the water appeared straight up and down. An occasional heavy tug was the only evidence something was still on my line. The fish and I had reached a stand off.

“Billy, the fish may have wrapped himself around something on the bottom,” Dad offered.

“Dear God, please don’t let this line break,” I prayed out loud as only a child could.

To be continued…

Fish, part 3

saltwater-fish-720
The third decade of my life was without a doubt the most unpredictable, the most wondrous, insanely gratifying period of my life. It began my senior year at Roberts Wesleyan College.  The cast of characters in my life remained essentially the same except for the appearance of – her.

I was determined to play out my senior year in college like a grand finale at the end of fireworks display. Out of the starting gate I ran on the RWC varsity cross-country team.  We were an unusually close-knit team and often participated in group social activities.  Wouldn’t you know it, she happened to be there.

I continued to immerse myself in campus life, escorting the homecoming queen and serving as
one of the lead characters in the all college play.  As busy as I was during that time, I always seemed to be running into her.

At some point that fall I started taking an interest in her.  She took her sweet time acknowledging my interest.  Finally, she agreed to go out on a date with me if I was able to run a personal best time in our last home cross-country meet (a sub 30-minute race for a distance of 5 miles for you running enthusiasts out there).  For me, the race itself was a journey to hell and back but more important than our team winning the meet was my prize, a date with her.

IMG_0409…Maybe it was the anticipation of having to wait a month to go out with her but after that first date magic was in the air. There was no question I was like a deer caught in the headlights, enchanted by the inner and outer beauty of this woman.            

Patty and I corresponded over the weeks separating first and second
semester. Our letters deepened our mutual affection, and each of us hinted of a future together. A flame was now lit within my heart and it danced wildly like a flame on the bare wick of a candle fighting to stay ablaze as it burns itself down to the renewing and sustaining body of the candle wax below.

Bill Roushey, from the book Junior’s Hope

I became engaged to Patty in the spring of the following year at my parent’s home. Immediately she was welcomed into the family. Patty called home to notify her parents. If memory serves it was around midnight when she placed the call.

“Mom, I’m getting married,” she told her parents.

“To who?” Her mother asked, not expecting news of this sort at this hour of the night.

“Bill Roushey asked me to marry him and I said yes!”

“When are we going to meet this boy?” Her dad inquired, wondering what in the world was happening.

“We’re coming home on spring break.”

The thought of inheriting another set of parents was something I hadn’t put a lot of thought into until that moment.  I had just about finished separating myself from my own parents and now I was inheriting another set. Never in my life had I been this nervous about something, but then again never had I been more in love either.

Sweat pooled under my armpits as I sat in an empty living room waiting for her father to come out and meet me. The sound of water running in the bathroom shower indicated it wouldn’t be anytime soon. Patty and her mom were off in another room having a mother/daughter reunion of sorts.  When her father finally came out and laid eyes on me for the first time, our conversation went something like this.

“Hello, Mr. Pickering.” I said warmly trying to hide my nervousness.

“You must be Bill,” he responded trying to assess the character of the man about to steal away his daughter.

“Sir, I’d like to marry your daughter.”

“Do you have a job? How do you plan on supporting her?”

“Yes. I have a full-time job lined up after graduation.”

“We want our daughter to graduate from college,” He said. “Are you planning to let her continue on with her schooling?”

“Yes sir, that’s important to both of us.”

IMG_0377“Well then, okay,” he said, “we’d like to pay for her tuition.”

I realized at that moment what kind and generous parents she had.

Several years later Patty and I had the means to build our own home.  It was during that time we entered into what I call the Noah’s ark phase of our lives, acquiring fresh and salt-water aquariums, birds, cats and a dog.

The Lord soon blessed us with two boys, which we taught to fish among other things. They experienced the thrill first hand of having unseen objects tug on their fishing line as they dangled a worm on a hook into the watery abyss.  Eyes went wide when they reeled in their prize. One son wanted to catch “chomper fish” after seeing his daddy bring home a northern pike.IMG_0368

In the previous decade of my life I used the example of fresh-water fish viewed through an aquarium to portray the beauty of relationships. The example just doesn’t seem adequate now that I’ve experienced a slice of heaven here on earth. More fitting of this decade is the unfathomable splendor of gazing into a salt-water aquarium, which Patty and I have had the pleasure of setting up together. The personal cost to acquire and retain such beauty is far greater, the care more delicate and tedious, the hardships more severe but the final result is breathtaking. To this I would add, the result of just being with her is priceless.
My spiritual journey this decade was one of continuance. The God of my grandfather became the God of my father. Later, IMG_0364
I began serving the same God, and together with my wife we introduced Him to our children. The closer I walk with God the greater my appreciation of His continuance, an eternal God whose love has no limit or end. (Psalm 36:5-7)

For all practical purposes this is a storybook ending, but as it turns out this is not the end.

To be continued…

Fish, part 2

IMG_0392St. Andrews Lake was not huge, but you couldn’t see the far end of it even from our elevated vantage point. The lake was kidney-shaped and its clear water darkened to blue as it deepened…Most importantly, lurking in the water like buried treasure, were largemouth bass, northern pike, pan fish and perch. All of them hidden from view…  

Bill Roushey, from the book Junior’s Hope

The August sun beat down on Dad and me as we waited for the fish to surrender or make another run for it. Impatience bubbled up inside me. Holding on to my fishing pole kept both my hands occupied but the rest of my body squirmed, longing to do anything but remain pinned against the sun baked boat seat. The life vest hanging around my neck made me hot and sweaty. It started to smell rotten as it wicked up the moisture from my body.  My standoff with the fish showed no sign of ending. It was becoming evident that the huge northern pike had done something to prevent me from reeling it in. Now, my head hurt and I was ready to give up.

“Dad, the fish isn’t tugging on the line anymore,” I complained.

“That doesn’t mean its not there. Don’t give up,” Dad said trying to encourage me.

My father was not ready to give up. An engineer by profession, part of his job involved coming up with solutions to problems. He took an oar out of the oarlock and pushed it into the water following the fishing line down, hoping to gain some understanding of why I couldn’t bring up the fish. Unfortunately, the depth of the water exceeded the length of the oar. Then, he began rowing the boat in a wide arc around the spot where the line plunged into the water. He stopped four or five times during the trek to give me a chance to pull on the line from different angles. Nothing he tried worked.  We both knew there was only one thing left to do.

“Billy, pull steadily on the line so you don’t break the pole,” Dad said, voicing his solidarity.

“Like this,” I replied as I stood up and leaned back against the line.

The tension broke before I had a chance to brace myself.  I was pitched backwards by the sudden release of the line and landed in a heap between the seats.  I didn’t cry as I reeled in the empty line. Instead, I felt more like one of Dad’s fishing buddies and less like a kid who got to sneak off early that morning to fish with his father.

Fish or fishing in my earliest years validated the idea that just because something couldn’t be seen it didn’t mean that something didn’t exist.  Fish, though unseen, were real and could be interacted with. To this day one of the most exhilarating things about fishing is the feeling of an unseen object tugging on your line. Being a person of faith, the picture of unseen fish models the existence of God who is present though not seen. (2 Corinthians 4:8).

My fish story does not end here, however.

The next decade of my life was one of drastic changes. Our family vacations to Canada continued. Fishing became truly a family affair. As our skill improved, so did the number of fish we caught. For me, fishing with Dad became an important way of relating to him.

Those carefree years came to an abrupt end, however, when I graduated from high school. I no longer had time for family vacations. Holding down a job and going to college were my priorities now. The remaining years of my second decade afforded me little or no time for fishing.

In my second year in college I happened to meet a freshmen who turned out to be a very funny guy. I don’t make it a habit of hanging around comedians but for some reason we hit it off and become good friends. He made me laugh more than anyone I knew.  Our definition of fun, however, sometimes clashed with our college rules.   I’ll call him Boris to protect his identity.

Boris and I made plans to room together our senior year. Oops, I just gave away his identity. Anyway, we arrived early on campus in the fall and immediately began decorating our senior “bachelor pad.”  Because we arrived early, we were able to pillage the best room furnishings out of nearby dorm rooms. Conversations between us went something like this.

“Boris, our room is missing something.” I said

“All my stuff is here,” he countered.

“I’m not missing anything either. The room is missing something!”

“You mean besides the stereo, speakers, sofa and television?” Boris said.

This was 1979, before the widespread use of cell phones, personal computers, flat screen TVs and all of the game consoles we can’t live without except for maybe Atari.

“I need something for my desk.”

“How about a lamp?” He said chuckling as only Boris could.

“I’m being serious.”

“How serious can getting something for your desk be.”

His cackle was contagious he soon had me laughing.

“Let’s go down and take a look at brother Jim’s room.” Boris said pressing his palms together as if to portray himself as a wise sage.  Boris was studying to be a minister and often got carried away with the whole brother/sister thing.

“What does Jim have that we don’t?” I said.

“You’ll see.”

We went down the hall to Jim’s room but he was not there. His door, however, was slightly ajar.  I had just recently met Jim but already I had him pegged as a bit of an eccentric.  Living in a dorm, it had been my practice to give eccentrics a wide birth until I understood them better.  Boris knocked hard on the heavy oak door, hard enough to make it open completely.

“Brother Bill, shall we enter?” Boris stated like he was rolling out a welcome mat.

“Can’t we get in trouble for doing this?” I said more afraid of being misunderstood by Jim than anything else.

“I’m an RA.”

Each floor in our dorm had a resident advisor, or RA, who was the liaison between the students and the dorm’s resident director, or RD. Boris was permitted to enter rooms on our floor as part of his responsibilities.  Tentatively, I entered Jim’s room and Boris followed.

“What do you think?” Boris said, gesturing towards the aquarium in the back corner of the room.

“Yeah, that would do the trick.” I said growing excited about the possibility,  “I wonder why it looks like he’s trying to hide it behind the door.”

“Are you working for the FBI now?” Boris said sarcastically.

“You’re the RA, you should be investigating stuff like this.”

“What kind of fish do you suppose those are?” he inquired, taking a closer look at them.

“Okay Sherlock, lets go get the fish tank.”

IMG_0374I can’t remember exactly how we acquired a fish tank, but I’m sure we did it legally. Putting fish in an aquarium drew me closer to them where I could fully appreciate their beauty. I felt like I was one of them as they swam by me at eye level while I sat working at my desk. It’s a much different prospective than viewing fish from afar or looking down at them from above.

I would characterize this decade of life as the discovery of genuine relationships. These were more personal and fulfilling than the juvenile ones of my earliest years.  I fully immersed myself in these relationships and learned the joy of putting effort into them rather than just taking what I could and moving on.

Spiritually, I was going through a major transition as well. As a child I believed in God because my parents did. It was their faith I held on to. In my second decade of life I discovered the beauty of a God who didn’t look down on me from above, rather his habitation was with me. He became my God. (2 Corinthians 6:16)

As wonderful as this realization was, I was unprepared for what was about to happen.

To be continued…

Fish, part 1

IMG_0360As I stumbled around my bedroom getting ready for work, I had no clue that inspiration was about to spring on me. I placed my wife’s coffee on her nightstand as a beeping alarm clock roused her from sleep. Being thoughtful, I shuffled across the floor to her aquarium thinking its light would be easier on sleepy eyes. The instant the tank flooded with light the epiphany came. I felt the need to write about fish. What? I questioned the thought immediately wondering what writing about fish swimming in an aquarium had to do with anything other than lowering someone’s blood pressure.

Immediately, I concluded two things. This thought had nothing to do with work since I am not a commercial fisherman, nor was it about food, because I don’t normally think of ordering a fish fry immediately after eating breakfast. I left the house confused.

I arrived at work and began making my way through the building. Robotically, I turned on a light to illuminate the corridor I had walked down a thousand times. On my left I noticed an expanse of blue paper hanging on the wall. Pasted on the paper was an assortment of hand-colored fish straight out of a coloring book. I wondered how long it had been there.  Another light revealed more fish. Hmmm.

I made my way to my desk. Certainly a cup of coffee would help me think more clearly. I retrieved my thermos and a nearby coffee mug and placed both items on my desk. I flicked on the overhead light and sank into my chair already anticipating the positive effect pouring hot black liquid down my throat would have. As I reached for my cup, I noticed a card lying on the desk beside it. Believe it or not it was a subscription card to the “In-Fisherman” magazine. My immediate thought was, you’ve have got to be kidding me. I seemed to have just experienced a three-fold affirmation to write about fish. Since I subscribe to the belief in a Divine Being who works in all areas of my life, I resolved to give the subject matter a bit of serious thought.

I reflected on what I had to work with. All three instances involved fish-related subject matter already present in the darkness and appeared visibly when I turned on a light. I spent the rest of the morning physically working on maintenance projects while my mind tried to determine what direction to take this project.

I began by tapping into my earliest memories of fish or fishing. Several hours later I had a shirt pocket stuffed full of notes written on paper scraps spanning six decades. Here’s what I came up with.

During the first ten years or so of my life, going fishing with my dad would definitely make the highlight reel. Our family began taking vacations to Canada about that time. Somehow my parents managed to get in touch with a farmer who rented out a pair of cottages on a private lake. My most special memory while staying in one of those cabins involved Dad taking me out fishing early in the morning before my brothers and sister woke up. One thing became apparent during these outings; Dad could fish for hours even if the fish weren’t biting. Like any kid, I had a limited attention span so I had to find ways to fight off boredom if I wanted my imagined exclusive fishing rights with Dad to continue.

The following is a vivid memory of one of those periods of boredom. It was late morning, I had already finished my peanut butter and jelly sandwich but my stomach continued to growl. I remember boredom biting me as I sat in the front seat of a small aluminum rowboat we were fishing out of. I decided to make a game out of leaning over the side of the boat and trying to get my face as close to the water as possible. My father was oblivious to this folly as he occupied the middle seat and had his back to me.

It was hard leaning over the side with a faded orange lifejacket on but I somehow found a way to do it. I added interest to the game by grabbing my fishing pole and dangling a lure in the water close to my face. I used the same green rubber frog I fished with all morning without success. That was probably the reason I got bored in the first place.

IMG_0369The frog appeared lifelike as I manipulated it with the fishing rod. I stared into the dark water as I played. I was not holding my fishing rod properly when a pair of ghostly eyes bracketing a large gaping mouth full of teeth ascended out of the darkness and inhaled the rubber frog as it bobbed just below the surface less than a couple feet from my face. Immediately, the mammoth northern pike disappeared back into the blackness without the slightest splash.

I thought I imagined the whole thing until the fishing pole I held pinched my hand against the side of the boat responding to the strike by the fish. The reel made that grating sound it makes whenever line is being pulled off it. Holding the poll now with both hands, I tried to stand up. The boat rocked wildly. I almost fell overboard as I yanked my pole upwards to set the hook. From behind me I could hear my father yelling, “sit down!”

His words did nothing to quell my excitement, however, as I watched the tip of my pole bend down into the water. The fish swam away from the boat taking fishing line with it and I could do nothing to stop it. Dad got excited when he saw what was happening. He spun around quickly to face me.

“It’s a monster, Dad, I saw it,” I exclaimed

“Don’t pull to hard, you might snap the line,” he replied.

The fish suddenly stopped moving away. My line, taunt as a guitar string, felt as if I had the anchor tied to it.

“Dad, it won’t budge,” I said growing frustrated.

My father never attempted to take the fishing pole from me; he concentrated instead on offering me encouragement. He decided to row the boat towards the fish to take some of the pressure off the line. We left the middle of the cove overrun with lily pads and edged closer to a rocky bank that tumbled into the lake.

“Reel in some line and take up the slack,” Dad said. “Keep some tension on the line.”

He stopped rowing when the fishing line ran straight down into the water. The only evidence that something was still on my line was an occasional heavy tug against the thin strand of monofilament fishing line. We had reached a stand off. The fish wasn’t moving and I couldn’t make it move.

“Billy, he may have wrapped himself around something on the bottom,” Dad offered.

“Dear God, please don’t let this line break,” I prayed out loud as only a child could.

To be continued…