Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Going Fishing with My Brother

Spring in my hometown

"You know what I'd really like to do, Tom?" my brother asked me over the phone a few months ago. "I'd like to go fishing with you."

I could imagine it, sitting in patio chairs on the shoreline of the Lake Oroville afterbay, lines in the water and an afternoon of relaxing ahead of us. We wouldn't be following the flow of a Sierra Nevada stream like we did in the old days, fishing downstream from hole to hole with worms, salmon eggs, or helgramites--or perhaps wet fly fishing if we were in the mood. My brother's time for that is past; he probably would be using his walker to safely negotiate the uneven terrain of the shoreline, and his energy level would be just about right for the springtime Mediterranean climate of California's Central Valley. 

If it were spring like now, the valley's wildflowers would be in bloom, the grass green, the sky a handsome blue, and the temperatures mild. My brother Pat wanted to share that experience with me, and just thinking about it makes me smile. It's a sweet and happy wish, a simple desire of just sharing a moment together, just an uncluttered moment together in nature. There would be robins, of course, and probably a few bumblebees. There would be the grasses moved in waves by the invisible hands of the wind. There would be the warmth of the sun and all the time in the world, for that is what fishing teaches us--to be right there in the moment, without regrets or anticipation, self-sufficient in the clove of time.

My birthday is in February and my brother's is in March--Groundhog's Day and St. Patrick's Day, if you can believe the chances of that. Pat called me on my most recent birthday, wishing me well and saying that he'd be heading to the hospital for a blood transfusion due to a low blood cell count. I still have the message on my phone. He headed out after my birthday for the transfusion, came home, and in less than a week after his call had died during an afternoon nap. As I've had too many opportunities to say these last years, although it wasn't unexpected, it was still a surprise.

Pat's health wasn't well. After a life of hard work in carpentry and a hard life of drinking and smoking, he'd cleaned up his life these last three years, finding the means to live a simple, stable life. I'm proud of the way he faced his challenges, made the right decisions, and turned his life around. He managed to die after having finally found his inner worth and dignity. 

Pat and I were different. He was the itinerant construction worker and carpenter; I was the school teacher who could tell you what my schedule was a year in advance. We would get frustrated with one another, our habits of life and mind being different. Beyond all differences, though, we always maintained our acceptance of one another as brothers. At some point, we just stepped beyond our differences to that unity of family. We were loyal to one another. We might have yelled at one another occasionally, but we never gave up on one another. We gave one another the space we needed, but we did that without ever losing our connection. 

Me, Mom, and Pat, 2017

My brother died two months ago, and I think I'm just starting to get myself straightened out. It hit me harder than I would have supposed. Maybe it's an older brother thing, but I've always felt a responsibility for him. How do you protect someone, though, from the cycle of life? I honor my brother's life. He was a kind and gentle soul, who mostly just wanted to be left alone so that he could enjoy the simple things in life. I think he understood the deep truth of the world--that life is essentially happy in nature, as long as you didn't interfere too much and screw it up. 

It's spring--a time for fishing and camping, a time of beginning. The pines are pungent with pollen, and the thunderclouds smell of rain. My brother wanted to go fishing with me one last time, and I feel like he's just started that fishing trip ahead of me. He always told me that he thought he'd die first. Pat's talk of fishing was his way of sharing his perspective with me, I think. Pure fishing transcends time by being so completely in the moment. I somehow can feel my brother's happiness, his contentment, and that in my mind I'm sitting next to him, feeling the same warm sunshine. Neither time nor distance separates us--just two souls fishing, our lines wet in the water, just two brothers gone fishing, the moment perfect and eternal. 


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