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Old Man and me: Art imitating life

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POSTED October 12, 2011 1:38 a.m.

The Old Man second-guessed the gamble of sailing far out into the sea as he watched sharks dissect the biggest catch of his life — and first in 84-days — with carnivorous brutality.

“I shouldn’t have gone out so far, fish. Neither for you nor for me. I’m sorry fish.”

The Old Man arrived home with nothing more than the carcass of the great fish, while the author Ernest Hemingway, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 for torturing his main character in The Old Man and the Sea.

The story impacted literary critics and the tale of man vs. fish vs. sharks is so epic it’s taught in school.

I read it again recently because it starts out about fishing and goes somewhere else once the words stop. Actually, it’s me that goes elsewhere but it’s the book’s fault.

Sometimes I feel like I’m on a boat being pulled out to sea on an epic adventure bearing a seemingly insurmountable burden on my own shoulders which I will overcome and return home triumphant. Other days I’m the helpless dude with a broken body trying to brain sharks as they devour my catch. 

When I was 10, a black bear started in on the salmon my brother and I had on shore. I want to say that I ran up and gave it a round-house kick to the throat, but I didn’t.

I probably peed.

Two summers ago, a sea lion took the halibut Abe was about to net for me. We had no choice but to break it off. The sea lion surfaced about 50 yards away to show me what used to be mine.

Upon finishing the book, I did paddle figuratively into what stood for what with regard to living, teaching and writing in Manteca, California of all places.

Was getting this column space a few years ago hooking the thousand-pound marlin which will lead me to writing a series of books people will buy and my friends will fight to have added to the Manteca Unified curriculum?

Or is Manteca the safe spot what will yield fish to a point, then comes the long dry spell that makes me question everything and row out far off shore in search of bravado and epic things like purpose?

Maybe a book is published, but my mom buys all 20 copies and gives them away as gifts which are then used as coasters or to keep coffee tables level.

That’s why I like reading. Since I’m largely an optimist and don’t see myself as the protagonist in a Hemingway novella, I can think about this sort of stuff without getting all depressed about where life’s plot is taking me, or believe that to be human is to inevitably live a tragedy.

I cast questions back and forth with some close friends, and we answer the questions with deeper questions, then eventually get back to how the late-season salmon bite back home is.

Considering things of such gravity and consequence don’t bother me because it doesn’t matter where in the water I am right now. I can’t know and won’t until later, at which point it will be too late to do anything about it anyway. I just want to catch some good stuff while I’m around and hope it equates to a good, meaningful story.

As Donald Miller wrote in the book I am currently reading, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, “The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won’t make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either.”



To contact Jeff Lund, email aklund21@gmail.com.

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