The Fisherman’s Advice

Evidently I don’t have a strong stomach, because the last time I went fishing at sea I got sick. I know fishing trips are famous for being exaggerated, but I’ll be honest with you: there was no storm. It was a normal day, with normal waves, and we didn’t even go far out to sea. Still, as the boat continually shifted, my insides rebelled against me in slow motion. It was getting harder and harder to focus on my fishing line or the conversation going on around me. I felt bad. All I wanted was for the floor to stop moving—was that so much to ask? Thankfully, I was with an experienced fisherman who gave me helpful advice: “Look at the shore,” he said, “it will give you a reference point, and help you be able to roll with the waves.” I could tell he knew what he was talking about, because he had no trouble at all moving confidently around the constantly rocking boat.

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The Dog Knew Better

I grew up beside a mountain in Alabama, with a dog. If you want a happy childhood, that’s a good start. Sometimes the dog and I would go up the mountain, just us, with no particular destination in mind. There was always something interesting up there—little run-off streams and rock outcroppings, sunlight through leaves and the awareness of being among innumerable living things. We stayed together, but not too close. The dog and I were interested in different things, probably because I couldn’t smell as well as she could. Still, we stayed within sight, and if I decided to explore in a different direction all I had to say was “Cinnamon, I’m going this way” and she would change course without complaining. I guess there were smells to discover anywhere we went.

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Yes

You wouldn’t notice it, if you walked by. It’s just a tree, next to an old house on a university campus. There’s a nice view from the hill, so you’d look at that, not a random tree. But I go there for the tree. To me, that tree, with the ground under it, is sacred.

Twice, I sat at a table under this tree. Twice, I set the table up and decorated it and prepared it for a surprise and a question. Twice, I worked up my courage to ask a question at the table under the tree, and both times I heard the same answer, the answer that changed my life:

Yes!

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Kicking In Doors Is Harder Than It Looks In The Movies

The door was stuck.

My two sons (3 and 1 at the time) had locked themselves inside the bathroom, and the stakes were high: the younger one had an ongoing problem where he would hold his breath and pass out if he got too upset. He got upset a lot, but one of us had always been there to bring him back around. What would happen if he passed out inside the locked bathroom..?

“Don’t worry, boys, we’re right here”

I used my happy voice, and tried to explain to the older one how to put the key in the door and turn it. It didn’t work. A few more tries, knowing that there was only one other option. 

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“Daddy, Can You Turn Off The Rain?”

My son was just a few years old, and he’d probably seen more rainy days than sunny ones in his short life. That’s what happens when you grow up in Ireland. I found him looking at his wet toys through the glass doors:

“Daddy, can you turn off the rain?”

It wasn’t a question, as much as a request. He wasn’t asking about whether I was capable of such a thing. He fully believed that I was. He just wanted to know if I would.

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What I Saw On The Edge Of The Room

The new kid was there, effortlessly working the room. He told a joke and everyone laughed, and I laughed. He was nice, and I had no reason not to like him except that everyone liked him and they wouldn’t like me. I had been there years, but when I told a joke they pretended they couldn’t hear. I told it louder and their faces scrunched. I stopped talking and they pretended I didn’t exist. I decided I would take up less space on the edge of the room, with my eyes down. But there was a problem: The edges were already crowded with eyes looking down, trying not to exist too loudly. At first I was annoyed. Then I saw them.

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The Joke I Should Have Laughed At

Saying that I knew it all along was a lie, and they knew it. Saying that I was just playing along didn’t stop their eyes from laughing at me. I would have laughed, too, if I were them. I should have laughed, too, with them. I don’t know where my neighbour got the iron pyrite, all I know is the story they told me about finding it in the woods and do you think there’s more and will we all be rich? I’d never seen gold ore before, but it certainly looked the part. I was old enough to know the stories about children finding treasure, and young enough to forget that I was a fool. 

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The Day The Phone Rang Out

The phone was ringing in his dorm room, and we all knew he liked talking on the phone. It was probably his girlfriend (he talked to her the most), but there was no way of knowing for sure. I expected him to excuse himself from our conversation, but he didn’t. He didn’t even flinch or glance away. He just sat there in the hallway, eyes focused on me, waiting to hear the rest of what I was saying. 

I don’t remember what I was saying. I don’t remember what he said, either. All I remember is the moment he ignored the phone for the sake of our conversation. That moment is permanently etched on my mind. 

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Ghosts In The Rubbish

I could see their faces, right there in the pile of rubbish at the dump. They were looking through the window of the broken playhouse, smiling pure joy at me – the joy of a child with a small space to go in and a world to look out at. I hadn’t expected them here, though. I was just doing a bit of spring cleaning, not ghost hunting. But even with rubbish all around it, that window was the frame of priceless memories painted in such vivid colour I could hear them laughing and calling “Daddy! Look at me!” through every one of its faded cracks. 

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Trails Are For Following, Not Just Blazing

It seemed like a good idea at the time. We were tired, and ready to get back to camp after a day of hiking. The map indicated that a straight cut had been made through the forest for the sake of power lines, and it looked like the perfect shortcut to bring us to our tents and dinners. We left the trail. It wasn’t long before we regretted it. The forest had been cut at some point, yes, but it was doing a good job of coming back. As we picked our way through the brambles and saplings, we didn’t notice the hornet’s nest, but they noticed us. To make matters worse, we lost our bearings in the unexpected undergrowth and missed the place where we had intended to rejoin the trail, heading off in the wrong direction without even realising it. Eventually, we discovered our error and limped the long way back to camp with our scrapes and stings – and a new appreciation for trails.

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