Last week, I traveled out of state to escape the heat. As I packed and finished getting everything ready for the trip, I grabbed a book to read on the flight and with my morning coffee on the porch. As I looked through the shelves, The Old Man and the Sea seemed to be calling my name from its desire to accompany me on this venture.
Unfortunately, I finished the book way too early on the trip and did not get to read it with my morning coffee. However, I did take the time to think through some of what I picked up from this reading of Hemingway’s masterpiece and how it impacted me during this read through and time in my life. Some of the elements that stood out to me include:
Be Brief Without Being Short
For as long as I can remember, I have been drawn to Hemingway’s writing. With his unique style, he takes the reader to interesting locales, filled with interesting characters, and deposits the reader back into their own world with a life lesson or two to appreciate. His Spartan-esque approach leaves me in a satiated state and yet ready to embark on another adventure.
The Bigger Fish are Farther Out
Santiago (protagonist of the story) hasn’t caught a fish in almost 85 days. As a fisherman, this run of bad luck could cost him everything he has. The other fisherman have dubbed him unlucky and he is now feeling ‘on the outs’ in every area of his life. Instead of sulking and cursing exterior factors, he grabs his same gear, hops into his same boat, but chooses to go farther out in order to fish new waters. It pays off and Santiago is soon handfishing against the greatest challenge of his career (and life). Staying closer to land is safer, but not where the bigger fish live.
Pain is Inevitable, Suffering is Optional
As Santiago fights with this fish, he knows it’s larger than anything he has ever caught. Thus, he cuts his other fishing lines to focus on what’s most important. For two days and nights, he fought the mighty marlin. Even though his hands were cut, back and legs aching and sore, he was half-starved, and was running dangerously low on water, he continued to fight until he overcame the adversity in which he was enveloped. During the fight, he allowed himself to know he was hurting, but kept his spirits high with thoughts of baseball and of other times he had struggled and prevailed. By keeping his thoughts and spirit elevated, he stayed engaged and didn’t simply cut bait and head back toward land. He was fishing because that is what fishermen do.
Keep Going (Don’t Quit)
Santiago succeeds and lands the largest marlin he has ever seen. After getting him alongside the boat, he begins the long journey home. Unfortunately, he encounters multiple sharks as they take large mouthfuls of his prized fish. Through the night and following day, Santiago fights valiantly, but in vain. The sharks consume most of the once glorious marlin and leave Santiago with a shell of what he originally landed. He didn’t quit, eventually made his way to his home beach, left the skeleton of the fish tied to the boat, and went to his small shack to sleep. The journey and fight of his life was now behind him.
Character > Reputation
The other fishermen awoke in the morning and as they headed to their fishing boats they stopped, gathered, and gawked at the enormous marlin skeleton and sword that was lashed to Santiago’s boat. Santiago was not there to gloat, sing his own praise, or even to retell the harrowing tale even though he knew the other fishermen considered him unlucky and past-his-prime. Santiago could have waited by the boat to bask in the glory of his accomplishments and vindicated his reputation by retelling his triumph over the greatest fish any of these fishermen had ever seen or heard of. Instead, he was sleeping in his shack in order to gather his strength to go back out into the sea and fish. He is a fisherman and that is what fishermen do.
In many of our worlds, we will never land a marlin of notoriety. However, we will all encounter external forces in our lives that we cannot control. As with Santiago, he could not control what was outside of the boat, but he could manage what happened inside of the boat.
Through this reading of the Old Man and the Sea, I was challenged to take care of what is inside “my boat” (focus, intentionality, and character) so that I may better engage with the world around me.