The Old Man
I saw an old friend this week and we talked a little Hemingway.
We do have other things in common, but we’re a couple of old guys who have an affection for another old guy who’s been dead for half a century, so that’s what seems to come up whenever we meet.
His favorite line is from “The Old Man and the Sea.” Just in case you weren’t paying attention in English Literature, the book is about an old fisherman who’s in the middle of an epic dry spell, fishing-wise. He rows out to sea in his little boat, hooks a giant marlin and fights it for three days before he finally pulls it up next to the boat and heads for shore. This one fish is enough to restore his fortune and show that his luck has returned, so even though he is sunburned, hungry and sore, he’s feeling very good.
My friend’s favorite line is, “The first shark showed up an hour later.”
That happens, you know. No matter how hard you try, how cleverly you prepare, how dedicated you are, sometimes the sharks show up and consume all that you value.
The old man kills the first shark, but not before it takes a bite of the fish. More and more sharks show up and despite his ferocious efforts, in the end there’s little left but a skeleton.
My favorite line in the book is in the midst of the battle to catch the fish. He and the fish are on opposite ends of a long line, knowing very little about each other. The old man ponders, “If he thinks I am more man than I am, I shall be so.” What it means is that his efforts to convince the fish he is stronger than he really is will pay off with increased strength.
If I ever get a tattoo, that’s what it’ll say, right on my left forearm where I can’t help but see it. After I started having grandchildren, I began to worry about living up to their expectations.
So then I started trying to figure out what those expectations were and tried to meet them. Tried to be gentler, more honest, more thoughtful, more competent. It’s a little like the t-shirt that reads, “Try to be the man your dog thinks you are.”
It’s not easy, but as with any type of exercise, it starts out as a chore and ends up as a way of life until any kind of lapse begins to feel like a small betrayal.
In the book, the sharks eat the marlin. The old man manages to get his boat into harbor and shakily climbs the hill to his house and goes to sleep. While he’s sleeping, the town awakes and gathers at the harbor to stare in wonder at the ship with the skeleton of an 18-foot fish tied to it.
The next morning the old man wakes up, has a cup of coffee and something to eat and dresses his wounds.
Then he gets ready to go fishing again.
Copyright 2013 Brent Olson