During my project this past summer, I was able to raise more than 700 dollars for the Melanoma Research Foundation. The sum might seem either large, for one single person, or small, considering the the millions we’ve contributed toward cancer in the past without finding a cure.
But the money raised is not what I’m most grateful for.
Anyone who knows me knows that for the most part I took up writing because I’m a quiet guy. I’m usually the one in the room listening or at best cracking a wry joke here and there. Talking is not my strong suit.
I undertook the project largely as a leap of faith, knowing that I was a fisherman, a photographer and a writer, and that I needed in some way to combat this illness that had come into my life, but I didn’t have much more of a plan than that.
At the age of 24 I slept in the back of my Jeep Wrangler for 200 nights and did a project for Outdoor Life Magazine called Fish America, fishing my way from Maine down through the Keys, across to California, up to Seattle and back home to the Northeast.
Because of the scope and duration of the project, it seems and seemed to me to be the most impressive thing I’d ever done, although that’s not saying much. But because it was, I decided to use that means, that platform, a traveling, fish-catching expedition, to try to bring skin-cancer awareness to an angling audience.
That’s how I came up with the idea for Catch a Cure. But an idea is just that, a suspended thought, left adrift in time if not moved by the force of action.
What I’m grateful for is the amount of support that I found in Florida to get behind my mission. I never, in a thousand years, would have expected the Florida guiding community to come out of the woodwork in the way they did to fight cancer. So, so many guides from the Panhandle to the Keys spent a day on the water to raise money for Melanoma Research, and it astounded me each time they signed up to give of their time, knowledge and effort.
I can’t even begin to list them all in this blog, but Todd, Steve and Brett, you guys are just a few of the so many who helped me. These guys, and the others who work for Bassonline, truly embody the notion that being an outdoorsman necessitates being a man first, and that there’s more that goes into that than I’ll try to touch on here.
My favorite book is The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. There’s beautiful language, it’s concise and moving and it’s important from a literary standpoint, but that’s not why I love it.
In the book, the fictional character Jake Barnes, because of injuries sustained in war, cannot be in a physical relationship with a woman, despite being in love with one.
When I first read the book, in my freshman year of undergraduate school at Syracuse University, I was immediately taken aback by what type of modesty and openness would propel a man to write something that many men would spend a lifetime trying to avoid the mere suggestion of. There are many causes for insecurity among men, and we all deal with them in different ways, but few seem as harsh as the one described by Barnes. What I loved most about the book was the honesty, even if it were fiction. It seems that some of the most honest writing is.
I think that to admire a quality without trying to emulate it constitutes some type of cowardice or hypocricy, so here goes.
I was on the train into Boston yesterday, working toward a Directed Study that would function in the capacity of a repeated Catch a Cure project, in Texas this time, and I was trying to post something on Facebook in commemoration of my father’s passing on that day, two years prior.
I just started crying. There have been plenty of times, his birthday, Father’s Day, talking to my mother, when I’ve swallowed those tears but the well where I put them must be full. I just miss him, I guess. Emotion isn’t typically terribly complicated.
When I was 24-years old I slept in the back of my Jeep Wrangler at the time for 200 nights, to fish my way across the country. I lost 42 pounds. Some nights, toward the end of that trip, were brutally cold, and I mean like 20-below, Ketchum-Idaho cold. I’d shiver myself awake in the night to blast the heat and fall back asleep. Since I was about 18 I’ve been covering myself in tattoos that I hope act as some means of telling my story even if I’m too quiet to. Some were smaller and took less than an hour, but others took three-plus hours and the needle lingered on the skin that barely covers the bone. When my father passed, I flew home from Boston, stood in front of a crowded church, and did my best to eulogize the man I loved. I say all of this to suggest that tears aren’t an easy thing to extract from me, by any means. I could count the times I’ve cried in the past decade on one hand, with fingers to spare.
And I was very hesitant to write this, but two notions gave me some solace. First, I am fairly certain that only a few human beings actually lay eyes on these words, and most of them know me well enough to know these things about me anyway. Secondly, I thought: perhaps, and more than likely, there are others out there feeling this too, going through what I’m going through, and what purpose does it serve for us all to smile and hide our pain so that we might, on the face of the matter, all seem to be utterly alone in how we feel?
Two years ago yesterday I was on a plane back to Boston, having visited my father for the last time, when my mother called to tell me he’d passed, and yesterday at that same time I was on a train into the city.
It’s pure coincidence that I was aboard public transport both days, but I find the circumstance strangely fitting.
On a train, or a plane for that matter, you both are, and are not, moving. You might be said to be sitting still while speeding over land at dozens, or hundreds of miles per hour.
And losing a parent, as many of you might know, feels oddly similar. I know it has been two years since I’ve held my father’s hand, heard him speak or tried to make him laugh. I know that time has moved, and me with it. But, like on a train, it does not feel as though I’ve moved away from the son who would call every night to exchange casual pleasantries and assurances that I am okay, along with questions about his well-being.
I remember the first thing I did when I’d heard that he’d passed: I tried to call his cell phone. He was a nervous guy, and because he was constantly afraid of losing potential business as a criminal defense attorney, he’d answer his phone no matter the time of day or night, without fail. It just rang. And rang. I was 27.
I’ve undertaken a battle against melanoma, the cancer that took his life, and absolutely everyone who has shared my content, purchased a T-shirt, donated a product or given a dollar has meant more to me than I can express. It feels like I am fighting back against the evil that did so much harm to my family’s life. It is not happiness, but it is some solace.
So when I thought about sharing this, I heard the voices of those who might potentially respond, and I’ve heard them aloud. “Nobody wants to read about cancer.” “Death is depressing, move forward, find happiness…” And I’m trying. Friends here at Emerson in Boston, friends from back home in New York, and so many anglers in Florida have made that so much easier for me than it might have been otherwise.
But I thought that perhaps out there there might be one other person, going through something similar, something equally painful, if not more so.
And I’ve read and debated and listened a great deal about the purpose of writing, or any art, but only one thing has ever made sense to me in a way I can’t shake. I believe that whatever we are saying, in words, images or with paint or drawings or photographs… should be some variation of one simple idea:
There are some feelings, like the fish on the end of the line, that are such an ingrained joy in us from youth, that we almost, for a second, become young again in the throes of their sensation.
Christmas morning, falling in love, seeing the sun rise… and, yes, seeing that U.P.S. truck pull up to your house… these are experiences that, if we have early on enough in life (and are positive), are saved inside a part of us that does not grow old.
And when we tap into them, no matter our age, we are ourselves young again, if only for a moment.
But enough sappy banter, the point I’m getting at is that I was doing something that might look like cleaning my apartment (to the untrained eye) when I saw that enormous U.P.S. truck squeeze down my tiny one-way street and heard a knock at the door.
It was a delivery of a second batch of Catch a Cure T-Shirts thanks to the selfless and goodhearted people at Mirror Image Printing. Rick Roth at Mirror Image knows about the battle against skin cancer all too well, and has time and again volunteered his services to help fund the mission here at Catch a Cure. I was and am grateful for the help, and couldn’t help but tear into the box to see see a fresh batch of shirts, ready to sell to raise funds for the Melanoma Research Foundation.
I have every intention of creating an army against skin cancer, and this will be our uniform, and Sunology our sunscreen. With Rick Roth at Mirror Image back on board and Hanes donating the shirts, round II is picking up steam. Native Eyewear is on board with glasses that you’ll have a chance to win with a contribution, and Sunology is giving us perhaps the most important element, sunscreen. We have a growing army against melanoma.
I would be remiss to write anything today without mentioning that my heart goes out to those in Paris. I was fortunate to visit the city as a young man, and to quote Hemingway: “If you are lucky enough to live in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
I never lived in Paris, but I was blessed to see the city from atop to Eiffel Tower, to wander along its beautiful streets, and my heart aches for those suffering in the city. Hope is our greatest human trait, and I am hoping that those suffering tonight find some solace and comfort, however they can.
I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about my heroes, about struggles they went through, and what defined them. I’m not just talking about those men (and women) who’ve reached a status of biblical proportions, like Hemingway, Frost and and Kipling, I’m talking about heroes in my own life. Joe Cermele is an editor at Field & Stream who befriended and inspired me when I was an intern there fresh out of Syracuse University. Chris Megan at On The Water gave me my first job as a copy editor after that Internship and when I decided to take my first big shot… fishing the entire country, Gerry Bethge of Outdoor Life saw to it that that adventure had legs. Todd Smith at Outdoor Sportsman Group got on board when I decided to fight Melanoma and brought the full weight of all his years of experience in this industry to my aid. Joe Higgins at Tomo’s Tackle has been of great help to me since I moved to the North Shore.
And of course there’s my father, who you’ve heard more than enough about already. And if you get to know any “hero,” you’ll see that they, in their own lives, overcame great struggle and hardship before they even had a chance to become what they are today.
And if we’re fortunate, as I was, we come into this life with support and inspiration from our families and friends. But if we have enough courage, we reach a breaking point where the world hands us our first great hardship.
I was blessed to have work in the industry I loved, parental support and friendship. The work, which was a river, has ebbed to stream, although it’s not yet dry.
I’ve made new friends here in Boston, but I’ve lost some too, and yes that’s hard to write. And I am no more fit to site here and describe to you the measure of a man than is anyone who has survived 30 years on this planet. But I can tell you what I’m beginning to believe it might be.
I believe it is, after we use what gifts we are given to begin with, how we respond to hardship, how we win friendships back that are worth fighting for, how we decide what to stand for and how we make that stand.
When you go through something difficult, whether that’s losing a job, a loved one, a vehicle in an accident, a parent or your health… or all five almost once as I did, there’s the tendency to think that your struggles are unique in their severity because it’s inherently true that you feel them to a greater degree than you might anyone else’s. But a close examination of any life will show its share of hardship, and many lives are burdened with far more than their share.
And it seems to me, now, although I haven’t drawn any conclusions that most can’t given enough time, that the measure of a man isn’t anything he has intrinsically at birth, but rather how he responds to those hardships dealt him, how he gets back up after falling and what he learns in the process.
We all, given enough time an opportunity, will fall. That much is almost guaranteed us at birth. I am coming to believe that it’s the getting back up that matters. I am coming to believe that it’s not some spectacular first effort that defines us, but rather the second and the third and so forth. I am coming to believe that whatever well of resolve and determination we dip into for more of whatever we’re given to begin with… that the contents therein are the measure of a man. And my faith in this ideology is strengthened because it is hard to reach for that, and then for more of it. And I believe that anything worth doing is necessarily difficult.
I won’t pretend to know what the measure of a man is, all I can do is share with you what I’ve discovered and hold to be true, for today anyway. And perhaps most importantly, what I can and need to do, is to keep my ears, my mind and my heart open to continue to develop and improve this understanding, and in so doing improve my own understanding of myself and my purpose here. I have mentioned and shared the work of those who have been so influential in my life because to understand yourself, you first must understand that it’s not about yourself. If it is, that’s all it will ever be about, which seems to me the greatest of all types of sadness: isolation. We should be about… we should strive to be about… the only thing that can give our existence here definition: one another.
One angler's attempt to strike back against skin cancer.