The guides at Bassonline were so incredibly helpful, that I could not envision this project having taken place without them.
The people at the Melanoma Research Foundation are the ones truly doing the important work, and I’m so thankful to have those organizations who are working daily to cure this disease once and for all.
To everyone who has helped, whether it was through a day on the water, contributing money or gear, reading or sharing the effort, or even just an encouraging word on Social Media, I just want you to know what a profoundly positive impact you’ve collectively had on my life, and the lives of the people in my family.
I sincerely hope you have an incredible holiday season, and I’m so thankful for the ways in which you’ve lifted me up along this road.
I was having a discussion with a friend about the ways that we’ve seen the sport and the industry change over the years, and there’s seemingly now, more than ever, a push to make fishing “cool.”
Now, ‘cool,’ might be the most ambiguous word in the english language, so I’ll try to clarify: There seems to be a push to illustrate the sport in a certain light where how you look, dress and approach the sport… matters.
If ‘cool,’ is anything, it’s a look, a style and an approach. Without the right glasses, nostalgic band t-shirt, haircut or certain amount of stubble, you could never hope to be ‘cool.’
It got me thinking about the sport and why I love it, and likely why many of us do… And the foremost reason that I came up with was that, because on the water, you don’t have to be anything that you’re not.
I’ll be upfront for the sake of honesty and journalistic integrity here… in high school I was cut from the baseball team. Twice. I didn’t even dare try out for football, and the only basketball games that I played in were held on my driveway with the neighborhood gang and chalk lines drawn to mark the 3-point range. I was on the bowling team, okay? The bowling team did not make cuts.
I was in Honor Society, took A.P. classes and walked our golden retriever every night. Get the picture? ‘Cool,’ I was not.
But once the Upstate New York snow melted in late April, I’d fish every night that I could get a ride to the water. When I turned 16 and got an Uncle’s hand-me-down Chevy Beretta (if you don’t know what that car is, please refrain from telling me so), it was: “Home from school, rods in the back, down to the water.” And it’s probably worth noting here… these weren’t epic adventures to “River-Runs-Through-it” rivers…
I fished primarily in two places. The first was a small creek that ran behind a factory in a nearby town. Sauquoit Creek is never more than 12 feet wide or 7 feet feet deep, but it had enough water to hold stocked trout.
The second place was a golf course pond that was stocked with largemouth bass. Again, the pond was about 100 yards long and 30 yards wide, and if there was a fish in there that weighed more than four pounds, I never caught it. But I loved both places.
When you’re a teenager, high school is either the greatest place in the world, or one of the more difficult ones, and for me it was usually the latter. Don’t get me wrong, I had a handful of friends, and I’m grateful to still be close to most of them to this day, but I wasn’t up for Homecoming King or playing quarterback on the football team… not by a long shot.
On the water, wearing an old pair of swim trunks and sandals, you didn’t have to be anything other than exactly who you were.
You could take in the peace and quiet, admire a few fish if you were lucky, and learn about them slowly over the years and the seasons as you experimented with different baits and approaches during different times of the year.
The best part about the water was for me, and still is, that you can be absolutely who you are. And if you spend enough time there, you’ll even start to become that person everywhere else.
Some research revealed that on this day in 1973, at age 81, the world lost one of its greatest writers, J.R.R. Tolkien. What, one might ask, does this have to do with fishing or curing cancer?
Any number of fantasy-inspired stories have been written or told over the ages, but Lord of the Rings has survived and thrived better than almost any other. In fact, as of 2010, the Lord of the Rings has sold more than 150 million copies. The few books that have topped that on the all-time list are ones like… The Bible.
When Peter Jackson brought the epic adventure to the big screen, the final installment, The Return of the King, grossed more than 1.1 billion in worldwide box-office sales.
Tolkien lost his father at only 3 years old and while he spent his earliest years living in Africa, he’d later return to England, where he’s most known and loved.
I fell in love with Tolkien, and all things Lord of the Rings, in middle school. I even feigned illness and skipped a class one day to finish reading The Return of the King.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve thought about his work more, and why it has become such a universally endearing, seemingly timeless story in our culture.
Scholars have poured over his life and work, and anything I might write about the man and his stories has almost certainly been written before. But as a fan, a reader and a writer, I’ll do my best to remember him on the day the world lost him.
I think, more than any other single factor, it was the nature of his epic adventures that made them so universally endearing. Yes, he had an incredible imagination, he was a fantastic writer and his ability to weave poems and songs into his work is almost unparalleled.
But he did something that perhaps only a man who lived through his era could: He set before his heroes a task of seemingly insurmountable difficulty. Tolkien was a Second Lieutenant in 1915 in the First World War, so the type of evil he wrote into his stories isn’t something he had to create wholly from his imagination, he saw plenty of it on the battlefield.
During his time fighting he endured everything from trench warfare to lice-delivered disease, but unlike many of his friends, he survived to return home.
I have no doubt that the evil of war that he encountered served as a great inspiration in the works he’d go on to create.
What I loved and love most about the Lord of the Rings was the nature of the quest set before the heroes. There’s not a page in the books where you feel, for a second, that a hobbit has a chance at completing the task set before him. From the minute Frodo leaves the Shire, you can’t help but think that he’s undertaken a journey without a hint of hope. But a journey he must undertake nevertheless.
Even, for his part, Frodo never seems to see his task as a possible one. He understands, however, that it’s not a burden he can pass along or a responsibility he can neglect.
Tolkien’s ability to instill the nature of the mission into the reader, his talent at conveying the sheer hopelessness of the mission, is what makes the entire ordeal so inspiring in the first place. No task, mission or journey is more admirable than one taken on without a hint of hope, one born of obligation that necessitates sacrifice.
And perhaps there’s even some inspiration to be drawn from type of mission.
It is impossible, and unthinkable, that any one person might undertake or attempt any journey that would end with cancer’s eradication. The very notion that any of us might attempt this is laughable.
But for all of us affected by its evil, the journey is one, each in our own way, we must undertake. If Frodo passed along the ring, or gave it up, or threw it away, he’d be relieved of the burdensome task put before him. Tolkien, too, could have found a way to avoid the war. Neither did.
Both fictional and historical figures understood that whatever stand we can make against an evil that exists in our lifetimes, that threatens to affect our lives and the lives of loved ones, is one that we must make.
If we say that a growing evil on the horizon, whether it’s cancer, Sauron’s armies, or a threatening enemy, is “not our problem,” then we allow all those around us to do the same with our example.
And evil, disease and death will exist as long as humanity does, but the only truly dangerous thing for any and all of us is complacency, is indifference.
On my best day I will never be the writer that Tolkien was on his worst, so I’ll leave you with his words rather than mine: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
One of the hard parts of going through a difficult part of life is the feeling, especially in today’s social-media driven culture, that we always have to present a positive face to the world. Whenever I see someone on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram mourning the loss of a loved one, or being honest about a difficult time, I’m always amazed by that courage. My tendency, and I’m sure many of ours, is to “grin and bear it,” and keep that smiling face regardless.
One of my favorite movies of all time is Cinderella Man, starring Russell Crowe playing Irish Depression-era boxer Jim Braddock. In one scene, Braddock’s wife, played by Renee Zellweger, goes to visit Crowe’s (Braddock’s) manager, played by Paul Giamatti. Giamatti opens the door to their apartment to reveal that they’ve sold everything that wasn’t nailed down (the movie takes place during the Great Depression). Sometimes glancing past a Facebook feed I wonder how many of us are, like Giamatti’s character was, “keeping up appearances.”
I read an article this morning by one of my favorite outdoor writers, Bill Heavey. Heavey is an absolute master with words, and this piece will break your heart.
It reminded me that we have one true obligation as writers, and that’s honesty, even when it’s not easy.
I was outside of a Boston classroom when I got a phone call from my mother in 2013, saying “You’d better come now.” That was November 18th. I booked a flight out of Logan, caught a cab to the airport the next morning, flew to Syracuse, got a ride from a relative home, and held my father’s hand. Whether it was the drugs to keep him comfortable, or the disease, he could no longer speak. He squeezed my hand, though… that I do know. I knew he’d want me to be back for class the next night, so I made arrangements to return on a morning train. On the train between Utica and Boston I got the call that he was gone. I don’t remember much about that class, just sitting through it, kind of numb, ordering train tickets back during break on my phone, and because I love words… starting to think about a eulogy.
I’ll never forget the friends, Anthony Malta, Curt Dircks and Andrew Fillipponi, who stopped everything and traveled great distances to be at the funeral. I’ll never forget how full the church was. Standing room, only.
A few years prior I’d asked my grandmother a simple question: “How did you survive the times you must have gone through?” Marilyn Jones was a mother to eight children, before losing a daughter to leukemia before she was even a teenager. She scraped for enough to support her family by running a yarn shop and then a daycare where I’d meet some people who’d turn out to be lifelong friends. She’d later lose her husband, a grandfather that I never knew.
“How did you get through it?” That’s what I asked. “I had no choice,” she said. I’ll remember that forever. Of course she had a choice. We all have a choice, every day. I don’t think I that could even remotely understand what she was talking about until 2013. I don’t know how I bought those train tickets, plane tickets, or made it to that class. I suppose I didn’t give myself a choice.
When I thought about a project to raise money for melanoma research through fishing, by soliciting sponsors, and when I think about getting your input to help me start a beautiful magazine that I hope you’ll read and love, many times the question has and does pop into my head: “But how will you do it?”
Today is a day dubbed “Melanoma Monday,” by a group seeking to raise awareness about sun safety, not just for anglers, but for everyone.
Here’s the thing about melanoma, and all skin cancers for that matter: When you get diagnosed, it hits your life, and the lives of your family, like a ton of bricks.
This isn’t the type of illness where you’ve smoked for years and part of you saw it coming. We’re not talking about people who aren’t… we’ll say… “nutrition conscious” and know that sooner or later it’s going to catch up with them. Those types of cancers or illnesses, while devastating and unfortunate, are like car accidents that occur when someone’s speeding and running red lights: You hope like hell they don’t happen, but at the same time you’re aware to some degree that they might.
Melanoma is not like that. And I’ll stipulate here, that yes, there are people out there tanning on a regular basis to achieve that perfect glow. They’re not the people I’m talking about here. I’m talking about anglers and outdoorsmen who just consider sunscreen as something to “maybe put on if they happen to remember.”
I’ll share my family’s story, not for sympathy, but because I believe it’s one that many families probably share, and one that we need to prevent at all costs.
My father, a hapless driver, was in a minor car accident at the age of 74. It was nothing serious, a fender bender, but they asked him to allow some X-rays just to make sure nothing was broken.
Nothing was broken. There was, however, melanoma spread throughout his body: Stage IV. As many of you know, there’s no Stage V, unless it’s Heaven.
That is how you get told you have six months to live. You’re in a fender bender, doctors run some tests, and then you’re having the most grave, terrifying conversation of your life with a doctor. You’re consoling your wife and calling your son with the news. I’ll remember that phone call forever, just sitting on the stairs of my Red Bank apartment, holding my phone in my hand, wondering how to phrase the news to my then girlfriend, wondering if I should drive home immediately, wondering if it were a dream, wondering if I could just go back to sleep and wake up and have it not be real.
But this is not a story of sadness, the human condition is not despair, the default emotion, for all of us, if we can maintain it, is hope. My father’s hope turned a six-month death sentence into two-plus more years of life.
My tattoos tell a story I am too shy to share, and my first one was four Gaelic words surrounding a cross and a shamrock (our family’s maternal side are Gillorens from Kilorglin, Ire.). One of those words is Dochas, which means, and I’ll quote directly here: “Hope: bringing faith to the future.”
Until we are broken, that is our default emotion that, despite whatever hardship, we return to again and again: Dochas… hope… faith in the future. And that’s what I’ll summon today, Melanoma Monday… faith that we are ever closer to the cure.
The Irish, as is evidenced by this blog, are first and foremost… procrastinators. I was thinking about my heritage yesterday. My mother’s side of the family are Gillorens, tracing back to Killorglin, Ireland and my father’s mother was a McCabe… and of course it doesn’t get much more Irish than that.
I was thinking about our, my heritage, and trying to piece together the puzzle that we all grapple with each day. It occurred to me that the Irish, especially, are at an elevated risk for skin cancer because we’re such a fair-skinned people. That’s not to say anyone can ignore the inherent risks, but when you’re Irish, you can get a sunburn getting the mail in the morning… or at night if there’s a full moon.
And I’ve seen in Irish friends and family, that we’re more easily affected emotionally too. We can be tough as nails (I have one Irish uncle who is a prison guard and another who drives an 18-wheeler back and forth to Harlem every day) but we care more, and are more easily impacted by events in our lives that others might let pass them by without a thought. We think more, sometimes more than is necessary, and tend to overanalyze, sometimes to our own detriment.
I think we are more deeply moved by both life’s great joys and difficult periods. This isn’t bragging, if anything there are times when I wish I cared less, but as an Irish friend once put it, in a wise phrase that seems more fitting with each day I survive: “It is what it is.”
But I don’t think the essential question for us, as human beings, is “What are we like — what is our nature?” I think the essential question is: “How can we use that, once we understand it, to contribute toward a greater good for those we have the capability of impacting?”
If, being Irish, I’ve taken melanoma coming into my life more personally than someone else might, if I’ve held onto it, wrestled with it, hated it… that is and will be my nature. But that is not the question that needs answering.
The question that needs answering, of all of us, always, is a simple one: “What are you going to do about it?” Hopefully, thanks in large part to all of our sponsors, I’m answering that every day.
Everett Lockwood waits for a strike in Montauk, New York
A surfcaster at sunrise on Fire Island, New York.
A surfcaster at sunrise on the rocks of Montauk, New York.
When I was 23 years old, I undertook a mission for Outdoor Life to fish the entire country. I was young, naive and had more ambition than was perhaps healthy at the time, but my goal was to see these United States, while I was young and crazy enough to do it from the back of a Jeep.
I saw a great deal of the country, and as many of you know… My God is it beautiful. There are not words to describe the Outer Banks at sunrise, the Keys are like pieces of Heaven that mankind hasn’t totally ruined yet, New Orleans is one of the most culturally rich places you might imagine, the forests of California, especially when you’re so close to the Pacific, are the stuff outdoorsmens’ dreams are made of and Seattle… don’t get me started on Seattle. As a writer I can’t help but thinking this all sounds cliche and repetitive, but it’s true, so what the…
But I discovered something I wasn’t looking for on the road. On a bare-bones budget, I was sleeping in parking lots in the back of my Wrangler… which I wouldn’t recommend unless you happen to be crazy, like I undoubtedly am. But what I discovered was that the people of this country, and fishermen especially, are more genuinely giving, helpful and beautiful souls than I might have imagined anyone to be before that trip. In the past decade or so, if we had any illusions about how evil human beings could be, those crumbled with the twin towers, I saw them explode on Boylston Street at the Boston Marathon, and whether it’s a greater access to a constant news cycle, or the world is in fact getting “more evil,” we’re reminded every day the depths humanity can sink to in its darkest hours.
I was looking through pictures of this past trip when I decided to write this. I was looking at an image of Steve Niemoeller, a guide with BassOnline in Florida. Steve was kind enough to help not once, but twice on my initial Catch a Cure effort.
And I don’t mean that the guy just took an extra hour and got me on the water… he took me out for an entire day, then texted me later during the trip to fish a second time with his grandson. On this most recent trip, he had suggestions and ideas for how to best utilize the project to raise money and awareness for the cause. The guy did everything but crop and caption my photos for the gallery. It was astounding.
But Mr. Niemoeller’s kindness is, if anything, a microcosm of the overwhelming generosity I’ve found from almost every angler I’ve encountered between Maine and Seattle. I don’t think I am, nor do I try to be, a pessimist about human nature. But not even the most optimistic human being could reasonably expect the kindness I’ve been shown repeatedly from so many fishermen like Steve.
Were I to name-check the anglers from Maine (Jeff McEvoy) to Montana (Angler’s Tonic blogger and FR&R editor Greg Thomas, pictured above ice-dancing with a trout in Montana) who just, without any incentive whatsoever, went out of their way to help out a fellow fisherman, this blog would be a novel. And maybe some day it will be.
There’s a beautiful, and relatively new, fishing magazine, and if you haven’t seen it yet, you should check it out. It’s called Angler’s Journal and the prose and the photography in this magazine are some of the best I’ve seen in print in a long, long time. I reached out to editor Bill Sisson, hoping I might share the story of this trip and what it has meant to me, and before I knew it we were talking on the phone. Try reaching out to the editors at the Boston Globe or the New York Times (I have). I’m certainly not implying anything negative about these publications, but at a certain point in an editor’s career he or she presumably gets too busy to read a note or an e-mail from someone who, for all intents and purposes, is a nobody. Except the people I’ve mentioned above: they weren’t too busy, they made the time.
At Emerson College where I’m working on my graduate degree, a professor named Gian Lombardo went above and beyond so that this trip might work in a capacity to survey the audience for a forthcoming magazine, helping me create a survey to assess a potential readership for the magazine I’m hoping to build for you.
For the entire decade I’ve spent trying to work in this industry, I’ve been reminded again and again of the impact that humility, kindness and compassion can have on a life. Indeed the people in this business have saved mine more times than I can count. I was fresh out of college and working construction when I reached out to Field & Stream. A few months on a roof in the beating sun had gotten me pretty desperate for an alternative source of employment. Now this is Field & Stream we’re talking about… the Field & Stream. Not only did they bring me on as a paid editorial intern, they kept me on as a web intern after that, giving me more experience than anyone at 21 could have asked for.
I never would have been brash or bold enough to apply for a job at On The Water Magazine in Cape Cod, but I did send them a story idea. Chris Megan and Kevin Blinkoff took a chance on a 22-year old young man and gave him the opportunity to be an editor at a fishing magazine before he’d had almost any experience in that field whatsoever.
And that cross-country fishing trip that I attempted? That would not have even been remotely possible had not Gerry Bethge of Outdoor Life believed that I, or anyone for that matter, might even be capable of such an undertaking. I ask myself daily if I did that opportunity justice in my attempts with words and images to share it… and I don’t think I’ll ever know that answer. On that journey I got to meet Jerry Gibbs and John Merwin (rest his soul), two of best writers and most well-known content creators this industry has ever seen. Both invited me into their homes. Neither could have been nicer about it.
In truth, a lot of what might seem like courage is in reality a combination of self-doubt and anger with the disease that took my father. Had I actually considered the prospect of fishing the entire country from a Jeep, I might never have tried it. But since I deemed it almost impossible, I figured: “Why not?” It was only the people I met and fished with on that journey, and these most recent ones, that made them anything more than a tumbleweed of an aspiring writer going where the wind took him.
And the motivation behind Catch a Cure is less altruistic ambition and more of: “I have to do something for this to make sense in my life.” And hopefully the funds raised will make what difference they can, and you can contribute here.
And this trip, and the one that preceded, have made sense. They’ve not only made sense of why, perhaps, melanoma came into my family’s life… but they’ve made sense of the world for me, and restored my faith that it’s an incredible place full of tremendously kind, helpful, altruistic, caring and genuine individuals. “Thank you,” to those of you that’d have aided this effort, and made it possible, is nowhere near enough. Nowhere near enough.
Alright, we’re all for beating melanoma, and thanks to some great sponsors we are making a serious inroads toward that end, but on a lighter note… we need to have fun. That’s why I’ve gathered some great gear for you guys to have a chance at winning on Catch a Cure.
You ready for the rules? Okay. First, go online and fill out this survey:
Now here’s some added incentive: this survey is designed so that I can build you the EXACT fishing magazine that you’re looking for, the one you want to read. It’s short, it’s easy, and ultimately… if you’re honest, it just might result in you getting a fishing magazine you love.
The next part is a suggested donation to the Melanoma Research Foundation. Now… we are not all Donald-Trump rich, and I get that, believe me. So I’m not going to ask you for a “minimum donation,” to be entered. I trust you’ll give what you have. Maybe that’s $1, maybe it’s $10, and maybe it’s $100. I’ll leave that up to you. Here’s where you can do that:
Honestly, even if you just donated a dollar, that’s not going to affect your ability to win these prizes. And hey, if you don’t want to, or can’t afford to donate… I’ll still use your input and feedback to build the magazine, so don’t let that deter you from filling out the survey. And by that same token, if you donate to the MRF and send me a confirmation of that contribution at firstname.lastname@example.org, you’ll be entered to win the prizes anyway. But if you do BOTH, you could win big and have a say in the next great fishing magazine.
A Catch a Cure T-shirt/Sunscreen Package (value: $35)
So, right now you’ve got a little downtime, you’re fooling around online, and what’s that going to get you? At best a laugh, or a “poke,” on Facebook, whatever the hell that is. But what if you took five minutes to fill out this survey? That… THAT might get you a fishing magazine you helped design, and a chance to win a pair of polarized lenses that quite honestly are some of the best that money could buy (and they will only cost you as much as you want to give to a skin-cancer free future)! I’m not asking for a “purchase,” to be eligible, what I’m looking for is something you’ll feel great about doing anyway. And believe me… I can’t wear four pairs of sunglasses and thanks to Rick Roth at Mirror Image T-Shirts in Rhode Island, I have more shirts than I could wear if I changed into a new one every day for the rest of my life. So these prizes are going to someone, and it might as well be you.
And I’ll be building this fishing magazine either way, so you might as well help me make it one you love. Thanks for reading and keep an eye out for more fish, prizes and chances to win.
I was spending some time in my native upstate New York this past week, and my mother came across a collection of photos that my father’s mother, Agnes McCabe, rest her soul, gave to my Mom when my father and her were married.
In this one you can see my Dad, who served his country in U.S. Army Intelligence Agency from 1954-1957, standing next to the hide of a killed polar bear in Alaska, where he and the remainder of his unit were, or so I was told, on the lookout for any type of incoming attack from the then Soviet Union.
He rarely talked about the Army, but I do remember small details. He said that at times, migrating birds appeared to be something like aircraft on the radar, and we were terrifyingly close to starting a war that I can’t even imagine. When asked about the Army, and why he enlisted, he only ever said: “It had something to do with a girl.”
But had he not enlisted in the Army, having come from a poverty-stricken family, he almost certainly would not have been able to afford law school. Had he not become a successful lawyer, I don’t know that I’d be here, writing this blog.
When I look at events in this fashion, it helps me understand them and it helps me see a greater purpose behind even the smallest details.
My father, at 77, was almost the exact age of life expectancy when he passed. But he didn’t die from a heart attack or a car accident (although Lord knows, the way he drove, that certainly could have happened several times).
He passed from skin cancer, a cancer that has killed more people in recent decades than all other cancers combined, and a cancer particularly dangerous for outdoorsmen, and fishermen especially, because sun reflects off the water and makes us even more vulnerable to harmful UV rays.
Now some would dismiss his being diagnosed with this disease, and having a son who spent the majority of his life fishing as often as he possibly could, as a coincidence.
I see more, and perhaps it’s because I choose to see more. I have faith that there is more than might be apparent to us on the surface of things.
And that faith, even when this project has seemed daunting, difficult, unlikely or ill-advised, keeps me moving forward every day.
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:
“You’re not alone.”
One angler's attempt to strike back against skin cancer.