"I've never suffered from giving," said the extraordinary woman.
|Word Count 2251
Once upon a time there was a man in a boat. He was, in most regards, a fairly ordinary man. The boat was a very modest, wooden row-boat. The boat had some small leaks in it here and there. Perhaps this makes the boat sound worse than it really was, but few people realize that all boats have leaks. And while it is true his boat leaked more than some boats, there were plenty of other boats out there that leaked even more than his did. Now, if it had been left unattended for a long period of time, the boat would have indeed sunk. However, the man was also in possession of a bucket - and just about every day he spent time bailing the boat dry. It took some effort, but all in all it was very manageable for him to keep his boat afloat.
The man lived for some time in his boat alone. It was a fairly boring and placid existence, as you may have already very well imagined. He did see many people; it wasn’t as if the sea were devoid of people. He would wave and say hello and generally they would greet him back. He paid particular attention to the women that passed by. This should come as no surprise because, like I said, he was, in most regards, an ordinary man.
The women passed by in droves. It might be said, if it didn’t sound too ironically cliché, that there were as many of them as there were fish in the sea. They passed by using various means to do so. Some were swimming, some were in little boats not much different than the man’s, some were lounging on those little, inflatable rafts, and some were in large groups together on big ships. Some passed by quickly on jet-skis, while others passed by lazily on inner-tubes. Some passed by noisily on power-boats, while others passed by silently on sail-boats. They passed by using just about any means you could imagine. Most of them also greeted the man in a friendly enough manner, but few gave him any real notice.
Now occasionally, and I mean once in a great long while, a woman passing by would take a second glance at the man in the leaky boat. They might strike up a conversation. They may even have found themselves sharing a meal of fish together. These were generally women who could be categorized as unfortunate at best. They were the types whose boat had recently sunk and now they were just bobbing along in a life jacket. Or perhaps circumstances had left them merely clinging to a piece of driftwood and floating along with the current. If you think about it, it should not be surprising that if any women were to take notice of an ordinary man in a leaky boat, these would be the types of women who would do so.
Often the man would think about inviting them into his boat, but he never did. He would think to himself (he spent a lot of time thinking to himself) if I do invite them onboard, and then later I don’t want them onboard anymore, it will be very hard to put them back into the water again. You may not agree or approve of his reasoning on this matter, but keep in mind the man did this not only to avoid confrontation, but also with the best interests of the women in mind too. That’s what he told himself anyway.
So one day the ordinary man in the leaky boat crossed paths with a woman. She had been living on a boat with her friends, but that boat had sunk (as boats shared by friends are prone to doing) and now she found herself living on her mom’s boat. This is a very common occurrence in this world. The man had a change in his thinking and the woman climbed into the man’s boat. They got along swimmingly, excuse the pun.
After a period of time and after more thinking the man grew concerned about the future. He knew the woman liked living on his boat and he liked having the woman living on his boat, yet he knew he would never own a bigger or more secure boat than this one. He knew that the woman wanted a child (as most ordinary women do, and while he couldn’t say she was ordinary, at least in this respect she was). The problem was having a child on such a small and modest boat would be difficult. He also knew that life on a small, leaky boat seems very cozy and pleasant during tranquil periods, but when a storm hits life on a small, leaky boat becomes very hard and trying.
And so he told her all of these things. She heard him out and said she could live like this. She said she could help bail out the boat, even suggesting perhaps she could bail the boat out better than the man could himself. And so the deal was struck.
They had a child, a boy. He was...different...and he spent a lot of time careening around the boat. Often his antics would threaten to capsize the boat. Sometimes the boy would pitch himself right into the water and the man would have to dive in after him.
The boy was constantly getting himself into a myriad of creative predicaments.
For example, from time to time the boy would go and get himself all tangled up in one of the fishing nets. Panic would set in and the boy's howls would carry for miles over the open water. The boy's face, sweaty and red-as-a-beet from his hysteria, would press outward against the netting. His fingers would poke through the holes in the net and he would thrash with the desperation of a hooked swordfish. This, of course, would cause him to become only more entangled.
Have you ever tried to untangle a thrashing, hysterical child from fishing net? That's a silly question - I imagine more than likely you have not. Well let's just say it is not easy to do and it takes quite some time to do so.
Needless to say extricating his son from his various predicaments would often make the man angry, especially if said extrication had interrupted the man from doing something important; like fishing, fixing a leak in the boat, or preparing the boat for an impending storm.
And storms did indeed hit, and during these times life on the leaky boat did become very hard. When the woman complained that her arms were tired from bailing, the man was not above telling her, “I told you so.” The woman soon discovered the man could really get under her skin, especially when he said things like "I told you so" right in the middle of tumultuous storms.
Deep down however, and despite everything he might say, the man was happy. He had a good memory and he remembered how lonely he was before the woman and boy came on board. It was just that he sometimes seemed to be unhappy because he spent a lot of time worrying about how to keep them all afloat. In fact, he spent most of time thinking about keeping them afloat, perhaps too much time, or at least more time than was required of him to do so.
The man spent a lot of time thinking about how other people managed to stay afloat. He saw a lot of people that were having a great deal of difficulty staying afloat. He saw a lot of people who weren’t having any trouble staying afloat. He knew that there were lots of hard feelings and judgment going back and forth between these two groups.
The man could see and understand where both sides were coming from. He knew, for instance, that many of the people on the yachts had worked very hard to get on those nice boats. He knew many of those people had started out adrift with nothing, and that they feared nothing more than being stuck adrift in the middle of the ocean again. He knew that many of the “yacht people” believed the people adrift were adrift because they were lazy or stupid or didn’t plan ahead. The man in the leaky boat even knew this was true, in some cases.
The man knew, and knew for a fact, that this wasn’t true in other cases. He had met hundreds of people who were adrift and quite a few of them were hard working and capable folks. A lot of the time something beyond their control, such as a huge storm hitting them, had swamped their boats and left them destitute. Or, perhaps, they had had all of their belongings plundered by passing pirates. There were quite a few pirates in this world, which I guess probably doesn't come as a surprise to you. Is there a world that doesn't have pirates in them? That I'd like to know.
Anyway, the people adrift resented the yacht people who sailed by and wouldn’t give them anything. The “yacht people” sometimes said to the people adrift, “If I give you a fish it will feed you for a day, but you will never learn to fish for yourself!” This maddened the people adrift because, many times, they were expert fisherman, but they simply had lost their rods and nets for whatever reason. Sometimes the ordinary man in the leaky boat couldn’t understand how the “yacht people” could hoard so much and share so little with the people adrift, many of whom were having a great deal of difficulty keeping their heads above water.
It was the woman in the leaky boat who changed his way of thinking. One day she gave his spare fishing pole away and that left him with only one rod. He was incensed. He said to her, “How could you do that? We are not yacht people! We can’t afford to give away our back-up fishing rod. What if I drop my fishing pole into the water? Then we will be left without a pole.”
She answered, “You know, you are always complaining about the cold-hearted 'yacht people' and their stinginess. Well, we still have our good fishing pole left, not to mention our lobster traps and fishing net. Plus we have tackle, bait, dried fish galore, an out-board motor, a boat that barely leaks anymore, and many containers to bail it out with when it does. We even have three life preservers, if need be. Now let me ask you this - Don't you think we look like 'yacht people' in the eyes of the starving man to whom I gave our spare fishing pole?"
The man saw her point and from that moment on he tried to withhold ill thoughts toward the "yacht people" while trying to help as many people adrift as he could.
So if you happen to be a person adrift and you are trying hard to stay afloat, or perhaps you have lost your means of catching fish - and you happen to cross paths with an ordinary man, a soft-hearted woman, and a careening boy in a leaky boat, don’t be afraid to greet them and ask them for some help. The man will most certainly give you some fish or bait. Better yet, if you ask the soft-hearted woman for some help while the ordinary man’s back is turned, she‘ll probably give you their back-up fishing pole.
Good fishing to you.
It is often the tradition to end stories such as this with a moral for the reader. I, the teller of this tale, do not claim to possess to the sagacity to impart such an ending. But in appreciation of the fact that you have patiently listened to my rather long-winded story, I will share this instead. It the closest thing I could come up with to serve as a moral. It is a snippet of conversation I overheard, just the other day, between the ordinary man and the soft-hearted woman.
He said, "I don't think there is anything more sorry and pitiful in this world as when the poor share their meager possessions with each other."
She replied, "That's funny because don't I think there is anything more beautiful than that."
Two more author asides. First, just the other day, my now ex-wife was talking to me about all of the charities she is donating too (they are quite numerous). I told her that I hoped she was also socking some of her money away. She said she was, but she also said, “I’ve never suffered from giving.” I didn’t understand her, so asked what she meant. She said that she meant that nothing bad has ever happened to her from being so free in donating her time, energy, and money to the causes she believes in.
“I’ve never suffered from giving.” Sounds like something Jesus would say, right?
The second aside is that in this story the metaphorical back-up fishing pole that my wife gave away was, in actuality, a car. Years ago when she bought a new car (which was, of course, a used car) she gave her old car to a friend who was struggling. I did not get mad at her, even though “I” did in the story. I was always proud of her generosity.