It’s all what you make of it

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John with a beautiful smallmouth bass.

“Can you get me an appointment with the doctor? Like, as soon as possible.”

I hate going to the doctor and will often go to great lengths to avoid it. My wife Kristal must have known it was potentially serious. Or maybe she heard the worry in my voice.

“Sure, but what’s wrong?” she asked.

“It’s my right eye. Sometimes it twitches and I can’t get it to stop. It’s kind of annoying,” I added, trying to downplay it.

A couple of days later, the doctor was shining a light in my eye, instructing me to follow the movement of his finger. “Do you get headaches?” he asked.

“Yes, a couple of times a week, on average.”

“Dizzy spells?”

“Yes, infrequently, but I get them.”

“Trouble sleeping?”


He poked and prodded a little longer and said: “I can’t see anything obviously wrong. We need to get you an MRI. They’re booked up, so it may take a month or so to get you in. In the meantime, I’ll prescribe you some medication to control the twitching. It’s a low grade of what they use to treat epilepsy.”

“Ok,” I said, feeling like I didn’t have much choice.

I took the medication for a few days, and it stopped the twitching. But something wasn’t right. I had a hard time concentrating. My peripheral vision grew cloudy. And get this: my headaches, dizziness and trouble sleeping got worse. “I might not live long enough to get the MRI,” I thought to myself.

On a whim, I read the box the medication came in. Under potential side effects, it listed: headaches, dizziness and insomnia. WHAT?! My doctor prescribed medication that exacerbated the very symptoms I complained of!? I threw the remaining pills away.

You can see why I don’t like going to the doctor, but that’s not the point of this story.

Several weeks later, with no reoccurrence of the twitching, I was back in the doctor’s office to get the results of the MRI. “Negative,” he said. “It doesn’t show anything unusual. And your eye hasn’t been twitching?”

“Nope.” I didn’t mention my trouble with the medication, and he didn’t ask.

“Must be caused by stress. You need to find a way to reduce it in your life.”

“Ha ha ha ha.” I laughed heartily, and long enough that I’m sure the doctor wondered if he should order a second MRI. This was 20 years ago, at the height of my practice as a land use lawyer. I was routinely handling as many as 30 cases a month. Cases that, collectively, were worth many millions of dollars to my clients. Reducing stress seemed, well, laughable.

“No, really,” he said. “You need to find something that you enjoy doing that lets you slow down and relax, even if it’s only once in a while.”

“Ok, doc. I’ll try. Thanks for your help.”

Eventually, gradually, I made fishing my thing. But fishing, in and of itself, does not necessarily relieve stress. At least not for me. Stuff happens. Bad weather. Snags. Equipment malfunctions. Expensive “sure thing” lures that don’t work. Hours on end when the fish just won’t bite, no matter what you try. Simultaneous hours when your buddy nevertheless catches one on nearly every cast.

If you’re not careful, these things can sap the fun out of fishing. It can be frustrating. And, yes, stressful. Even I’m smart enough to know that doing something stressful isn’t a good recipe for reducing stress.

Don’t get me wrong. The goal is always to catch fish. But over time, mostly subconsciously, I have learned to appreciate the experience of fishing and to take advantage of the things it has to offer, even when the fish don’t cooperate.

Like sunsets. Especially when you can share them with someone special. I got just such an opportunity last summer when my friend John and I set out to fish a known hot spot. We started around 4 p.m. and planned to fish our way back to the dock, arriving just as it got dark.

In the summer, fishing the evening/dusk hours is often a good plan, and it worked well. For John. In the span of about four hours, he must have caught 30 fish, including two smallmouth bass that exceeded four pounds. Everything he tried worked. John’s a good friend and to this day, I think he tried things he thought wouldn’t work, just to make me feel better.

Meanwhile, I couldn’t coax even the lightest bite. Not even when I matched what he was doing exactly. I began muttering to myself, wondering what I had done to deserve such treatment from the fishing gods. Cast after meaningless cast. “At least it will be over soon,” I thought as I looked over my shoulder at the horizon.

But then, I took a second to actually see the sunset. An explosion of orange over the tree line, sending redish-pink rays into the clouds above and yellow streaks across the waves below.

“Hey John, look at that. Isn’t it beautiful? I only wish I had a fish to share it with.”

Whack! It was as if the gods had heard me. I felt a sharp tug on my line. Instinctively, I reared back and set the hook. Fish on! It made a quick but feisty run before I got it turned around.

“John, get the net. It’s a pickerel. Just a small one, but I want to land him carefully so he has some energy left to share the sunset with us.”

“You’re nuts,” John laughed, but he netted the fish for me.

Mark and a pickerel share the sunset.

I carefully, but firmly (pickerel are especially slimy), grasped the fish around the belly and held him up so he could see. His mouth opened slowly as he awed at the sight of what was, I’m sure, his first sunset. There was no squirming, no thrashing of the head. The pickerel and I just silently enjoyed the moment together.

I solemnly released the fish, looked at John and smiled.

And that is the point of the story: Fishing, like life, is all what you make of it.