Chum

Chum

by Jeffrey Brooks

The young fisherman stood on the deck of the boat and watched his home island recede into the ocean, sink down over the horizon, and vanish.

The wind moved their boat fast across the open water. Soon the time would come to cast their net over rail and into the sea. Down below the fish were swimming. All the men aboard the boat had seen the fish swimming together and eating each other as they swam in the coral at the edge of their islands.

Some fish gave up their lives so the other fish could live.

The fish these men would catch today would give their lives so the people at home could live. His father and grandfather and generations of fishermen since the beginning of time had risked their lives and sacrificed their lives so the people on the islands could live.

They couldn’t grow rice or potatoes in the sandy islands in this part of the sea. They couldn’t graze flocks of sheep or goats like they could in other places. Everyone at home depended on the catch these fishermen would bring back.

Sometimes storms would come. Sometimes the fish wouldn’t be there. You never knew, when you ventured out, what you would encounter.

Sometimes pirates would sail up and try to take the crew to sell as slaves, and take the fish for their own food, and take the boat to use for themselves. They would come on board with blades and hooks and you would have to be ready to kill them. The fishermen had blades and poles and hooks on board too, for fishing. They could be used against the thieves. But you had to know how to do it. You had to practice. Your life depended on it. The lives of all the people you have ever known depended on your safe return with a hold full of fish for them. And your loved ones would be unhappy if you disappeared at sea.

If the pirates did not come, if the typhoons didn’t blow, if the fish were running where they should be, then all would be well.

The young fisherman sat on the deck running the net through his hands. He looked for tears. The net had to be repaired every time they used it. And then cleaned and hung to dry at night. A little tear could become a big tear and the catch could be lost. A net left wet and dirty on the deck at night would be eaten by rats. If the net was sound then the weights and floats could be set just right to hold the net in position as it flew through the air and drew through the water.

The net was woven from cords made by hand from plants that grew on the island. The fibers were pulled from the stems of these plants. The fibers were twisted together to form strings. The strings were wound to form cords. The cords were braided to form ropes. The ropes were tied in intricate patterns of special knots at regular intervals to form the nets.

The young fisherman on the deck found a tear in the net. He pulled the frayed ends together and cut them clean. He spliced new cords to it.  Using his spike and needle he pulled the ends and wove the net quickly, evenly, with no billows or puckers or breaks. Just like he learned to do, on the beach back home, when he was a boy, when the old fisherman back from weeks on the water, unloaded the frayed nets on the beach for repairs at the end of the season.

When his father showed him exactly how to do it.

When his father told him “Do it well at first. You’ll do it fast soon enough.”

Now he did it fast. And soon enough it was done.

Together the crew wet down the net to soften the ropes, and spread it out on the deck. Together they lifted it up above the rail and one by one in rapid succession threw the net onto the pulsing sea, drops of water flying off each knot as the net flew through the air, in each drop a glimpse of the sunlight, and the boat, a small piece of the sea, in the air, flying up and then down, returning to the sea, mirrors of the weathered faces of these men, their ship, and the sky falling into the water with the net, and vanishing, only the six long lines leading from the boat to the surface of the opaque water hinting at what was below, where the net might be, and the droplets, like the moment, gone for good.

Each moment in our lives reflects all the connections we have to other people. If those connections are torn we can repair them. If there is a great tear then we can take time and work hard to fix the whole thing. If we ignore the small tears they become big tears. If we neglect this work then our whole connection to the rest of the world will be consumed.

Now there are many people tearing at our relationships with the people around us: indicting races, consigning nations to hell, substituting things for families.

If, in the olden days, the fishing nets were lost at sea, then the islanders were lost too. Now when our neighbors, our friends or our family members do not please us, we cannot afford to turn our backs on them.

Our only choice is to understand them, restrain them from evil as skillfully and vigorously as necessary, persuade them when we can, loving them when possible, and little by little, with courage and kindness, repairing the torn net we haul in at the end of each day.

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