Charmed by Love: The Passing of the Rod

Small moments build joyful rebels

Photo courtesy of Capt. Tony Lombardi

Photo courtesy of Capt. Tony Lombardi

I count myself very lucky to sometimes see a magic moment in a child’s life. Automatically, I begin to put that into words; to explain what had occurred – because magic doesn’t just happen. We can choose our actions to create the medium for these moments to happen for our children.

This particular one happened during a vacation with my husband to the Outer Banks. On vacations, I’ve found, the serendipitous moments are often the memorable ones. Just like with parenting, it’s not just the planned adventures that change the world for children. So often, it’s the everyday moments.

We’ve had a series of rainy vacations – and this trip was not an exception. But one dark night, the rain stopped long enough for us to take a walk under the cloud-laden sky. Would it be a journey straight out into the dark ocean on the fishing pier? Or a walk along the beach? A random choice; we as much as flipped a coin, and as a result were witnesses to a moment that a little boy will never forget.

There’s nothing quite like a fishing pier at night, the surf pounding rhythmically, the moon shining her light on the ocean.  This island of light harbors a certain unique combination of the privacy of each small cluster of people and a sense of undeclared community between them.

At the very end of the long pier was a group of family and friends. What began to unfold was so rich with parenting magic that I can still feel it two years later.

Two boys, brothers, it seemed, stood together along the railing. The older boy, about ten years old held a fishing rod. Then, that moment that he no doubt cherished – something strongly tugged on his line, and he knew he had something big.

“You take this one,” he said easily to his 8-year-old brother, carefully handing him the rod, bending under the weight of its invisible prize.

What generosity, to so naturally give this opportunity to his little brother!

He stayed with his brother then, but kept a small distance. The adults all continued what they were doing, but kept watch. Against the dark sky, the little boy reeled the line in, pulled upward; reeled it in some more and pulled.

Occasionally, muffled a bit by the waves, but somehow uniquely audible by virtue of the world of the fishing pier, we could hear the older boy say to his brother, “That’s good” – but neither he nor any of the adults moved in to micromanage or take over.

Quietly, nearby fishermen moved their lines out of the way as the little boy followed his fish – according to him the identical courtesy they would any other fisherman.  “Your pursuits count,” they seemed to say. “You have our respect.”

The pole arched, the line continued to go out. And the adults watched in silence the boy and his catch.

From her seat across the pier, his mom, barely looking up from her conversation with a friend, guided him quietly, saying only, “Listen to Mr. Davis.”

Mr. Davis, who, like the rest, watched from a distance, appeared with a net, while another man assisted by pulling in the line hand over hand; but still, the boy was in charge of his catch. Ultimately the fish was netted – revealing to the boy and to everyone involved a sobering 4-foot shark!

“Now, kids, stand back,” Mr. Davis said. Quiet, protective, with no doubt about being heeded, and soon followed by a slight nod. “That’s far enough,” we could hear him say through the sound of the waves, his succinct reassurance that they would now be safe and needn’t withdraw any further.

Now the team that had unobtrusively emerged from the other men who were fishing organized to remove the hook so the shark could be released. The older boy competently obtained the pliers. Mr. Davis held the shark still as the boy worked to remove the hook. Hardly a word was exchanged, and any that were seemed to echo quietly in the sound-fog of the pier. The boy had this one, it was understood and respected.

Unable to remove the hook after a time, he responsibly handed the pliers to Mr. Davis, all adjusted their positions, and after some work and with quietly understated reassurance to the boys — “We’ll get it,” and “Yes, he’ll be all right” – he succeeded.

The younger boy was called over to have his photo taken with Mr. Davis standing behind him, the two together holding the shark. It was done rapidly, yet without pressure, and then Mr. Davis gently launched the shark back into the safety of the ocean.

As we walked back, I heard another boy speaking softly to a little one who was upset by the blood he had seen. Gently, he explained, “Every animal will bleed if it is cut.”

What happened on the pier that night was so much more than fishing. It was bonding, rites of passage, mentoring, big brothership, boundaries, teaching, guiding – it was pure love, tinted with the deep hue of respect. Respect not based on power or authority; rather it was respect inherently deserved by virtue of being a person, whether younger or older, and automatically given on principle — a powerful way of being.

Mirror, anchor, mentor – all were present. The response of the adults and of his older brother reflected to the younger boy that he was competent and trusted. The invisible monitoring by both the adults and his older brother, their inofficiously stepping in when needed, their reassurances – all of these anchored him in security. And look what he learned on the pier that night, lessons conveyed largely without words – about relationships, about how to be a separate and responsible person; about trusting and be trusted; how to handle the hook and the release; how to pay homage to the natural world –

There are no accidents. This is how joyful rebels – both boys and girls — are built.