If We Just Smile at Each Other

This story about a hot summer day in the park with my husband (who died in October) was first published on July 7, 2018. I’m glad I found it again because it is a lovely memory and a great lesson all in one.

We are in  the midst of a sweltering heat wave. It is the morning of the 4th of July, and my husband wants to “get out.” I want to stay in! Stress from family relationships, angst over the political  atmosphere in America, and the comfort of our concrete-walled apartment (no air conditioning needed though it has been in the 90’s for a week) all contribute to my lethargy.

The Holy Spirit blesses me with feelings of compassion and mercy, so we head out to our favorite park in downtown Holland on the shores of Lake Macatawa. As expected, the parking lot is already full. The park is dotted with blankets, lawn chairs, and coolers on picnic tables. Dozens of families have already gathered in the shade of leafy trees. Most of them will stay all day in anticipation of the afternoon entertainment and the evening fireworks.

I quickly grab one of the two remaining handicapped parking spots right by the boardwalk with full view of the lake – and gratefully hang the handicapped parking tag. We debate staying in the car out of the heat.  I spot a bench on the board walk so we decide to brave it. Immediately I notice five or six fishing poles stretched along the railing, carefully watched by three or four Asian fishermen.  Suddenly a pole in front of us bends. Artfully, one man reels in the fish and positions it in front of the net where it is netted by another man – a feat of precision and grace. Suddenly a plump, foot-long fish is swinging over the rail and released from the hook. One of the men looks up, a big grin on his face. My husband, an accomplished fisherman, smiles back.

I’m not one to start conversations with strangers, but now the fisherman is smiling at me, so I ask, “What kind of fish is that?” He excitedly answers, “It’s a fresh water trout!” That means this trout has traveled from Lake Michigan through a channel into Lake Macatawa right into his net. As we are talking, a white man comes up hand-in-hand with a young black boy. He asks, “What kind of fish is that?”  An older couple walking on the board walk stop to look. A man with a sun-burn  joins them and revels in the catch.

The fisherman places the fish in a large cooler. When he looks up, I ask, “How many have you caught?”  He grins triumphantly. “At least 20.” Now the man with the little boy is back with his African-American wife and an older black woman, perhaps his mother-in-law. He asks if the boy may see the fish again. The fisherman smiles. “Sure,” he says. The cooler is opened and the fish brought out. The father then asks if he can take a picture of the boy with the fisherman and the fish.  When that is accomplished, each family member is posed (the older woman, reluctantly) with the fisherman and the fish.  Fred and I watch in amazement.

Soon a group of friends (two black and one white) sit on the bench next to us. I smile at them. One of the black men asks me, “What kind of fish are they catching?” I tell him. He shares a story of watching some people from Chicago pulling fish right and left out of that same spot earlier in the day.

Within minutes, another fish pulls on the second line, and the process is repeated. Then another pole about 20 feet away needs attention. A crowd of spectators gathers there. The man with the net runs down the boardwalk and is met by an Asian woman who grabs the fishing pole. (It dawns on me that all these poles are “manned” by a family.) The fish is reeled in, the net is carefully placed, and a third fish is captured. All in less than ten minutes.

Observing the scene, I marvel over the fact that young and old, black, brown, and white complete strangers are bonding on the 4th of July over lake trout! I turn to my African-American husband and say, “See, we all can get along if we just smile at each other!”  He smiles.

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2 Responses to If We Just Smile at Each Other

  1. Simon says:

    Loved the story the first time. Loved it even more this time with all the Covid lockdown measures in place that stop us from interacting with each other. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks! I saw it differently years later, too. Especially the calm acceptance and friendly interaction between people of different races. Maybe there is a reason Jesus picked fishermen to be disciples. Of course, Peter did have a bad experience when it came time to form the church, but at least he saw the error of his ways.

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