As you drive east on Highway 192 in Florida, you reach the Melbourne Causeway that goes up and over the Indian river. If you turn right at the first light you will be on Riverside Drive, cruising past beautifully landscaped homes, beautiful homes that seem like they are from a magazine, on a street lined with mature trees. After half a mile or so the road turns east again. There you’ll find a public park and a huge pier jutting out into the river.
I’m not sure what they really build these piers for, but to a casual observer like myself, it seems like they build them so people can fish. It’s all I saw them used for. Out at the end of the pier there are cutting boards slanted toward the water so you can clean your fish and wash the remnants back into the river. Doesn’t that sound like a place built for fishing to you?
As we walked out (I was accompanied by my wonderful guide Roxanne) I noticed a very well dressed man standing on the pier. He was mid 40-ish, small and fit, and was wearing designer jeans and a Ralph Loren shirt. He had on casual loafers and looked like an executive that had come from the office on casual Friday to me. I was very surprised to see he was there fishing.
He picked up his pole and started reeling in his line, and I thought to myself, “this is the best dressed fisherman I’ve ever seen”. I stopped next to him as he took the shrimp bait off of his hook and tossed it into the river. “The only time I see a fish when I’m fishing”, I said, “is when they come eat the bait after I throw it in”. And I looked over the railing to the shrimp sinking into the depths of the river.
Maurice stopped what he was doing and looked over the edge and together we stood watching the shrimp sink into the blackness. No fish came to eat the offering, not even now. But my one line seemed to flip some switch within this man, because Maurice started talking. I mean, he really started talking!
It was like I had broken the dam. The words just flooded out, story after story running into each other in a rush. Maybe he was afraid to pause for fear that he might lose his audience? Maybe this was a man who simply loved to talk.
It would be hard to tell you just one of the stories now, because they all flowed together – he spoke of building test boards for electrical engineers for a living, his father serving in Viet Nam, his family being from Canada, and a story about his father training Vietnamese soldiers to fly drone planes…
To be honest after a while it was hard to listen, hard to keep track of all the pronouns. I began to wonder which “he” Maurice was referring to as he spoke.. At times it all flowed out of him in awkward angles, things not quite ringing true, more emotion spilling out than really felt comfortable…
I’m not shy, I know how to end a conversation…but something in me didn’t want to end this one. He would pause for a breath, I would restate the last thing I heard him say as a way to show him I was listening, trying to understand, and off he’d go again. The thing that finally stopped him is when I told him I needed to take his photo for the blog. That brought all conversation to a halt fast!
I only spoke with him for 20 minutes or so. Hard to know a man in that time, I guess I tend to take experiences like that and look at them through the lens of my life experience. This conversation left me thinking about times in my life when I’ve needed to talk to someone, when my words came spilling out in a tumble, when I felt so alone that someone reaching out to me made me cry a little when I talked…
Which led me to reflect on the world.
I have a friend that in the excitement of the first day of high school said “you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a pretty girl”. We live in a world where you can’t swing much of anything without hitting a fellow human being. They are everywhere! We smash onto public transportation, clearly standing inside personal boundaries of fellow travelers, and yet we can feel so isolated. So alone.
I hope Maurice doesn’t feel alone, hope he feels important. I hope he has great friends that will listen and validate and support him. However I’m pretty sure there’s someone in the world that does feel alone – if only temporarily. I would love to think that I, or one of my growing number of readers, will be the one to reach out to them and listen.