Do you love big bluegill?
Kyle VerMaas with a monster hybrid sunfish, and a pretty girl on each arm.
I was on the 25-minute ride home from Branched Oak Lake, and I was miserable beyond words. My battle with a big walleye had ended badly. An inexplicable unbuttoning that left me tearful and maybe even a little bitter. To make matters worse, I saw the fish just long enough to know it would have been the best fish of my life. I even recall thinking that maybe I'd just never fish again. Hang up the rod and reel for good.
Now keep in mind...this kind of thing is hard to admit...but I remember asking God for assistance during the fight. "Please God, oh please, oh please, oh please. Don't let him come off. Please help me not lose this fish"! But now on the ride home, not only was I forced to deal with the loss of the fish, I was forced to analyze why perhaps God just didn't like me. How many sins could this 13-year-old have committed that God would just flat out deny him the chance to land and hold such an awesome walleye?
Fast forward thirty-six years.
19-year-old Kyle VerMaas fishes in my back yard. He loves to fish and hunt, but to Kyle fishing and hunting is part of a much larger social process. He's with friends, and stories are being told. The laughter is really loud. Loud enough to reach 100 yards up a steep embankment to my patio. I'm grinning a little bit because I know the ornery Mr. VerMaas is trustworthy. I trust him with my daughter, and I trust him with my property. Why? Because in the past, when I've asked my daughter about him, I can sense that SHE trusts him. If you're not a Daddy, you may not fully understand this. But if he's good by her, then he's good by me. The still fall air flattens the sound waves to the ground, and I can tell there are fish being caught. I'm completely and utterly at peace. Like no other time in my life.
Now, allow me please to return to 1977.
An analysis of that day's events make it relatively easy to understand the pain I felt so deeply. I was a young kid who dreamed of fishing almost constantly. The Condello blood line spanned back decades--maybe even centuries, from the Jersey Shore and across the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. People who lived near the water, and often had to derive their sustinence from it's depths. I've seen pictures of my Grandfather posing with giant tuna. I have something in my archetype that tells me fishing goes back generations. People who fish do so beacause they were born to. I'm one of those people until I die, whenever that may be. But my unsophisticated and mostly undeveloped brain had no choice but to break things down into base components. Go fishing. Hook fish. Beg God. Lose fish. This fish would have been a great opportunity to grow some little button antlers. A really good firepit story to give me a little cred with the rest of the tribe. But I was robbed--and it hurt badly.
Since that day in 1977 I've said tens of thousands of prayers. Sometimes they've been answered, and other times they haven't. I've praised God for answering some, and I've doubted his existence when others went unheard. Again, it's hard to type the words "doubted God's existence". I've even wondered if God would punish me for admitting my doubt. To be honest I don't know. Maybe I've been punished and don't know it. Many things have happened in my life both good and bad. Punishments some? I may never know.
I've never seen a wormhole, but I've been told they exist, so this writing exercise requires a cosmic ride back to 2014. I'm blubbering like an idiot in my pickup outside of church. My friend, and my daughter's VERY good friend Kyle VerMaas has passed away. He's lying just inside those doors as hundreds of crying adults, and dozens of bewildered classmates gather for a painful goodbye. 20-year-old Kyle VerMaas has succumbed to an unexplained and unidentified virus. Kyle has been taken away from us by a GODDAM virus! Really?
So I'm sitting there in my pickup, and I see their pain, and I'm not sure I'll be able to go inside because I hurt so much. And I see those kids and they're hurting even more. And I know Kyle's Mom and Dad and Grandparents, and Uncles and Aunts and Cousins and Brother are hurting a whole extra level more. And I know they prayed to God for Kyle to live a long and healthy life--and the prayer didn't get answered.
And I say to myself, "God? Do you really exist? 'Cause I really don't get this".
Then a really amazing thing happened.
I experienced what I've often thought of as a mental "cascade". A mental cascade is when your mind drifts and segueways from one event and idea and person to another in a sometimes not so random way. Surely everyone reading this has experienced this. You're thinking about going to buy groceries, so you think about the store, then the store makes you think about the neigborhood, which makes you think about a neighbor, which makes you think about that funny hat your old neighbor used to wear. And you say to yourself, "Why the hell am I thinking about my neighbor's hat"?
My cascade went a little like this.
I'm terrified and angry about Kyle's passing.
I remember feeling this same way, and I remember crying about my Uncle Vinnie's passing.
I remember that day with Uncle Vinnie and my Dad and my cousin Mark in the boat that day that I lost that walleye.
But here's where it got weird.
The day that I lost that walleye wasn't painful anymore. It was actually perhaps the most perfect moment of my life. I remember that it was a day that was at least 80 degrees in early April. The water was calm. I was on my Dad's old boat. I had a bologna sandwich with mustard. My Uncle was right there where I could hug him and see him. I was fishing. The water in Branched Oak was clearer and deeper in the 1970's. This day wasn't painful anymore. It was the best day of my life. And then I finally figured it out...
My brain really isn't any more sophisticated or mature than it was back then. I still want to look at things how they ended. I want to mourn the tragic ending, instead of celebrating the beautiful unfolding and flowering of the event in it's entirety. It wasn't the fishing trip and the lost walleye I was thinking of any more. It was Kyle's life.
And then I felt that same serenity I felt the night I heard Kyle and my daughter and their friends giggling and laughing and catching giant sunfish on my dock. Perfect peace.
I guess God really does exist. Thank you, Kyle VerMaas.