Gain by Giving

I grip the cork handle of the fishing rod.

There truly is nothing like the feeling. The fly rod, long and lightweight, feels nothing like a reel rod which is shorter but heavier.

Fly fishing requires flexible wrists. Of the two types of fishing—fly and reel—fly fishing is the more subtle sport. It is a more active recreation. Your eyes must follow the fly through the current of the river. In order to set the hook, vigilance is everything.

For me, fly fishing is more meditative than reel fishing. My mind rests better when the body has something to focus on or move with. I’m not a legs folded, hands open meditator. I’m a pickup basketball meditator. My Nirvana then would include a steady stream of sustainable actions to bring the hive of my mind’s energy down to a blissful level. This explains why I prefer to fish streams than lakes, using fly rods rather than reel rods.

There is truly nothing like the feel of the cork handle.

I let some neon green leader out and prop my wrist for my first cast. It is Wednesday morning. I am fortunate to have a rod in my hand, I remind myself.  It’s all in the wrist. I let go of the line and successfully land the hook past my desk. I show my literature students how it’s done and invite them to give it a try.

I am not on the river.

But I am fishing.

I have not fished on the river in five years. It is no coincidence that the five years that have passed since I fished on the river is the same age my son will be this November. There’s just no time for fishing trips anymore.

In fact, it’s been so long since I’ve fished the river that I stopped bringing my rod home. I leave it in class, so each year, when my students are reading The Nick Adams Stories by Ernest Hemingway, I have the rod there to show them. And after we finish the epic short story, “Big Two-Hearted River,” I give them the chance to feel and flick the fly rod.

A few students are up to my challenge of landing the hook—an old set of keys tied to the end of the leader—past my desk for bonus credit.

For most of them, the real gift, in my opinion, is holding the rod and getting to feel it. While many have reel casted before, not one of them has ever been fly fishing before.

I get to give them the gift of experience. And if sacrificing one fishing trip provides fifty teenage boys the gift of the experience, isn’t the tradeoff worth it?


A younger me instructing the class on proper form.

I try to keep this in mind when my children are having a bad day.

At least once a week, after a night of dueling tantrums or a weekend fussing contest, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture of parenting. The same way my selfishness questions whether it is better to fish or show others how to fish, it also questions the tradeoffs of parenthood. It makes me wonder, What did I do with all that free time before I had kids? A less helpful thought often follows, What I wouldn’t give for some of that free time right now.

But, the truth is, the tradeoff is worth it. Just like it’s worth it to teach fifty to fly fish if it means I can’t fish as frequently, I have experienced the sheer joy of parenthood.

The first time we took our son to the theater provides me with a good example. We watched Finding Dory—I wrote about the experience 16 months ago. I didn’t follow the movie well because I was too busy watching my son watch the movie. Movies and drama and books are his thing. I was more entertained by his reactions to the big screen than I was the big screen itself.

Similarly, this summer I taught him how to ride his bike. It took a week and two dozen band aids to accomplish. I could have rode my bike half away across the country at a leisurely pace if I had that sort of time to myself. But pushing him that last time and watching him bike his way down the path on his own was a superior feeling to the feelings I experience alone.

We keep more of what we pass on than we can ever hoard for ourselves.

Look no further than recovery for a good example.

I’m approaching, God willing I get there, ten years without a drink or drug. For someone who suffers from addiction and alcoholism, this is baffling. A day without succumbing to the disease is a miracle. But ten years? God and the universe and my higher power and the collective conscious and Yahweh and Jesus and Buddha and Mohammed and Krishna must have joined forces for that one.

I’ve discovered in this journey that the recovery cliche is true: you’ve got to give it away in order to keep it.

What’s more, I no longer am baffled when I stay clean and sober for one day. My tolerance of miracles has expanded. The true miracle of my recovery today is watching other people stay sober. People I work with through steps, sure, but I mean anybody. I experience a pure joy watching others no longer suffer. The feeling is more immense than the joy I garner for my own sobriety. I’m convinced.

Passing it on feels like building on top of the foundation of joy that others have laid down for me.

A paradox arises in our experience.

We don’t lose possession of our donations. They grow in depth and weight. They multiply in the invisible expanse of our soul.

The proof is in the experience. The wealthy soul—the one with stories of kindness, generosity, forgiveness, understanding, tolerance—experiences jubilation, true joy, or—one might argue—heaven.


18 Responses to “Gain by Giving

  • I’d just like to anonymously like this x3. As always, I enjoy reading your authentic voice. Thanks!

    PS annoying that I have to fill out so much personal detail to leave a positive comment.

    • Hi Christine!

      Eek. I’m afraid I should warn that your name (full name is published). I can delete your comment if you like!

      Also, I’m afraid techy things are not my strong suit. I wouldn’t know how to set up the “like” system on the website without the whole thing crashing. But, most of all, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your comment and your support.

      I’m also mortified by errors. I hope you have a good array of choices in front of you for recovery. If you every need any particular guidance, I’d be happy to help. Just email me at Mark dot Goodson at Mark Goodson dot Com

  • Very excited about your 10 year celebration and honored to be included!

    • HD!

      I’m so honored that you can make it. I can’t tell you how much that means to me. We’re grabbing dinner early at the bus boys and poets at 7 if you can make it! It’d be great to have you there as well. I’ll be there with my wife and whoever else shows up.

  • PS. You can delete the “just” in the first sentence and replace with: “I’d appreciate commenting anonymously and have the option of hitting a “like” button.”

    [I find myself mortified by my writing errors. More so on a writer’s blog! Soooo, I’d request a simple “like” button, if you may! And a fancy button that says: “Please edit” or “Excuse my grammatical errors!” :-)]

    Addressing personal recovery options at the moment. Not much for single moms by choice (SMBC.) Recovery is harder for SMBC. Less support out there.

    Suggest you include some links at the bottom of your blogs listing resources.

    Thank you. Christine.

  • And big congrats on 10 years. You are a hidden treasure.

  • Nice piece, Mark. I love your wisdom about teaching, and the gifts of giving it away. As you suggest, teaching and fishing share so much in common. I can tell by that photo of you with the fly rod (Love it!) and your description of showing your son how to ride that you are called to teach. You are in the right place. As a side note, soon you can get your son a rod and show him the ropes, that way you’ll have an excuse to get out on the river! 🙂 Keep on shining!

    • My fellow Hemingway progeny! Great to hear from you Jake. I’m truly grateful for our friendship. It already has proven invaluable.

  • Agree with Christine McLaughlin: you are a treasure, Mark. Love your writing! Plus . . . fly fishing!! I’m a fan, too! Haven’t done it in a while though.

  • I have never been fly fishing. But I have always loved ‘seeing’ someone standing in the river, casting and watching their arms …. and I just started reading Hemingway this summer. I love the Nick Adams stories. And ten years? Beautiful.

    • Thanks for all.

      The Nick Adams Stories are everything to me! I’ve been teaching them for years. My favorite novel of his is For Whom the Bell Tolls. It’s poetry, all of it. Anyways. Thanks for stopping by! Sadly, I’m usually standing in the river more than I am catching fish myself. But like they say. A bad day fishing beats a good day of anything else!

  • “We keep more of what we pass on than we can ever hoard for ourselves.” I’m writing this one down. Beautiful and true.

  • This post resonates so much with me on the personal level of parenthood. Watching them grow and evolve and experience is so much more special than I remember it being firsthand. My joy is in their joy and my level of pride for them is always way higher than their own pride. So much so that I am becoming the “embarrassing” cheerleader parent.

    Im still a bit shaky in the recovery realm so Ive yet to experience the joy from helping others, but its a nice thought to look forward to. Congrats on 10 years. May you enjoy the day and the next 10, 20, 50 years to follow.

  • Wow! 10 years. Congratulations! 🙂

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