In my younger days, I would walk the boardwalk every morning. I would listen to the sea and to the sea gulls, and I would breathe in great breaths of salty sea air. And at the far end of the dock, without fail, I would see the old man, fishing.
For the past thirty years, every day, day in and day out, rain or shine, he would cast his line into the waves and wait. And for the past thirty years, every night, he would walk home empty handed.
It was not that he never caught a fish. In fact, he had caught many a beauty in his years, as anyone in the village could attest. Whenever he made a catch, however, he would just give a sad shake of his old gray head and toss it back into the sea.
One morning, as I took my morning stroll, I saw him struggling with what must have been a monster catch. To my amazement, he wrenched it gasping from the waves–it was a yard if it was an inch, bigger than a body pillow. I ran to congratulate him, but, before I even reached him, he was pushing the creature back into the surf with his foot.
“Old man!” I cried, “Why are you letting it go? That was the most amazing catch I’ve seen in my entire life! ”
“Aye” he said. “Mine as well.”
“Any fisherman would give both his arms to have caught such a fish! Even to TOUCH such a fish would be an honor!”
“Aye” said the Old Man.
“Then why? Why throw it back?”
“T’was not the fish for me.”
“But it was perfect!”
“T’was not the fish for me.” He puffed his pipe. “I shall know my fish when I see it.”
And he cast his line again.
It didn’t make sense to me at the time, but as I have gotten older–maybe a little wiser, maybe I understand now.