Fishing For the Stoic Truth: Memento Mori

For those of you who know me; you know I love to fish. You also know that I do so on my inflatable paddle board (see, paddle board season). I love to be free on the water. By taking my paddle board out onto the lakes of Wisconsin, I feel as free as I could possibly be.

When I’m on the water, time stops. I don’t have to worry about what’s going on at work. I don’t need to check my phone every five minutes. I don’t even need to answer to my friends or family or loved one. Sorry everyone! But really, when I’m on the water, I’m at peace. I just feel liberated. 

If I do send a picture or share on my social media, it’s because I want to share my experience with you. I felt inspired enough to take my phone out and take this picture. I have to oblige by the rules of the internet and show it off. If I catch a cool sunset or a giant ass fish, you best believe my circle will see it. I do this because I want to inspire. I feel inspired every time I hit the water.

Time never truly stops, though. It certainly feels like it does. While paddle boarding all over the lake or river or pond, whatever body of water I’m in, my day goes by slowly. I think that’s because of not having any worldly distractions. It’s just me, beer, fishing gear, good tunes, maybe a book, and natural sunlight. It really does not get any better than that. My home away from home was always been camping up north, and it’s fast becoming just the water in general.

Yesterday, however, went a little bit differently. I had my half-day at work, meaning, I was able to go home at 12:00 PM, noon. Since it was such a gorgeous day out (about 80 degrees, not too humid), I decided I HAD to go fishing on the Mississippi river in La Crosse, WI (about 30 minutes from where I live). I bought myself a six pack of beer, live bait and off I went. I was on the water by 1:00 PM. Another positive to having an inflatable paddle board (very quick and easy setup). 

I was getting skunked (not catching anything) for awhile, but I was enjoying my time greatly. I could not catch a single fish or even get a bite all day and be happy with my time on the water. Do I want to catch a stringer full of bluegill or bag a huge northern pike? Absolutely. I see that as a bonus though. Remember, I go to escape the rigors (funeral director pun not intended) of daily life. I want to feel free and escape reality.

The reality that we live in, but don’t always recognize, though is life and death itself. That took a weird turn, didn’t it? Being a funeral director I’m faced with such a reality every single day. I get caught up in taking care of other families who lost their loved one, that I do lose focus on my own life. I’ve let my career get in the way of relationships and my own sanity before. I haven’t always handled it well, but I have gotten a lot better. How? By escaping when I can. By clearing my mind.

Paddle board fishing allows everything I need to escape for a day. During my escape yesterday, after a couple hours of not catching anything on nightcrawlers, I changed things up to a new lure I had bought. It didn’t take long to get a hit. I felt a little tug while casting and reeling in. This was either a fish that couldn’t quite snag the lure or I was getting caught up on something. I tried the spot again. Yep, I was snagged on something.

I was in shallow enough water that I could kind of see the bottom, but it was still deep enough that I wouldn’t be able to comfortably stand. I just bought the lure and my cousin Seth can attest that I do not like losing lures. His motto is the opposite of mine, as that’s what comes to the territory of fishing. It is what it is. But not me. If I can get that lure back, I’m in. And in the water I went. Deep sea diver extraordinaire, Noah Watry. Eat your heart out Matthew McConaughey in Fool’s Gold.

OK, so it wasn’t deep sea diving, it was more like holding my breath for a few seconds while I un-snag this lure. While in the water though, I briefly opened my eyes to see where I was (probably not recommended in such waters). Something else sparkled. I came up with my new lure and then back down I went. I just grabbed for the shiny objects as if it couldn’t possibly be anything that could harm me.

HEY LOOK, SOMETHING SHINY, LET’S TOUCH IT!

I came up with some shells and then saw something else jutting out from the sand now swirling around. OK, curiosity got me once, it got me again. Back in I went and pulled. Out of the water I emerged, with an engraved stone. Concrete. All that showed on the corner stone was “ORI.” Ori? What the heck does that mean? What is this? Is it a sign? Is it a gravestone? What was it doing in the Mississippi river in La Crosse, WI? 

Being a reader of stoicism (ancient ideology of calmness, reality and structure), it hit me: MEMENTO MORI. The motto behind stoicism is one simple but powerful message: You will die, one day. A reality and truth, for every single one of us. A truth I see every day I go to work and every day I live life to my fullest.

That’s what I now saw in this stone. I kept the shells to give to my sisters and I kept the stone for myself. Such a wonderful reminder. Such an intriguing piece of granite. Concrete. Its message and purpose in this river to forever remain a mystery. I love messages and little moments like this, because it’s truly up to interpretation. I saw MEMENTO MORI. You may see something different. It most likely is something different, but this is what I see.

The message doesn’t change though. We will die someday. Each day we survive is a great gift from above, but it also brings us closer to the inevitable. I had a wonderful day on the water, even though I did not catch a single fish. I did manage to lose half of my rod and reel though, as the fish I had on the other end snapped it into two. Just cleanly ripped it apart.

Towards the end of my day, I went back to a well-known spot for bluegill. I’ve had success there before, so I usually like to close things out at that spot. I try new areas, because I’m still relatively new to the Mississippi. While at the bluegill spot, my bobber went straight down. It was hit and it was hit hard! I’ve never seen a bobber go straight down like that before.

I had something big. As I was reeling this fish in, it was tough. It took me a couple minutes actually, as I kept giving it some slack and dragging, trying to wear this fish out. I didn’t want to just straight pull and reel it in, as that would surely snap the line (I could tell this was a monster fish). I was starting to get pretty excited as I knew I was about to see this sucker.

I knew I was a few feet away from reeling this fish in. I could sense it and now see my bobber, near my paddle board, but still being pulled under. Nothing was surfacing, and I knew I needed to grab my net. A tough thing about paddle board fishing; you are on your own. There’s no room to maneuver around and have someone else help net your fish. It’s just you and the fish. As I’m trying not to lose this fish; I have my left hand on the rod and grabbing my net with my right hand. All while balancing myself on my paddle board.

I grabbed the net and as I’m attempting to bring up this fish, my only chance is to lower the net as quickly as possible. Too late. I pulled up the rod with my left hand, getting a glimpse of the monster I would lose. This was arguably the biggest fish I would have ever caught. This thing looked like a damn alligator! It was humongous. It had teeth for goodness sake. My line snapped, yes, but so did my rod. It actually broke in two!

I lost the biggest fish (again, arguably) of my life and lost my rod. To say you may have heard me cursing a little bit out loud would be an understatement. I was pretty upset after that one. Stoic, I was not. A few minutes later though, I was fine. If anything, I was excited and took the lesson. There are some big fish out there (obviously), and sometimes you don’t realize that until you’re faced with it firsthand.

When fishing, you never believe the stories until you have your own. It really is a “see it to believe it” type of thing. Seeing is believing. I know what I saw, and now I know what is out there. Just like in life, until we have a near death experience or have a loved one die, we go through life aloof. I know I will die. I’m faced with it everyday. Yesterday taught me that lesson, once again.

MEMENTO MORI.