Wednesday March 29, 2017, Akumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico
I went fishing with Jesus this morning. I met him at the beach in Akumal, Mexico, stepped aboard his boat, and left for open seas at sunrise. He spoke Spanish, and so I spoke Spanish too. I always figured he would speak English, because that’s what I speak at home. But that’s silly. Why wouldn’t he speak Spanish here in his native country? Jesus sees a lot of visitors to his beach, and I think he has learned to speak with all of them in whatever tongue they are most comfortable.
He was not the Jesus I entirely expected.
Is he ever?
This was Jesús (hey-SEUSS), the Jesus of Mexico. I had brought my family with me to go fishing today. We have given our kids new names here in Mexico. They are now Benito and María de la Soledad, or Marisol. I introduced them to Jesús when we got in his boat.
The seas were rough this morning. Twelve foot rollers sent us pitching and rolling and yawing all morning. This looked like dangerous work for Jesús, but he had a deft hand and always a quick response to the highest waves.
We got to fishing right away. Baited the hooks. Arranged the poles. Let the lines out behind the boat. This is how we fished. But this is not how Jesús fished.
He brought up a net from the hold. This was a long net. Longer than I had ever seen, and deeper, with small buoys and weights to span a large cross-section of ocean. He cast the net to the starboard side, and let the buoys and weights pull the remainder from the boat. He goosed the engine a little and kept us heading into the waves, to open water. The boat pitched, and I looked to Jesús, to see his response to the steep waves. The top of this wave spilled into the boat and then drained away into the bilge. I think he anticipated my concern; he nodded and smiled, as thought to comfort me, to console me, to let me know his skills exceeded these waters.
The net kept running out of the boat. The farthest buoys stretched to the horizon behind us. This was a really long net. As Jesús brought us farther into the open ocean, I noticed something on the opposite horizon, ahead of us. Small fishing net buoys. Somehow we had come full circle, and had arrived at the beginning of his fishing net. His net encircled the entire world.
I knew his fishing net was large, but I didn’t know he could carry this much net in his little boat. I asked him if he would have time to retrieve this much fishing net by the end of the day. He said he would have time. He said he intended to catch every fish in the ocean. Even the ones that thrashed and bit at the net and at his hands, and tried to escape. He would catch them as well. He intended to catch them all. He said some struggle to break free, and some actually do break free from his net. He said he would go back for these as often as needed, until he catches them. All this before sundown.
We continued east. The waves grew larger. Sometimes the wind would shift, and I would inhale the heavy, nauseating fumes of partially-burned gasoline. He was pushing the outboard engine hard now. And while he guided the boat, he also, in one motion, continued to cast the net from the starboard side, and all at once drew the incoming net from the port side.
He didn’t carelessly dump the fish in the bottom of the boat. He would stop with each fish, caressing it, soothing it, calming it, until it quit struggling, until it recognized him as the fisherman. Then he would turn the fish loose into an ocean that stretched above us, an ocean of shimmering lapis and turquoise, a calmer ocean, where the wind and waves were tempered.
The buoy line cut his hands as he drew in the net, heavy with every kind of fish. By late morning his hands bled. But he fished on, casting and drawing, and then releasing each fish, one by one, into the ocean above us.
I couldn’t imagine he would have enough time to catch every fish, not at this rate. But he assured me he would catch them all. He said he would look for every last fish, and would draw his net through every last quarter of the ocean.
As he drew in the net, I noticed all of the fish were scraped or cut, some a little, others deeply. Every fish was injured to some degree. Some were mortally wounded, barely moving when he found them. Others had only a little nick or scratch. He held them all, each one in its turn, until their wounds were closed and they were well enough to swim on. More than well enough. Perfectly healthy. New fish.
He said some fish had spent their lives in the protected alcoves of the reefs, where they sought and found refuge from greater storms and predators. Others, he said, had spent a life in the open ocean, as predator or prey, injured and frightened, some cut so deeply I could not believe they had survived.
He said he catches them all. The smallest and the largest. The bold and the timid. The healthy and the sick. He said he even catches the ones who have preyed all their lives on other fish. He brings these to the surface too. All of them.
He said some are surprised to see him when he draws them to the surface. Some recognize him and stop thrashing. They see he is the fisherman and they are the fish – that this is how things are done with him. Some don’t see this immediately, and these thrash and bite for a while, until he speaks calmly to them and they finally recognize that he wants to help them into the other ocean.
All go on, he said, to find their place in the other ocean – where they feel safest, where they are most at rest. There, some return to the open ocean where they discover they are no longer hungry for other fish, or that they are no longer hunted by dark shadows. Others return to the reefs, where they recognize the vestiges of an earlier place. All go to safe places.
The waves had grown larger by mid-day, and I asked Jesús if he was worried about his boat. He laughed a little, the deep and sure laugh of a man who had lived his whole life around boats, here on the coast of Mexico. He said he wasn’t worried about his boat. He only wanted to catch fish. Every one of them.
My family didn’t catch any fish today. I had especially hoped my son would catch something. He loves to fish more than us all. But he was satisfied with the day. As was I. I had seen how Jesús fished.
The clouds cleared away and the sun grew hot again. Jesús continued casting his net and drawing it in. Hands bleeding. This is how Jesús fished in Mexico. Casting and drawing. Never stopping. Never stopping for a moment.