She’s a little like Jesus in that she always teaches me in allegories. Gardens and graveyards and apple picking—there’s always some lesson lurking beneath her well timed speeches, and there’s certain to be a prayer at the end of it all: go and do likewise.
Tonight she’s talking to me about fish.
She can stand at her kitchen sink and overlook the Grasse River. The thing about this particular juncture in the Grasse River is that it is the last dam from that river flowing down the Adirondacks and into the Saint Lawrence Seaway. The house used to be an old mill and that dam was once crucial to the life of the home and, in some ways, it still is.
It is at that dam that the salmon who make their way against the current from the Saint Lawrence end their journey. They jump and twist and spin and no matter how hard they try, they cannot make it over the dam.
It is a lazy fisherman’s sweet spot. A bastion of swirling thirty inch salmon meeting their demise through hook or weariness.
But this is not the allegory she spins for me tonight.
We are talking about prayer and she is talking to me about asking big prayers, specific ones, naming things, not so that I can claim the things themselves, but so that I can hold a quivering hand to God full of childish requests and I can praise Him when He answers so specifically back to me.
I am not a big asker.
I stopped asking God for anything three years ago when I determined that He was not good and did not intend good for me. I let the anger build and boil inside of me until two years ago when I stopped asking God for anything for a different reason: I finally understood the gospel was the fullness of God for me, and what more could I possibly want? This girl was done asking because her cup runneth over.
But at a table the other night a friend talks about specific things she asked for and challenges my personal “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. And I had answers for her, I always do, but I can’t get that conversation out of my head. I’m not the girl who asks.
Tonight my Jesus-friend is talking about how badly she wanted one of those fisherman to haul thirty inches of pink salmon up to her back-porch, how the taste of fresh fish would be so delightful and generous. So she asked. Well, she sent one of the many adoptees who frequent our house (of whom I am one) down to the riverside to ask. He brought back as fine a specimen of salmon as can be expected from one who’s made the twenty mile journey down the seaway to the dam.
But here’s the thing, she said, it was awful tasting, tough and old. She tossed it in the garbage and I can’t be sure, but knowing her, she whipped up a finer feast from leftovers than you’ve ever tasted in your life and called it dinner.
The allegory here is that big asks do not always result in exactly what we thought we were getting, regardless of how fine it looks on the outside.
Who of you, I thought and she said, if your son asks for fish, will you give him a stone?
But sometimes He gives me stones, I said.
Yup, that’s right, sometimes he gives you stones, she said. But does that means you shouldn’t have asked for what you thought was best in the first place?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. Even after she ends our phone call with a prayer and deep assurances of her love for me (she’s a little over the top sometimes), I still don’t have the answers. Flannery O’Connor said she wrote because she didn’t know what she thought about something until she wrote about it, and I feel the same way. It’s why I’ve written this.
Once I stood in the bed of that river, feet from the open dam, water spilling over it. I stood there in my bare feet and the fish swirled and swam around me. I don’t think you can be that close to nature, that close to nature doing what it was meant to do—swim against the current, dive and jump and try and try again to get past that obstruction—and not feel the hopelessness that comes in life sometimes. Those fish are asking big asks and in the end the answer is no.
But I wonder what kind of life that thirty inch salmon lived before it was caught and brought to the table in the old mill house on the river. I wonder if he swam through nooks and crannies and over rocks and through storms to his end.
And if it was a good end indeed.
These photos are what I talk about when I talk about home.