As most of you already know, I am an avid reader of non-fiction books. There are two reasons for this. One is that you can always learn something from them, and the other is that truth is often stranger than fiction.
In any case, I bought another book from our fantastic library system of five of them scattered throughout Collier county. In looking through the available books, I found one that was about an orphan boy who fought in the Second World War at the age of fifteen. I knew it was self-published because of the unpolished prose and misspelled words. Nevertheless, I liked the cover photo of the main character in the aged sepia-colored army photo. About midway through, I found out his daughter had helped him get his story together; and an interesting one it is.
At three years old he was abandoned to an orphanage by his non-caring teenaged mother who was just trying to stay alive during the Great Depression, she herself having been an orphan and having borne him out of wedlock.
In spite of the inconsistencies (which I tried to overlook), the story was compelling, and I began to see it as an exercise in psychology.
His story is one of an overcomer who became a soldier at the age of fifteen and fought in Second World War. He also told little stories about having overcome life’s adversities. I suspect that this was the gist of his story, as he rambled a lot.
As I read with an open mind, I began to fully understand that everyone has a story to tell, and the plots are endless – each one unique to the individual.
Since reading that book, I’ve begun to see my “friends” at the fishing pier as lost orphans floundering in the vast sea of life.
The Naples pier opened recently from the Covid lockdown, and I went for the second time since it first opened. The first time, no one was there. Today, however, nearly everyone was there: Bill, Adrian and his wife, Nelson, Joe, and Jimmy. Frank and Mel were missing. Most were huddled in the shade, under the shelter at the end of the pier – since the day was yet another scorcher.
I said my hellos to everyone and began making my rounds individually. First was Joe, probably one of the best fishermen on the pier – a man who studies the tides, water temperature, wind, and other factors before casting his line. Joe is a former baseball player who played with some of the greats of the game in the minors. Today he goes around with constant pain and takes Ibuprofen daily – I fear for his overuse of this liver-destroying medication. He appeared to be happy to see me since the others despise his fishing prowess and rarely talk to him. Joe knows what I’m all about, but he never wants to talk about the things of God, changing the subject whenever I begin talking about Him.
Jimmy is the angry one of the crowd and is always complaining about something or someone – a racist to the core. He is the first one I greeted from afar as I approached the group of guys sitting in the shade under the canopy. “Hey, Jimmy… How ya doin?”
Startled, Jimmie looked up and greeted me with a weak smile, something he seldom does to anyone. But I did that to make him feel important. To God – everyone is important, and I know that. I feel sorry for him. Who knows why he has such pent-up anger? What a terrible way to live.
As I sat down next to Bill, I said hi to Adrian, a fellow from Romania whom I’m just getting to know, and Nelson, the quiet one, who seldom converses with anyone and appears to be hiding something. Either that or he is very insecure. Whistling all the time, he reminds me of a song I heard as a child about whistling in the dark when you’re afraid.
Bill, a man in his sixties, is a former writer for a music magazine as well as a drummer who played with various rock bands during the seventies. He was born into a privileged family and was Phi Beta Kapa during his University years; but somewhere along the line, he crossed over to using drugs – even though he initially aspired to become a medical doctor. Since he knows the entertainment business, we can talk about films and music endlessly.
Bill is morbidly obese due to health problems, and I often offer him a ride home. Even though he only lives a few blocks away, it must be a struggle to get to and from the pier daily. I knew he had been a hard-core atheist and leftist in the past, but I felt that he just didn’t know any better because of the drugs he was abusing. It didn’t take long for him to open up to me because the other guys just looked at him as an oddball and avoided engaging him in any meaningful conversation. I witness to him all the time.
Our friendship grows stronger each time we meet, and I’ve even gone so far as praying for the poor soul in the car on one of our trips to his apartment. The last time I even gave him my cell number and for him to call me if he ever needed to go the doctor, or needed anything 24/7.
Insofar as my faith is concerned, he’s learned to accept it and is happy to have my company.
The one thing they all have in common is that they are like the orphan I mentioned earlier. I see flawed characters everywhere I look, and I can sympathize with each and every one of them on some level since each of us is looking for condolence, peace of mind and assurance that everything is going to be ok. We are like children on ships tossed about in this often-turbulent sea of life, or like orphans in the storm and are incapable of saving ourselves…. We all need a Father figure – a person who cares, and a Savior as well.
Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life…. Try Him; you’ll be glad you did.