Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Gift

I wrote about this experience in my journal the day that it happened in the parking lot of Dunkin Donuts on my way home so I would not lose the feeling that it left me with. It was a year and a half ago but I think about the experience almost every day. I drove home from Maine this past weekend in the midst of everyone in New England out Christmas shopping and could not help but think that this day was one of the greatest gifts I’ve received.

I was introduced to Casting For Recovery a few years ago through my friendship with the then Massachusetts/Rhode Island Program Coordinator, Brenda Sears. In the time since I have donated product to CFR and supported different fundraising events but this year I decided to also volunteer as a “River Helper” at the MA/RI retreat at the St. George School in Newport, RI.

CFR was founded in 1996 by Dr. Benita Walton, a breast cancer reconstructive surgeon, and Gwenn Perkins, a professional casting instructor. The program started in Vermont and since has branched to chapters in nearly all fifty states with sister organizations in other countries. CFR offers two and a half day retreats at no cost to breast cancer patients and survivors. The primary goal of the program is to combine the physical and mental benefits of fly fishing with counseling and medical information. At the same time it provides these women a chance to create friendships with others like themselves, to hear about others journeys through treatment, the impact on their lives and to take on the challenge of learning something new together. For detailed information check out the CFR website.

The morning of the retreat I left my house just as the sun was beginning to rise in a crystal clear sky. On my way to throw fly lines all day, top down on the Jeep, Pat Green on the CD, a large coffee…I was feeling pretty good about everything. Just over the Rhode Island border it occurred to me that I was on my way to teach someone else how to cast a fly rod. Panic set in. I’ve never had a casting lesson. I’ve just watched other people and tried to mimic what they do. The bottom line is technically I suck at casting. I can get line out with a certain degree of accuracy and distance but it does not look pretty. Not at all. I spent the rest of the drive trying to recall every casting demonstration I’ve ever seen. It was hopeless. As I parked at the school I decided the best course of action was to just make it up as I went.

I met up with Brenda and the other River Helpers and while the ladies got their gear together I sat off to the side and listened to them joking with one another and telling stories. These women had been together for just a couple of days but already I could see that these friendships and bonds with one another would last a lifetime. In their voices and in their eyes I could see excitement. Excitement about learning how to fly fish but I think more so the excitement of moving on, not only personally but together, away from the demons each had endured battling this disease. Sitting there it became pretty apparent that the demons crawling around inside my head paled in comparison.

We drove a short distance to a fishable section of water and were introduced to our partners. I was paired with Lisa. As we walked down the beach to an open section of water I talked with Lisa about what she had learned so far about fly fishing and what her experience with fishing was. She told me she had no experience and no idea what to do. I laughed and told her that I was in the same position because I had never taught anyone to cast a fly rod but we would figure it out together and have her throwing line by the end of the morning.

Looking at the water I was not optimistic that there were any fish around. I explained to Lisa what I was looking for and not seeing in the water and we agreed that the morning should be about learning to cast and not so much about catching. I took the five weight and made a few casts breaking the cast down into basic components and terminology. I made a few more false casts, shot some line out on the forward cast and handed her the rod. She looked at me with a “I’m not sure I can do this” look. I told her that it’s kind of like learning to ride a bike, it seems awkward and impossible at first but once you figure out the balance part it just all works out and suddenly you’re doing it.

Lisa took the rod and started making casts. It took some time but she became comfortable with moving line in the air and was getting the basic mechanics down. In between my making suggestions, explaining the concept of loading the rod and how to manage line we talked about her life, her husband, family and friends and the support she had been given during her treatment. She told me how excited she had been to participate in the retreat to meet other survivors and to challenge herself to learn something new not just for her own sake but so that she could share it with her husband and son. The recurring comment was how grateful she was for all the support she had been given and how now, more than ever in her life she appreciated every minute of every day.

After a while she asked to take a break and handed me the rod. I made some casts, talking through the different phases of the casts and showing her how the rod loads. As I was doing this Lisa asked me about my life and why I love to fly fish. I talked about my daughter and fly fishing being the passions of my life and that without fly fishing to fill the time that I’m not with my daughter I would be truly lost. I explained that my time on the water and at the vise are not only physical acts but that the structure required by each gives format to my thoughts as I try to figure my life out. I described fly fishing as quite cerebral and compared it to chess. This is where I usually lose people and their eyes glaze over. Not Lisa, she reached for the rod and said, “So when you’re fishing or tying flies, you find balance.”  I could not have said it better.

As Lisa started casting again I saw something change. I noticed it first in her expression, more aware of the cast, more confident as line started to move through the guides. And then I saw it happen, she felt the rod load and line shot out on her last forward cast. I kept quiet and watched while she continued, as a smile came across her face with each cast. After a little more time she was shooting more and more line with each cast and to my amazement was throwing a pretty tight loop.

And then it was time to head back to the school for lunch and for the ladies to receive their certificates. Lisa made a final cast, dropped thirty feet of line on her forward cast and handed me the rod. As we walked back up the beach I congratulated her on what she had done and told her that I had learned more about casting a fly rod in a few hours with her than I had in all my years of fly fishing. She smiled at me and said, “It’s like anything in life that seems difficult, you just have to take it step by step and keep at it.”

A moment later she grabbed my arm and added, “It’s all about finding balance, like riding a bike.”

As we sat in the dining hall at lunch and through the awards ceremony I thought of those words and I thought of what these women had gone through physically and mentally and emotionally. Life had thrown them something that knocked them down. But they got back on the proverbial bike and are riding the hell out of it.


2012 CFR MA/RI Retreat

Strong lessons from strong women.

Thank you, Lisa.

From The Isle of Rhode
10 June 2012

1 comment:

  1. Wow Lisa...great story with so much and your friends are true champions and help us all to realize just how we should be living our you Lisa!