It's not About The Fish - Stupid...
I’m in Tunisia.
It’s a heady mix of Africa, Arab and European influence, where the croissant is an easy companion to mint tea and coffee so strong; one cup will meet your caffeine fix for the whole day.
Aromatic and colourful spices fill the Medina’s cramped and ancient stores, where the auditory hubbub of hawkers bartering boldly is a spectacle to watch. In kerbside cafés, men play
Backgammon excitedly (and loudly) while sipping treacle-thick coffee. And five times a day, hypnotic calls to prayer confirm the exotic and profoundly religious nature of the place.
And then there’s the fishermen. Well, one in particular - Aziz. I met Aziz as he was casting his line out to sea. Attempting to catch, I discover later, supper for his family. Several times he cast his line and several times he reels in an empty hook or clumps of seaweed.
After observing a few failures, “Tres frustrant,” I say, in my somewhat pathetic French.
With a shrug of his shoulders Aziz replied, “Certains le feront: certains ne le feront pas - c’est la vie.”
Now, (French natives please correct me if I’m wrong) but the English translation is something like: ‘Some will - some won’t; that’s life.’
And I thought this philosophy a brilliant way to accept the vagaries of fishing but also; life in general. After all, it is a life maxim that might be applied to most situations.
Too often, the problem is that as humans, we subconsciously demand certainty in an uncertain world. Or in other words, we would prefer the best outcome in all situations because the mind prefers harmony, wherein lies happiness, security and peace.
And in the same way your favourite sporting team won’t always win, or the sun always shine on BBQ’s (well not in England), and your car fails to start on a Winter morning - we are not guaranteed always, the positive outcomes we hope for.
Aziz rested his heart peacefully on the notion that fish are not at the beck and call of a fisherman.
And I believe that if we can follow his example, we too might have a harmonious heart and restful spirit. Outcomes in life are like fickle fish; they are not to be controlled.
Life outcomes lie in uncertain futures and no matter how much we pray, work, strive, want, need, plan or demand a certain outcome: often, it is out of our hands. Simply put: the future cannot be controlled or manipulated. It rests on the horizon beyond any notion of control we feel applies to it.
This current breathing moment is all we may control. How we think, feel and behave. And at some point, we have to accept that all else, is an exercise in hopefulness. Of course, this approach to life requires gratitude, optimism and a keen, and accepting sense of how life is in the habit of being hugely unpredictable.
And isn’t this the point Aziz was making?
Whatever the outcome, whether he catches a fish or not – it is that reality he must attend to. It is not fretting with each cast of his line whether it will be successful. Because if he is worrying about the outcome, he is failing to be in this moment. And in this moment: there is the expanse of the sea, the warm breeze on the face, the companionship of friends and the contentment of a favourite pastime.
Voltaire’s captured this philosophy admirably with his hugely optimistic character, Candide.
’It is demonstrable,’ said he, ‘that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for all being created for an end, all is necessarily for the best end.’
And I suppose this is the fundamental point; we must try our very best, no matter what cards are dealt to us, to manage with good grace our circumstances.
And although I do not know whether Aziz caught fish that day, I can guarantee his family would not have gone hungry.
In the end, it was never about catching fish, and Aziz knew that at a very deep level.