The Old Fisherman and the Villagers

Posted on January 3, 2013


Once upon a time there was an Old Man who loved to fish in the gentle waters of the sea near his village. He was a tremendously adept angler who could anchor his boat skilfully in just the right place, bait his hook artfully with just the right morsel and cast his line carefully so as to attract the most reticent of fish. As a result he always reeled in the most amazing of catches, sometimes large in size, sometimes large in number, sometimes both.

The villagers looked upon the Old Fisherman as something of an oddity: a unique spirit somewhat out of place as if transported from an earlier time (which secretly the Old Fisherman loved). Some of them loved the Old Fisherman and his remarkable catches and cheered him home from his exploits, keen to see the nature of his catch and eager to offer their support. Others, perhaps in larger number, loathed the Old Fisherman and his remarkable catches and sought to ignore him when he returned from his day fishing, urging others to do the same.

There was a third group of villagers though who admired the Old Fisherman even when they didn’t always admire his catches, some of which were too ugly for them or too lacking in taste for them or too overfished for them. These villagers would greet the Old Fisherman with questions or arguments, curiousness or incredulousness, and he would enjoy these discussions or arguments even though he would never openly admit that his fish were too ugly or too lacking in taste or too overfished. Life continued in this way for many moons and the Old Fisherman and the villagers were equally content and equally discontent.

But gradually, inspired by the Old Fisherman (and inspiration can come in many forms, as the Old Fisherman himself had often argued), other villagers began to take to the waters themselves. Some, the ones who loved the Old Fisherman, would anchor their crafts nearby, watch his every move and imitate his style of fishing. Others, the ones who hated the Old Fisherman, would anchor their crafts as far away from him as possible and would go out of their way to fish in a different manner to him. And those villagers who neither loved not loathed the Old Fisherman (or did so in equal measure) would anchor at a reasonable distance and would selectively choose what elements of his angling artistry to mimic and which to avoid.

In spite of this increased competition in his waters, the Old Fisherman was still as productive as ever in his angling, bringing home the biggest catches in terms of size or number, or both. But the Old Fisherman was not happy with this changed situation and so he mocked the efforts of the villagers openly. Sometimes it would be the catch he would scorn, either for its number or size, or both. At other times it would be for the way they anchored the boat or the way they baited their hook or the way they cast their line. The villagers who had always loved him continued to love him, lauding him for his criticisms almost as much as for his catches. The villagers who had always loathed him continued to loathe him, hating him all the more for his criticisms than for his catches. But the villagers who neither loved nor loathed him began to become uneasy, worrying that his focus on criticising others was detracting from their curiosity or incredulousness at his catches.

And as for the Old Fisherman? He decided that he needed more open water in which to fish, so he decided to take his boat out into deeper waters with bigger waves and more curious fish to catch. Because he was such a fabulous angler the Old Fisherman was able to anchor his boat just as skilfully, bait his hook just as artfully and cast his line just as carefully. What is more he still caught as many fish in both size and number, but these fish were curious fish indeed and unlike any the villagers had seen before. But those who loved him continued to love him and those who loathed him continued to loathe him. And those villagers who neither loved not loathed him didn’t quite know what to make of his peculiar catches. Some went through the motions of questions or arguments with the Old Fisherman, feigning curiousness or incredulousness because they still valued his skills in spite of his catches.

But gradually, inspired by the Old Fisherman, other villagers began to move into the deeper waters with him, with the lovers nearest him, the loathers furthest away and the neither-lovers-nor-loathers at a discreet distance. Although he still made the biggest catches in terms of size or number, or both, the Old Fisherman became unhappy again at the competition for his waters. Once again he began to mock their (to him) poor fishes in terms of their size or number, or both. And once again he began to mock their anchoring, their baiting and their casting. And once again the lovers loved him and the loathers loathed him. Meanwhile the neither-lovers-not-loathers began to develop a new and unfamiliar feeling for the Old Fisherman: disinterest where curiosity once reigned and apathy where incredulousness once held away. Many watched his catches and his criticism and felt unmoved to comment, sadly recalling the time when they cared.

Unaware or unperturbed by all of this the Old Fisherman decided to move into ever deeper waters (the sort that imperil foolhardy lives), with ever bigger waves (the sort that little boats struggle with, for the Old Fisherman was still in his oh-so-little boat) and ever more curious fish (the sort that nobody ever really wants to catch). And when he returned to the villagers with his biggest ever catches of the strangest ever fishes the lovers loved him more than ever and the loathers loathed him more than ever. But the neither-lovers-nor-loathers amongst the villagers felt nothing other than a faint sense of loss or amusement, dependent upon their previous feelings of curiosity or incredulity.

And gradually, inspired by the Old Fisherman (for inspiration can come in many forms, as the Old Fisherman himself had once upon a time argued) many of the villagers moved back into the shallower waters by the village where the fish were beautiful and tasty and plentiful. Amongst them were the loathers who still loathed the Old Fisherman and his ways from so far that he did not really bother them any more. Amongst them also were the neither-lovers-not-loathers, who sometimes scanned the horizon to see his distant silhouette and were curious as to whether it was only the distance that made him so small or were incredulous that the skilful, artful and careful Old Fisherman had left such rich waters for such turmoil and torment.

But the Old Fishermen didn’t seem to care a jot. Surrounded now only by the villagers who loved him, he was loved. Occasionally he railed against the others from afar, yelling barely heard insults about their catches and hurling barely understood criticisms of their fishing skills. Occasionally they even yelled back, but he was deaf to reason and merely blocked their arguments out.

He still fishes out there today. If you look hard you might be able to pick him out, but not so many people look so hard anymore. They are too busy looking to live happily ever after.

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