Dreaming of Lions


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Dreaming of Lions
By Bobby Neal Winters

When I was younger, I could remember every college class I ever took. I could remember the teacher, the time of day, and the semester. I retained this ability until some time after I took my current job which would mean I still had it about 17 years ago. At this point in time, I still remember the first class—Physics I—and the teacher—Bruce Weems—but anything beyond that becomes fuzzy. I remember lots of other things from those days, but these details are escaping me now, and it hurts me a little because I have been so proud of my memory over the years. It has served me well. My memory is so good I can remember things that never even happened.

Yet occasionally, in spite of having lost some of the fine points of my memory, I will look back on the person I used to be—young and inexperienced as he was—and ask myself, “Was I ever that stupid?” And still, unfortunately having a memory good enough to remember those sorts of things, I will have to answer yes.

Life gives with one hand and takes back with the other. We add tricks to our bag, we add knowledge to our base, and we add arrows to our quiver. But then things are taken away from us seemingly at random.

God says “You will no longer be able to eat...lettuce!” And suddenly a salad will tie you up for the rest of the evening and well into the wee hours of the morning.

Or you get things you’d rather not have like a pain running from the middle of your left gluteus maximus to right behind your left knee.

Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t go back to being as stupid as I was in college even if I were to get back what I’d lost in the meantime. I believe at this point I’ve come out better in the trade.

But there has been a trade. Knowing more about how the world works didn’t come for free.

I never read The Old Man and the Sea in high school. I don’t know if they even assign it. I can imagine a country boy like me reading it and liking the fish story aspect of it, and it does work very well on that level, but I have to think that I would have missed some of the finer points.

The Old Man goes after marlin and has gone 84 days without a fish. For me the question was “Why does this old man fish?”

It’s not for food. He uses more fish for bait than he would eat. It’s not to live higher. He likes an occasional beer, a cup of coffee, and a day old newspaper to follow baseball. It’s not for the admiration of women. His wife has passed away and there is no other woman in his life.

Age has stripped the Old Man down to his essentials. What is left to him is his boat, his hut, and a young boy who he has taught to fish—and his dreams. At night he dreams of something he saw as a young man while on a trip to Africa, lions on the beach playing with each other like they were kittens.

In the Old Man, the boy is still alive, and the Old Man has passed his life on to the boy. The circle is complete.

The Old Man hooks his fish at noon on the 85th day and he fights it for the next three days. During those three days, he is cared for by the sea. It brings him everything he needs. It cares for him like a mother would a son, like a wife would a husband. Flying fish come to him. He catches dolphin. He eats both raw. Only the wood of his boat separates him from nature in the raw.

While modern man is fallen, is alienated from God, one could believe that the Old Man is exactly where he should be doing exactly what he should do.
In spite of being alone, in spite of wounds on his hands, in spite of a left hand that cramps to the point of immobility, he catches his fish and sets course home.

With in the hour, the sharks start to come, ripping pieces of flesh from his great prize. He fights them off, but the price of winning a battle is losing a weapon, so that he arrives in the harbor unarmed, with only the skeleton of his prize remaining.

In spite of this, it is not a sad story. Though there is no material gain associated with the catch, he has done something no other of his peers has done, and they can see this. He has their admiration—and the admiration of the boy.

The American Couple, who whom Hemingway is ultimately trying to explain this story to, don’t understand. They don’t even recognize what kind of fish has been caught.

The boy understands. He admires the Old Man, and ministers to him while he dreams of lions.

(Bobby Winters is a Professor of Mathematics, writer, and speaker. You may contact him at bwinters1@cox.net or visit his website at www.okieinexilepress.com. )