As a writer, my main goal is to find inspiration. I look for it everywhere and I often come up empty. Then other times, it just slaps me in the face and it comes from somewhere I would never have guessed. This morning, I took a ride to try and get in on some albie action before work and the fishing was quite good. I looked at my phone and saw that I was already technically late, but I had collected some useful photos, so I felt that it was justified.
As I was packing up, a couple came down the jetty and I could tell they had never fished for albies. But they had definitely observed, because there was a pack of Albie Snax in their tackle box. I could see that they didn’t know exactly how to rig the bait so I helped them out and that blossomed into a conversation. Somehow we ended up talking about work and kids; his daughters were working in what he called the ‘New York City rat race’ and his brother had some great success in finance, Greg himself was retired military, a career Navy man. I kind of made fun of myself and said, “I took the opposite route, I followed my passion for fishing and it hasn’t made me ton of money, but it has given me a happy life.”
Greg became very earnest in that moment and he said, “I have a lot more respect for you because you followed your dreams. A saying that I have tried to live by is that ‘your goal should be to die with lots of memories, not lots of dreams.’” I really took that to heart. He continued, “As a veteran, who has buried 26 friends fighting for our country, that’s all I really care about, is that people take advantage of the freedom we have fought for, and you have really done that.” When I tell you I had goosebumps as he spoke, I’m not lying—every hair on my body was standing on end.
He then looked down to the end of the jetty, and I even think he was a little choked up, there was a very diverse crowd there from people using whatever tackle they could scrounge together to try and feed their families to catch-and-release guys wielding sticks that could cover half a mortgage payment. He said, “Look at this. This is another example of why we fight for this country, I fought to protect to the Constitution, but I always felt that my true purpose was to protect our freedom and this place is a perfect microcosm of that.”
This man, Greg, really rocked my world at a moment when I really needed to feel that. His words came so easily and were so sincere, it was one of those times when I felt like I instantly connected with a person, fused by something as swift and powerful as lightning. And looking around, all at once, I realized that I really do take all of this for granted. And I think a huge percentage of us in this country do just that. Look at us, we fight each other over politics when we should be celebrating our freedom and remembering why we are able to enjoy it. I don’t want to dive too deeply into all that, but on this day, 22 years after the most sobering and terrifying day I have experienced in my 43 years on this planet, September 11, I’m asking you to remember that we’re all neighbors and all allies, and we all have so many of the same things to be thankful for. I didn’t need to know or care what Greg’s political affiliations were, because he’s a human being, I learned that he is a veteran and I’m proud to say that I can call him my friend.
September 11th is a solemn day, but it’s also a day to remember how we all stood together in the wake of these unthinkable attacks. We’re at our best when we do that, even if we’re just standing on a jetty on a Friday morning in September 2023.