On a vacation years ago on Cape Cod, I read Henry Thoreau's book about the place, which I had picked up at a little shop in Provincetown. I guess I was expecting another placid meditation on nature, like Walden, only one written about a much bigger pond. I did not realize the book would make such grim reading. It opens with a gruesome scene of wreckage and drowned bodies along the rocky coastline near Cohasset, south of Boston. Thoreau had stopped off there en route to Cape Cod by train after he had read about the shipwreck in the Boston papers. In a later chapter on Highland Light, a lighthouse still standing in Truro, the town where we stayed that summer, Thoreau wrote of the fearsome toll the sea had taken on the Cape's small fishing communities. A single storm in 1841 had claimed the lives of 57 citizens within a two-mile circuit of Truro. "The stranger and the inhabitant view the shore with very different eyes," Thoreau wrote. "The former may have come to see and admire the ocean in a storm; but the latter looks on it as the scene where his nearest relatives were wrecked."
Jesus' disciples were mostly men who earned their livelihoods -- and risked their lives -- on the sea. They are all now regarded as saints for their great religious faith. But I suspect faith was already second nature to men who plied deep waters in small boats. There are stories in the gospels of terrifying storms. What does it take to go to work every day not knowing whether you will return home alive? Jesus enticed these men from their nets by promising they would become fishers of men. After he was killed, not knowing what else to do, they went fishing for fish. They worked through the night near the shore but had nothing to show for it. At the break of day they saw a man standing on the beach, and he told them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat. They did so, and their nets were now so full they were unable to haul them back onto the boat. This is what made them realize who the man on the beach was.
This story will resonate with a writer or anyone else who depends on inspiration for his work. You cast your net into the waters of the imagination. These waters are deep, and you can't always see what is down there. To set sail in these waters is an act of faith. If not your life, you certainly risk your reputation, not to mention your livelihood, plying such waters. You never know what you will haul in, if anything. Grace comes in knowing where to cast your net. Perhaps someone you can't quite make out is calling from the shore. For me, at least, the break of day is often the time I feel a tugging on my net. But will I haul in a prize catch or an old tire? You learn to appreciate the brave fishermen who set out each day, trusting in the elements and in God's bounty -- as indeed also a writer must.
Henry David Thoreau, Cape Cod