Getting to Choose
On the day before I came home, I decided to tour a nearby trout hatchery. I was standing in the parking lot beside a little stream when a small green fly box came floating by. I couldn't reach it, but I walked beside the stream until it narrowed, then kicked off my shoes and waded in. The box was packed with dozens and dozens of the most exquisitely tied flies. There were easily several hundred dollars worth of flies in the box (and hours and hours of painstaking labor if they had been hand tied by the owner).
I slipped the flies in my pocket and thought, "How strange is this? I lose a box of flies and am kicking myself for being so careless, and, lo and behold, here comes an even nicer box just ambling down the stream. The big wheel turns." A few minutes later I peeked in the box for a second look and noticed that the owner had printed his name and address on a small adhesive label. The idea of keeping them went away. I won't say it went away instantly. There was a momentary time lag, about two seconds, when I thought, "Eh, he'll never know."
But then another voice said, "C'mon, that's not who you are. You know damn well you're going to mail the flies back to the guy." Then for another two seconds or so I thought, "It really sucks to be honest." Later I saw an older man in waders and vest walking down the bank. I asked him his name, he told me, and it matched the name on the label, so I returned the lost fly box. The guy couldn't believe it. He was sure they were gone for good. After thanking me two or three times, he went on his way.
This event has stuck in my head for some reason. It's almost like a little parable. There's the happenstance of losing and then finding something valuable. There's a stream in an idyllic setting with something just floating along, and then there's the choice of how to react.
The other day my eight-year old son and I were driving in the car talking about nothing in particular. All of sudden, he asked me how being a grown-up differed from being a kid. The story of the fly box popped into my head. When you're a kid, I told him, you don't really get to choose much. That's also true when you're a grown up, but you do get to choose what kind of grown up you want to be.