Folks often ask: "How do you come up with something new to write about every week?" My usual answer is it isn't always easy, but this week it's a no-brainer. Why? Because the one event that I always look forward to each and every year -- "Fishing With Friends" -- was held this past Saturday.
The brainchild of Capt. Fuzzy Davis, "Fishing With Friends," now in its 16th year, is as much a day for special-needs children as it is for all of us who contribute our boats and time to take these very special children fishing. I may not be able to remember much, but I do remember that very first year like it was yesterday and I feel extremely fortunate to have participated for all 16 years of this worthy event.
This year had the largest turnout ever. More than 60 kids showed up, and 29 local captains donated their boats and fishing expertise to show these children a glimpse of the world of angling. To the kids, it didn't seem to matter if the fish was 6 inches long or 6 feet long -- it was being out there on the water that mattered. For instance, the sight of a porpoise near the boat brought wide-eyed shouts of glee from nearly every participant, no matter what affliction they were born with. What really gets me is the tenderness that the usually rough and gruff captains showed toward the kids who were on their boats. As for me, I took Riley Lewis and his father, also named Riley, for about the 10th year in a row. Riley, now 21, was a bit spoiled from past years when we always seemed to crush the fishing, but due to extremely high tides and windy conditions, this year's catch was not worth bragging about. Luckily, being out on the water seemed to be enough to bring a smile to Riley's face.
Thinking back on other columns I have written about "Fishing With Friends," I always centered my words around the hardships these kids face. This year, I had an epiphany while watching the kids and their parents interact at the luncheon held after the event. I think it may have been prompted by my wife, Karen, and her role as assistant director of Memory Matters, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping those suffering from Alzheimer's disease and their caregivers.
Like with Alzheimer's, it is the caregivers whom I have the highest amount of respect for. It was that thought that made me look around at all these great parents and the hardships they face every day.
Unlike most parents, these parents must care for their children for their entire lives. With two healthy kids of my own, it was always in the back of my mind that one day they would be self-sufficient and my job as a parent would be -- for the most part -- over. But for parents of special-needs children, that job will never be finished. This thought hit me like a ton of bricks and my respect for their fortitude grew by leaps and bounds.
I tried to imagine what these parents' day-to-day life was like. I also tried to imagine the stress it put on their relationship. Though this doesn't compare to what these amazing people go through, my family went through a life-changing event when I was in my early teens. My sister Alice was coming home from college and my folks drove to the Savannah airport to pick her up. On the way home, they were involved in a terrible accident that left my mom and dad hospitalized for nearly two years and my sister in a coma for four years before she passed away. That event tore my family apart.
Being a caregiver is the hardest job in the world and when I see these courageous parents giving their all for their children, it makes me think just how insignificant my petty, everyday problems are.
I was especially touched by a conversation I had with young Riley when we were fishing. I asked him what he had been up to in the past year, and during that conversation he told me that all he wanted to do was get a job. That really got me. Unlike most kids his age, who want cars or some other material possessions, he just wanted to be a constructive part of this world. If I had a company of any kind, I would have hired him right then and there.
I came away from that day humbled, and if I had one wish it would be that "Fishing With Friends" would happen once a month instead of just once a year.