Must Be Willing to Touch Fish

I read an employment posting on for the Red Salmon Cannery in Alaska that pronounced an important job requirement right up front: “Must Be Willing to Touch Fish”. This made me chuckle for days. But of course! If you’re gonna work in a fish processing plant, you’re gonna have to touch fish! It gave me pause, though. How many things do I desire to do or be or have that I have not considered the cost of?

This is the life I have chosen for now: traveling writer. Just as I must be willing to touch fish if I was going to work in a cannery, I must be willing to do certain things to sustain this way of life. I must maintain my car if I’m going to be traversing the country in Old Sue. I must consider that I’ll be sleeping in strange beds, dealing with tricky shower faucets, and abiding by the house rules of each host. Most importantly, I must always recognize that I’m inserting myself into whatever morass of familial and/or marital daily living my hosts may be enmeshed in and be willing to adapt.

By my mere presence, I’m imposing on the friends and family I stay with to place their day-to-day existence in suspended animation, disturbing and disrupting the ebb and flow of dialog and duties, all without malice on my part. A home, inhabited by one or many, breathes the circulated air of domesticity, be it bliss or bitterness, and a visitor can unsettle the status quo. My spirit is sensitive to the needs of others just as I am learning to take care of myself, and I’m reaching for balance to live gracefully and graciously, but above all, to guard my heart for it is the wellspring of life. It is a tricky position to stand in: being a good guest while taking good care of myself. To be helpful but not codependent. To be engaged but not so much that I neglect my quiet time with God.

I want to be a good steward of my resources, gifts, and talents but how do I do this while living this nomadic existence? I try to save and spend wisely; I tithe from all that I receive. I cook or clean or organize for my hosts (when they allow me) as my way of giving back. And I write whenever, wherever I can – in the wee hours of the morning while others sleep, or perched on the side of a bed when I’m alone in the drowsy quiet of an afternoon. I write in the car while on an errand or during a roadside break in my travels. I write at kitchen tables, on backyard benches, or curled up on couches.

And what do I want? I’ve purged possessions and given up my home. Now I want experiences and travel and time – time for writing and praying and giving thanks. I want to learn and grow and explore. I want to nurture my relationships and build new ones. I want to be closer to God. I can’t do these things if I’m risk-averse, if I’m unwilling to “touch fish” and enter into the unknown future with all that I am. So I’m forging ahead and what Ralph said is true – “Life is a journey, not a destination”. Thanks, Emerson!

And just for the record: I’d never work in a cannery precisely because I can’t stand touching fish.

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