Wednesday, July 28, 2010

If You Think I Mean You, I Do

(If this helps, and it won't, feel free to substitute the name of your town for the name of my town, even if you don't have a body of water bigger than a puddle.)

Dave and Dan were standing on the dock near the Howard Brown Park in Norwich, crabbing. They'd known one another for many years and had watched as their city, so bustling in their youth, quietly disappeared one business, one restaurant and one block at a time leaving nothing behind for anyone. For them, crabbing was a more than relaxation, it was a diversion to take their minds off their city's troubles.

Except Dave had other troubles as well. As quickly as he caught crabs and turned around to drop them into his twenty gallon catch bucket, one of more of the crabs already in the bucket would make a break for it. Dave spent almost as much time chasing fugitive crabs skittering down the dock and back into the river as he did fishing for them.

Dan took his crabbing at a very different pace. He worked with a small hoop net and bait cage, catching no more than one single crab at a time and when he did catch a crab he'd spend minutes turning it over, examining it from every angle, holding it up to the light, looking at the cheliped, the apron and the walking legs. Sometimes, after concluding the examination, Dan would drop the crab into a child's sand bucket that was his catch bucket and the most recent captive would settle down in the water coming to rest on top of another unfortunate crab.

At other times, Dan, when he'd finished examining his catch, would simply throw the crab back into river, rebait his trap and lower his hoop net over the side of the dock and resume crabbing.

As the hours wore on, Dave spent more and more of his time struggling to keep any of the crabs he'd caught in his dockside catch bucket, often first hearing the lid clatter as it was pushed off by one of the crabs, then chasing it down the dock before, with one final leap, it eluded his grasp and reached the freedom of the river. Dan watched Dave struggle, sometimes slowly shaking his head in sympathy, and, as the shadows grew longer in the afternoon sun, he offered his friend some advice.

"You're doing it all wrong," Dan said. Dave stared at Dan for a moment before finally pointing out, "It looks to me like we're both doing the exact same thing-so I don't understand what I could be doing wrong that you're not. Point in fact, Dan, I've caught a LOT
more crabs than you have but I'm not able to keep them because they never give up trying to escape and eventually get away!"

"Yeah," said Dan, "that's your problem. It's what you're catching."
Dave, by now, nearly furious could feel the gorge rise in his veins as he practically shouted at Dan, "how can there be a problem with what I'm catching?
I'm catching crabs-you're catching crabs. We're both catching crabs!" 

"True enough," Dan agreed, "but you're catching all kinds of crabs. I'm only catching Norwich crabs." Dave stared at his friend for a long time. "What do you mean, you're catching 'Norwich crabs?' What the hell is a Norwich crab and how could that possibly make a difference?" Dave demanded to know. 

"It's the most critical difference" said Dan. "With Norwich crabs, when you have one and put him in the catch bucket, if he tries to get out, all the other Norwich crabs hold on to him very tightly and keep him from ever succeeding."

When I was told this story some fifteen years ago, I thought it was extremely funny. It never occurred to me that it was also true. If we, and by "we" I mean you and me, whoever and wherever we are, don't learn to let go of the hurt and anger from previous failures and choose instead to reach for rewards, despite the risks, at our next opportunity, be it economic development, learning new things like clog dancing, or letting someone into our lives, this story goes from being very funny to being very sad all the way to being our last story and the one that becomes our epitaph. Trust me on this one.
-bill kenny 

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