The Crawfish


Dr. Robert B. Pankey

In the spring of 1971, one of my fraternity brothers asked Dennis Bush and me to go home with him to St. James (Southern Missouri) and fish for trout.  During that trip I had a unique experience that helped me turn my life around.

When I was a junior at Missouri, a friend of mine, Rich Cardetti, took me fishing for trout down to Merrimack Springs, Missouri.  Rich's father owned a grape vineyard in that area of the Ozarks.  The place that we went fishing was one of the most beautiful places I had ever been. 

It was during the spring of the year, at the time the waters of the rivers were running high, and as we arrived, there was a fine mist in the morning air.  The sky was gray with a haze, and we could barely see around the bend in the river upstream. 

Rich was a short Italian guy, funny as hell.  He would take a big pull from his pouch of Red Man, stick a full wad in his mouth, and he'd look like a chipmunk with his cheeks full of chew. 

As we cast our lures into the springs, we talked about school, the guys in our fraternity, and Merrimack Springs. Rich told me that if I looked hard enough into the water, I could see crawfish, little tiny ones, just hanging on to the rocks and branches or anything that they could get their claws on.  The trout fishing was great, but the time between catches was long.  I wasn't used to that because my dad had brought me up fishing in fresh water lakes where there was always something messing around with the bait. 

During a long pause in the fishing, I found a little area where the water was crystal clear, and I could see the tiny crawfish hanging on for dear life.  As I focused on this small world of its own, occasionally I would see one of these crawfish let go.  It would tumble head over tail through the rocks and branches until it came to a clearing in the stream a few yards away.  In this clearing there was soft moss and big holes where the crawfish could find comfort and space to relax.  I'd cast some more, go back upstream, and watch the crawfish again.  Rich would have a rainbow trout on his line and get all excited, spit some Red Man, curse up a storm, and there I'd be back at the part of the stream where the crawfish were.  As I gazed into the water, it occurred to me that if all those crawfish only knew what it was like downstream, they would surely let go and float down where there was safety and comfort and plenty of food to eat.  But upstream they just hung on, afraid, struggling in their little world of current, trying to survive the rush of water and occasional trout that would come along and have them as an easy meal. 

At that time I began thinking how my life had resembled the crawfish upstream.  I was at a crossroad where I was clinging onto the idea that my athletics would be around forever, and that if I just hung in there, kept surviving, and struggling, I'd find a career and life would be affordable and fun.  All I had to do was keep hanging on.  Then it occurred to me that whatever might be ahead of me was already there, and in order for me to find it, I'd have to let go, take a few head over tail tumbles until I landed some place where I'd be happy. 

But I wasn't convinced that if I let go, I would land in a comfortable place.  I was about to finish my degree, was going to be playing my last year of football, and was going to be out on my own for the first time in my life without anyone telling me when to go to sleep, when to eat, and how to act. 

I often think of that scene on the Merrimack River and have come to think of it as a turning point in my life.  I think of what a waste it would have been to hang on to the struggle of athletics like many of my friends and fellow teammates had done.  Many of us have had a lot of “head over tail" spins and tumbles in our time, and there may be some more of them up stream, but without those times, we may not have learned where the current can take us.  We all have the choice to hang on to a branch and cling to life not caring what may be up ahead of us or even wanting to know,  or we can choose to  let the current take us, throw us around, bang us off of some rocks, until we fall into a warm life system where we can be happy, in love with ourselves, our families, and our careers.  God knows we've had enough hard tumbles, and we've been out there hanging on, alone at times.  But we also had the courage to let go of those branches that we clung to knowing that all currents subside. 

In 1989, when I landed in Corpus Christi, I fell into a big pool of soft moss--I met my wife, Jill, who showed me how to let go and live.  I knew then that there was something about Corpus that was comforting.  When I was able to muster up enough courage to let go and open up to being in love, I found happiness. 

I’m not sure why we sometimes have to endure such pain before we become happy, but I will say that the trouble and tumbles are worth the pain.  If by chance, you have any branches or rocks that you are hanging on to, don't be afraid to let go!  Something or someone will be there to catch you and take you to places where you'll be safe.  I heard a line in the movie, Arthur, that made me think of what possibilities are ahead of us.  Before dying, the butler told his friend, Arthur, that he should know that he could be anything that he wanted to be in this life.  Arthur asked, "What do you mean?," and the butler replied, "Figure it out." 

I hope this story can help you figure it out.


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