Years ago I was walking the dusty roads in Afghanistan, and I had a thought.
It was hot, really hot, and as I walked, sweatless in the desert heat, I began to think about winter and how nice winter can be, cold and brisk; how walking in winter can be such an invigorating experience.
I started thinking about how much I missed walking the dogs in the wild wind chill, how sweet it is to see them run through the snow, frost growing on their whiskers.
It was that kind of heat I was walking through, the kind that makes 40 below wind chill seem inviting. I was not kidding myself, I knew it was just a small way to make the heat seem a bit less oppressive, and so I just let myself go with it for a bit.
Ultimately, I started thinking about ice fishing, and that made me smile. It had been years since I had gone ice fishing, and the heat of the dusty road made me miss it. So I made a decision right then.
When I got back home, I went to Runnings in Pierre and spent a ton of my deployment income on getting myself set up for ice fishing. I bought the tent, auger, propane heater, rods, scoop and the acquired the accoutrements I would need.
Then, the unthinkable. For the next year or so, we just did not have enough ice to go fishing and so it was not until I moved to Aberdeen that I had the chance to finally use my equipment. My friend Micah and I drove out to Pierre, linked up with my friend Ted and we went out to the river to fish in 55 below wind chill, just as I had dreamed so long before.
We discovered on the river that the tent did not open as it was supposed to, and the heater no longer worked. We went back to Runnings and got a small propane tank and heater, but it meant we would have to have it burning in the tent, but we assumed it would be fine because the wind whipping through the tent would provide ventilation.
The ice fishing was incredibly fun even though we did not catch a single fish. We did, however, catch a lot of laughs and stories, and we made some memories. We laughed about the cold, the lack of fish and the absurdity of the situation. Micah and Ted, who had not met before, became friends and, all in all, it was a great day.
We spent the night at Ted’s house, and I woke up at 3 a.m. with a screaming headache, which was odd. I later found out that all three of us woke up about the same time with the same headache. We discovered we had carbon monoxide poisoning from the heater.
Since everyone was fine, it was just another thing to laugh about.
I have had the chance to go ice fishing a few times since then (actually catching fish) and each time has been an enjoyable gift, a chance to remember there is beauty, even in the midst of a frozen January.
Sometimes, when it gets quiet and we are just focused on fishing, I will look at that hole in the ice by my feet, gazing into the water below, somehow mystically alive with light and mystery, I simply stop and think about the wonder of the moment I am living; just enjoying the gift of friends and fishing and laughter and quiet and life.
It makes me think of the Rule of Saint Benedict and his insistence that those living the monastic life find balance in their lives. This ancient wisdom challenges us to remember that the joy of life is not found in establishing priorities, but in discovering balance.
Work is important, family is important, prayer is important, play is important, but wisdom reminds us that life is not a matter of deciding which is more important, but of finding a balance with all the important things in our lives. If we are too busy to stop and enjoy life, at least a little, then we have forgotten why we are living at all.
The Rule of Saint Benedict does not, of course, seek this balance for its own sake, as great as it is; this balance is meant to free us enough that we might discover the presence of Christ in all we do, and in this, love him more and more deeply.
Laughing with friends on a frozen lake, walking the dry roads of Afghanistan, the work I do, the quiet moments of reading and thinking, rest, exercise, preparing meals, eating those meals, the list is a lifetime long, and it all matters. Finding our balanced heart in them all reveals the wonder of Christ, always there, always loving, always sympathetic when his followers just can’t seem to catch a fish.