Someone close to me declared that I have no faith.
I plunge the thin white line into the cold black water like the bright streak of a meteor across a night sky.
I’ve lost it, she said.
I clutch the handle of the rod hard with an unnecessary urgency, like I’m trying to reel in all the possibilities of the universe, as if somehow, they all live at the bottom of that lake, just within reach of my bait.
Because I left Catholicism, the religion I was raised in, she said.
I peer into the slushy ice hole. A school of shallow perch swim around my line as I sink into my seat.
I ponder her words, wondering how someone could possibly qualify another person’s faith; something so personal, unquantifiable, indecipherable.
I rip my glove off with my teeth and pick up a cold glazed donut with my bare fingers. The freezing air deadens the succulent scent of hot sugared dough. I inhale through my nose as I chew, ice crystals form inside my nostrils and prick me like tiny pop rock explosions.
It perplexes me, because her verdict seems amiss. It doesn’t feel like I’ve lost anything. It feels like I’ve found something vital I didn’t know was there. Something I didn’t know was allowed to be there.
My line wriggles. I launch out of my chair, pole gripped with both hands. I’m new to this, and my enthusiasm for the thrill of any catch cannot be diminished. I want a result. I clutch hard. I’d been taught to clutch hard. “Ha!” I shout as I reel in a greenish perch. It’s the length of a teaspoon as it squirms on my line. I cup it in my hand tightly and lay it on my lap as I attempt to remove the hook from its slippery mouth. I’ve got it now; I say to myself. The metal slides out of its lip, but the fish jerks so hard it jumps out of my clutches, thrashing around the ice. I leap after it, chasing it one, two, three feet from the hole, my hands bracing above it to catch the plucky perch in its next bounce for freedom. My right foot hits a smooth patch of frozen lake and I skate off my feet onto my back. The puffy thud of my snowsuit-laden frame hits the ice like a woolen rock. I snort laugh, the hilarity and unpredictability of chasing a fish on land overwhelms me. My desperate grip only created distance from my catch.
I watch the fish flop into the hole as I recline on my elbows, breathless, and look out at the undulating snow-capped peaks dotted with forests of evergreens and barren maples. The blue tinge of the wide Vermont winter sky peeks through thick striations of cloud and my chapped face is fresh with the bitter chill of morning. The cold enters my body through my mouth and jolts my insides awake. I clamber to my feet and run, the swish of my snow pants echoes off the lake as my feet pound on the ice, thud, thud, thud, one in front of the other. I stop my strides just before a slick patch opens before me and glide atop it like a snowflake on a breeze. The arctic air passes over my outstretched arms and sneaks into the collar of my coat, sending a tingle down my spine.
I glide for what feels like hours, skating over the snow and rain and melt and crack and freeze that’s been suspended inside of the ice like weather fossils. This is not the experience I came to the lake for, or was told I should have, but it’s the one I am having, and I sense there’s a profound reason for it if I can stay open enough to find out.
This is faith, I think; a discovery, a positive state of awareness, a lightly held reel in a lake of uncatchable perches. It’s the ability to stay open to untaught experiences and truths that only a higher power can reveal for us, in forms we don’t expect. My faith isn’t about hand-me-down instructions and doctrines and certainties and hope for a definitive catch, it’s about softly yielding to what doesn’t yet exist, knowing the spirit only arrives when I show up in my life in a way that ice skating was the only possible thing I could ever have wanted to do today.