The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway is one of my favorite books, and I can’t remember how many times I’ve read it. Like any genius work, every time it opens up from a new angle, and every time it feels like you were reading it the first time.
When I saw a sculpture of the old man at La Paz waterfront in Baja California, it inspired me to read the story again and to refresh in my memory its events and emotions. This time I wanted to look for an answer to the question – did the old man’s dream come true? For the last few days and even weeks of the quarantine, I’ve been thinking and writing a lot on the subject of dreams, so no wonder that I wanted to look at the book story through the lenses of these thoughts too .
The plot of this short story is quite simple. An old fisherman who spent his whole life in the sea is haunted by a string of failures. For eighty-four days he’s been out to the sea, he could not catch anything. But here comes the eighty-fifth day, and he has a feeling that on that very day he will definitely find and catch his big fish. He goes far into the sea in his boat, and after a while there really bites a fish, which is not easy to handle. He has never seen and never caught such a huge and strong fish, and for a long time, not just hours but days, they have been fighting on equal terms – the fish for its life and the old man for his dream. Eventually, the old man wins, he gets the fish and goes back home with victory. But it is still too early to rejoice. The fish is so huge that it does not fit in the boat, so it has to be towed, tied with ropes to the boat. Such prey cannot go unnoticed by other sea creatures, and the old man with his fish is repeatedly attacked by sharks. Despite desperate attempts to save at least part of the catch, when the old man docks at the shore, only the fish’ skeleton, head and sword are left …
If to look at the story from this angle of plain facts, it feels like weeping at despair and injustice of the fate. And I remember the time when I perceived it this way. My heart was broken for the old man, and I could relate myself to a boy, the old man’s little friend, who was crying when he saw what had happened.
But over time, as I grew older, I began to assume and realize that things were not as simple and unambiguous. That’s why I wanted to read it again and ask myself a question from this angle – what if the old man’s dream came true after all? As weird as it sounds…
The more I think about the concept and origin of a dream, the more I come to a conclusion that it might belong to the realm of transcendental. If you look at the definitions of a dream in different dictionaries, most of them assume that a dream is something caused by imagination, a human’s own creation of new images and projections of the future. But is it for sure that a human is solely responsible for creation of his or her dream? Where does it come from, why appears unexpectedly and often out of nowhere? Is it not directed to us by some higher power, and we only make a choice – to accept it or to reject? In this case, the dream is something created together, by some extraterrestrial reality and our consciousness. And no matter whether our dream is big or small, logical or crazy, it is not just a fruit of our imagination that will dissolve without leaving a trace, but a mission offered to us to be fulfilled. Shall we take it as such?
How did the old man know that on day 85, he would catch a big fish? Because that’s what happened last time? No, because the last time he caught a fish on the eighty-sixth day… I can’t find any other explanation for myself other than he was guided by something that knew for sure.
If we assume and agree that dream is a joint venture, it means that a human owns it only partially, but he/she still brings human elements into it, and all the limitations accompanying it – physical matter, time, space, our rational thinking. And when we get the “raw” material in the form of a dream, we try to adjust it to our reality, our rational understanding and vision of it. We limit it to our ideas about what it should be like and how it should come true. For example, in the old man’s case – I will catch a big fish, I will bring it home, I will sell it at a high price, everyone will see what a big fish I have caught after all my failures. And it sounds quite logical and reasonable. What else can you expect if you think you’re going to catch a big fish today?
But often our companion in the dream venture (let’s call it the universe) has a vision different from ours, because it doesn’t have our limitations. And the ideas on when, where and how our dreams should come true may not coincide.
I really like one phrase which I can’t remember who belongs to. And it doesn’t matter in this case. It sounds like this – a person who plants the trees, knowing for sure that he will never see them full size, just begins to understand the meaning of life.
A dream that must come true in front of our eyes, and exactly the way we imagined it, is a fake dream. It’s more of a fuel for our ego.
How many famous writers, composers, artists have seen in their lifetime what impact their works had on humanity? And how many of them had never become famous even after death, but probably changed the life of a small handful of people? After all, the number, size, volume – these are also our human limitations … If they were writing, painting, creating not for the sake of this, then for what?
Each of us, within the framework of our lives, is a genius endowed with the mission, dream, ability and tools to change the world. This world can be represented by the whole planet, by our country, by our family, or just by us personally. And what is bigger or more important among all these, is not for us to judge.
The old man followed the call of his dream, his mission and he fulfilled it, though not in the way he imagined before. And I dare say that he got much more than he expected. While still struggling with the fish, he was wondering several times if he was dreaming about all this, all this was too unrealistic and even fabulous. He entered another reality he had never dreamed of, he fought against his equal opponent, whom he loved and called a friend. And they both – a friend and an opponent – won and lost at the same time. And this is the balance of life. I think the old man understood it, when he came back he fell asleep peacefully and he dreamed his happiest dreams.
The way this story ended filled me personally with hope and anticipation, understanding that this was not the end, and there were still many things to be continued. The old man regained awareness of the value of everything he had: his home, his friend in the face of a boy, his memories, a new friend he made – the fish. And it seems to me that deep inside of him the old man was glad that the fish remained the property of the sea and didn’t end up on the market.
Often, when I ride a motorcycle, I do not know where I will stay overnight, or even in what city or village. I ask in my mind to be directed where I need to be tonight. Very often there happen unexpected twists and turns, but I always understand and believe that this was the best possible option. The very source that gives us a dream, guides us on our way towards it. But we, for our part, have to trust it and not hold tight to our human limitations.
And then our dream will come true at the time, at the place and in the way which are the best for us.
I think the old man’s dream has come true, and along with it he has acquired much more. Every dream coming to us has a much bigger potential than we can imagine, so we should not be afraid of dreaming big. After all, we may catch a fish we’ve never seen or never heard of in our lives. And it turns out that in order to catch it, we have enough power and potential. If we hold tight a hand of our companion, the universe. And that sometimes means letting go of the anchors or ropes holding us.
Literally today, I heard a parable. One climber wanted to climb a very high mountain. He got well prepared, reached the mountain and started to climb. When it was only a hundred meters left to the top, the climber fell off and hung on a safety rope. He called out to God and prayed that he would save him when he heard a voice from heaven. “Do you want me to save you?” – “Yes, please, Lord!” – the climber prayed. “Do you have enough faith?” “Yes, I have faith, please save me!” “Then let go of the rope.” But the climber didn’t let go of the rope, he just kept holding on to it. The next morning the rescuers found him frozen, his fingers were still clutching the rope tightly, and only two meters under his feet there was a flat platform.
It is sometimes, or rather very often, hard for us people, to believe that we may not know something, we think that we know better what is safer and better for us. It is difficult to comprehend that sometimes, having lost something we acquire, we make room for new things, open and prepare the road for our dreams to come into our lives, that sometimes holding the rope to save life is actually incompatible with life. And leaping into the unknown and trusting a voice that advises us, seemingly absurd things, is the most correct decision we can make. Sometimes the best gift for us is not to get what we want the way we imagined it, and the dream is much more than just fulfilling all our desires.