James is a New York architect. Writing in the Minneapolis Star Tribune some years ago, he recalled an evening in his 11th year of life when he and his father were catching sunfish and perch off the dock of the family cabin on a New Hampshire lake. It was the night before bass season was to begin when suddenly his fishing pole bent almost in two, a sure sign that there was something big on the hook.
The fish did not give up easily, and the father proudly watched as his son fought gamely and finally lifted an exhausted fish from the water. James wrote, “It was the largest one I’d ever seen, but it was a bass.”
For some people, that would have been a moment to start fiddling with the truth. The father looked at his watch and noted that the time was 10:00 pm, 2 hours before bass season was to begin. Just two hours! So what’s 2 hours? Would the father shrug his shoulders and conclude that the timing of the catch was close enough to the start of the season? That would have been easy to do, don’t you think? But not for James’ father. “You’ll have to put it back, son.”
No matter how strongly the boy protested, the father insisted that the fish be thrown back into the lake. One could not blame the boy if he looked around to see if there was anyone watching them, if there was anyone taking note of this decision. And there wasn’t. Still the father was unmoved. There was a law and a corresponding principle of compliance in operation: the fish had to be thrown back. And back it went, with an unhappy boy saying repeatedly that he would never see a fish that big again.
“That was 34 years ago,” James wrote. The cabin is still there, and today he takes his own children to the same dock where he and his father once fished. After all these years, the truth is that he has never caught a fish close to the size of the one that hit his line that night so long ago. On the other hand, he has seen other kinds of fish, the kind that rise to the bait when there is a question of ethics in one’s personal or professional life.
Read Daniel 6:1-24. Note his example of dealing with potential compromise. Do we do right when no one’s looking? Do we refuse to cut corners to get the project in on time? Do we refuse to use information for a test that we know we aren’t supposed to have?
“We would,” he answers, if we were taught to put the fish back when we were young, and we would have learned the truth. The decision to do right lives fresh and fragrant in our memory. It is a story we will proudly tell our friends, children, and grandchildren. Not about how we had a chance to beat the system and took it, but about how we did the right thing and were forever strengthened.
How much did James’ father leave when he died? I don’t know if there was a dollar amount, but this story suggests that there was a huge amount in terms of a spiritual legacy. More than one life was changed because of a tiny scene on a New Hampshire lake one night when a father gave his son the greatest gift a child can receive: a legacy that included guidance, integrity, courage, and a perspective on how to live life. Serve globally. How you live your life will affect others in the short and long term.
Love is a verb,