It was the night before my brother was married. At the end of the rehearsal dinner he spoke to his family and friends, then thanked them for coming. Next, he gave gifts to his groomsmen and thanked them for their friendship. His wife did the same. At the end of it my brother walked over to me and presented a long wooden box with a glass door. Inside was the bamboo fly rod my grandfather had bought after returning from World War II. It was fully restored to its original state. A beautiful piece of art. I wept.
As we embraced, the people clapped loudly and smiled. The glass walls reflected their movements and expressions like ghosts against the darkness outside. I cannot remember the words, but the pictures on the black walls are clear and silent.
The bamboo rod my brother gave me was one of two my grandfather purchased. My brother kept the other. I don’t know how they arrived in our home. We lived far away from my grandparents all my life and my grandfather had died many years earlier. If you ask my father, he will say he does not remember. It was a long time ago.
As I got older, I realized that the bamboo fly rods in our basement were special. But their value to me was as tattered as the threads along the guides. Faded and worn as the bamboo had become. I did not know it. Could not see it then. When I left home, I forgot. It was nearly twenty years before my brother reminded me of how well he knows me and sent them to Montana to be transformed into his gift.
Now, my grandfather’s bamboo fly rod hangs above the desk in my basement where I tie flies, and paint, and write, and play with my son. I keep it there because our time on this Earth is short. Our lives are special but fleeting. It reminds me…
The gift we all have to give is our time. Although my brother’s gift is rooted in the past, its great value to me is that reminder of the future. It reminds me to be with the people I love while I am here. To give them my time. Laugh with my brother and father in the drift boat. Visit family that lives far away. Share my thoughts with my wife. Walk the mountains and the rivers with my son. Take him in the woods with his grandfather.
Am I making use of my time? Am I giving my most important gift?
I never fly fished with my grandfather. Never spent time with him in the mountains. The ones before him I will never know. None of us will know them.
But I hope that as we wade through the currents of a trout stream and move across the stones beneath the water, that we are walking with them. All of them. That even the ones we never knew, wade with us, and know us. And that when we are gone, the gifts we gave in life echo in the hearts of those we love.