Over the summer I re-read The Old Man and the Sea; a novella by my favorite writer, Ernest Hemingway. It was written in Cuba in 1951 and published in 1952 and the last major work of fiction to be produced by Hemingway and published in his lifetime.
Being one of his most famous pieces of literature, it centers upon Santiago, an aging Cuban fisherman who struggles with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. The story some would say is a narrative about a man set out to catch a fish, perhaps – however the story is not a story at all. It is a life lesson experienced by Santiago.
As he prepares to set sail on the vase ocean his small boat is a metaphor for sailing through life; his search for the marlin – life’s challenge. The fish is an example of how minuscule life is in the human scheme of things. How his life was indeed small in comparison to the challenges that lie ahead. As the battle between man, sea, and fish begin – so his life lessons begin. He learns personal strength, the power of endurance, physical hardship, excruciating pain, victory and defeat. His quest – was to catch a fish, however, the journey and life lesson the fish taught [him] went far beyond a simple fishing voyage. His fortitude to overcome his fears, his urge to take on his quest to prove his bravery all culminated in one poignant episode of individual self worth and valor. He knew the task was extraordinary and completion impossible, nonetheless, his drive allowed him to fear forward, to expect the inevitable and the possibility of fail. Would his inability to accomplish his task be considered failure, to some perhaps? But Santiago would not let his doubts paralyze him. He feared forward. He kept his focus on the mission – to personally succeed. It mattered not to Santiago whether others believed his story about the massive fish. To Santiago it was a successful experience and the satisfaction of knowing he finished what he set out to do. A life lesson fearlessly learned.
The tale of The Old Man and the Sea continues to be one of Hemingway’s most read books. In life we encounter situations that challenge and test our mettle. The lesson is not whether Santiago succeeds or fails – the lesson is having the courage to try even when the odds are against you.