The Boy looked out across the flat, brown water. The big lake, calm, extended beyond the distant haze. Its wide brown waters were warmed by the sun.

“Life’s a lot simpler than we tend to make it,” the Old Man said. “That’s why it’s important to always be willing to drop everything and go fishing. It keeps you centered and helps you remember you’re small.”

“I don’t have any trouble feeling small,” the Boy said, and the Old Man laughed.

“From your perspective, with practically all your life ahead, it’s easy to look at an old, retired critter like me and think I don’t know what worry means. My kids are raised, my house is paid for. All I’ve got to do is garden a little, go to church on Sunday and fish, but I had to learn how to be this way. If you butt your head into a rock enough times, you’ll eventually figure out it doesn’t get you anywhere. That’s where perspective comes in handy.

“The best way to stop your worries is to operate from a solid plan. Even if the plan is uncomfortable, it will put worry to an end. A good plan will show you where all the toughest points lie and let you to consider them one by one. I know that’s easier said than done.

“Some folks would tell you to ignore your worries, but that doesn’t work for intelligent people. The best way I’ve found to be sure to wake up every morning in a cold, blinking panic is to pretend no problems exist. Then they all rush back to greet you before you even get out of bed. Lies don’t do anyone any good, least of all the ones you’d tell yourself.

“Just make the best plan you can, knowing you won’t be able to fix everything. That’ll let you stop butting your head into a rock.”

“What if it looks like I can break through the rock, though?” the Boy asked.

“Then there’ll just be another rock right behind that one,” the Old Man said. “Get out of the habit of breaking rocks. Life doesn’t have to be that hard.”

The Old Man let that statement marinate for a while, then went on.

“Some people can’t be comfortable with comfort, and others take their comfort from the difficulties of others,” he said. “Both of those are fools’ solutions, and I didn’t raise any fools. Be honest, even if it looks like the least comfortable out, and you’ll find the surest path to comfort, such as it can exist.”

“Even when you’ve made mistakes?” the Boy asked.

“Especially when I’ve made mistakes,” the Old Man said, “and I’ve made plenty. Teddy Roosevelt said the only man who never made a mistake is the man who never did anything. By that measure, I’ve done quite a lot.

“I’ve known plenty men who don’t appear to sweat over all the many plates they keep spinning in the air, plenty who even thrive and profit by it. Personally, I’d rather be able to close my eyes at night knowing I’ve done the best I could do by those who depend on me. I may be poorer for the comfort, but at least I haven’t driven myself crazy yet, and I don’t dread opening my eyes in the morning, either.”

Kevin Tate is a freelance writer. Email

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