The swimming pool was teeming with people. Bright luminescent bikinis, squealing children, laughing dads, chattering moms, all jumbled up together in a thick soup of incessant movement, stirring, whirling, mixing, blending.
On one side of the pool, there was a man sitting by the edge of the water with a long pole, fishing. His face was hidden in a thick beard. He seemed totally detached from what was going on around, watching intently the red bobber on the undulating surface of the pool. A guard hastily jumped down from his tower and ran towards the man.
“Sir,” he said with an air of utter amazement, “what are you doing? This is a swimming pool!”
The man didn’t budge.
“This is not allowed!” “This is…,” he stumbled, “you’ve got hooks out there, people can get hurt!”
“Yeah,” chuckled the man, “what did you think? Good things come to those who bait. Just look at this beautiful bait.”
The guard looked down and gasped. It was exactly what he wanted. Right now. If only he could get it, he would be so happy. It would make him feel so good. Suddenly he felt a familiar gnawing inside urging him to have it – right now. No matter what.
Staring at the bait with his mouth wide open, he felt an ache and a craving in his heart slowly rising in intensity, pushing him on.
The fisherman seemed to know his mind.
“I know how you feel,” he said serenely. “Of course, I can walk away now, if you wish. You will climb back to your tower and continue feeling miserable. I know what you have been seeking all these years. And I know what you want. Just look at it.”
The guard didn’t need any more persuasion. He threw himself into the water making a huge splash. The next moment he swallowed the bait and immediately turned into a little fish-like creature.
The bobber went under. The fisherman yanked the line and pulled out his catch.
“Gotcha,” he said, taking him off the hook and casting into a big wide net.
Another fisherman walked out of the restroom. He lazily approached the bearded one and asked:
“How’s it going this morning?”
“Biting like crazy,” answered the bearded man in a matter-of-fact voice.
“What did you use for a bait this time?”
“Praise. He was so hungry for it. He needed to feel great about himself. He’s constantly looking to hook up with someone who would tell him how great he is. When he doesn’t get praise, he feels like dirt.”
The second fisherman chuckled.
“I wonder why they keep coming back for the bait?” he mused. “Don’t they know there’s a hook there?”
“They do. Each one knows he’s going to get hooked.”
“But they still…”
The bearded one gave a cunning grin:
“You know, every itch needs a scratch. They will never take the bait unless it helps them to get numb.”
“To stop feeling. To stop aching. To stop this gnawing sensation on the inside. It’s best to fish for them when they are super hungry. When this gnawing is at its worst. You have to know when this moment comes.”
“How do I know when this moment comes?”
The bearded one smiled.
“That’s the point. When this moment comes, they will seek you out on their own. In fact, they only see you when they are ready. Otherwise they are not even aware of your presence.”
As he finished saying these words, there was a lady swimming by. She had a vacant, meandering look in her eyes. Lifting up her head, she suddenly noticed the bearded gentleman and almost choked when she saw what he was baiting his hook with…
“How did you…?”
She gulped and opened her mouth, unable to continue. But he just gave her a look of sincere understanding. Splash, yank, and off you go. She was out of the water in a flash with a hook in her mouth.
“What was it this time?” asked the second fisherman.
“Control. She needed to be in control all the time, not to be crushed by the feeling of their own unworthiness. She eats control for breakfast because the moment she is not in control, it’s too unbearable – she feels like nothing.”
In the next half an hour, a dozen more people were fished out of the water using all kinds of bait.
Hooked with relationships, careers, education, achievements, children, cars, information, money, approval, sacrifice, devotion, they lay totally enmeshed in a fluttering and trepidating net.
“How about this one?” asked the second fisherman and pointed to a young woman wading through the shallow side of the pool and making a lot of waves.
The bearded one looked at her very intently and said:
“Drama. She is the drama queen. She feeds on other people’s emotions. When there’s no drama in her life she’s suffocating. She feels powerless. To feel powerful, she must send someone else on an emotional roller-coaster. When she doesn’t make waves, she feels devastated, empty, unhappy. That’s how she gets her high – when she’s able to rock the boat of other people’s lives, she thinks she amounts to something. She’s constantly looking out for those who would respond to her superpowers. So, I will hook her up… with her own child.”
The woman stopped short and looked right at the baited hook waving slowly at the bottom of the pool. All she knew at that moment is that she was unhappy, and everyone else was having a great time, including her own son. “How dare he laugh when I am feeling so down! I have had such a hard day at work, and he doesn’t give a damn. He is so cruel. He doesn’t care about my feelings.”
“Watch her now,” whispered the master fisherman.
As she was looking at her son enjoying himself in the pool, a sudden flush of rage filled up her empty heart.
“Stop all this splashing in my face,” she yelled.
The boy raised his big blue eyes, and laughter faded away from his face. There was shock, disbelief, and then… silence, giving way to bitterness and resentment.
The bobber went down.
“Got them both,” said the bearded one gleefully, pulling at the line and throwing his catch into the net.
“What did you hook her son with?” asked the second fisherman.
“Nothing. She hooked him up herself. If you get the parent you get the child.”
His partner gave him a look of surprise.
The bearded one continued:
“She crushed him, abandoned him, and so he became addicted to being crushed and abandoned. He gets his high from re-experiencing this pain over and over again.”
“What? But this makes no sense!”
The bearded one smirked:
“Look at him. He desperately wants to make her happy. When he feels he can’t, he is devastated. So, he seeks her out to abandon him again and again, because the moment he is abandoned, he believes he can win her back. He just needs to be perfect. Of course, he fails. But that’s the only way he can feel safe — by putting all his effort into making her happy. The more she abandons him, the more urge he feels to save her and get back her love. He is hooked up on her negativity for the sake of his own safety.”
The second fisherman shook his head, puzzled and impressed.
“Is there anyone you cannot catch?”
The bearded one paused and answered gravely:
“Every itch needs a scratch. And they are all itchy. They all have some unbearable feeling on the inside which they need to numb out. As long as that feeling is there, they are mine, they are all hooked.”
The next moment, the bearded gentleman looked up and almost choked. His eyes widened, his mouth dropped open, he looked as if he was totally hooked on something or someone.
“What, what is it?” asked the second fisherman.
The master fisherman looked dazed.
“I have been waiting for this for many years,” he finally muttered in a faltering voice, wiping the sweat off his forehead. “Look, here’s the one I have always wanted to catch. But he has never taken my bait.”
The second fisherman looked at the pool. By that time, it was empty except for one little boy who was swimming right towards them.
The bearded one trembled.
“I can’t let him go. This is THE catch. If only I catch him…”
The boy slowly approached the baited hook, looked the bearded man right in the eye, and then… swallowed the bait.
“Ahaa!” squealed the fisherman in delight and prepared to yank his pole. But something made him stop.
Suddenly he felt a gnawing feeling rising in his heart. There was an incredible ache and an irresistible craving urging him on: “You must have him, now! This is your only chance to destroy him, now that he is so little and helpless. Crush the child. With one blow. And you will be the Champion! The catcher of men!”
So, instead of yanking, he dropped his pole, and threw himself right into the pool, making a huge splash. The next moment the bait was swallowed – together with the hook.
The second fisherman stood there speechless. He couldn’t believe his eyes.
“Hooked! The catcher of men is hooked!” he said finally. “What happened?”
“He was hooked long ago, the moment he decided to take my place,” said a calm voice beside him.
The second fisherman looked around and saw the little boy holding the pole and pulling out his catch.
“Who are you?”
“I am the Catcher of men!”
With these words, the boy picked up the net that was lying right next to him and tipped it over. All the captives flopped back into the water.
And once again, the swimming pool was teeming with people. Bright luminescent bikinis, squealing children, laughing dads, chattering moms, all jumbled up together in a thick soup of incessant movement, stirring, whirling, mixing, blending.
No one seemed to have noticed what had happened. People were going on with their fun. The mother who had just exploded at her son was still there by the edge of the pool, looking at him with eyes full of rage. She must have her drama. She’s feeling so down. And just look at him – he is so little and helpless. She will crush the child with one blow and gloat at his misery. It’s going to feel so good. She was about to continue with her fulminations, but something made her stop.
The moment she was about to say something nasty, she happened to look into her son’s eyes, and suddenly saw… something she didn’t expect to see. For she didn’t see someone unfeeling, uncaring, selfish and beaming with excitement at her expense. No. Instead she saw… a crushed child. He was looking at her out of the depths of her son’s grief, and it was her own grief. She recognized herself in that crushed child. She was the crushed child. And she felt shattered. Something snapped inside her, and she broke into tears. An overwhelming wave of grief filled up her heart to the brim. She trembled and sobbed.
As tears trickled down her cheeks in a continuous stream of lament, her rage quivered and cracked, slowly but surely melting away at the sound of her own weeping, as if a mighty river of cleansing was set loose by breaching an invisible dam. And her unhappiness dissipated like a wisp of smoke blown away by a mighty gust of wind. Finally, there was nothing left but quietness and peace.
With tears in her eyes, she came up to her son, enveloped him a warm hug and said:
“I am sorry, I am so sorry.”
He looked at her intently and suddenly said:
“Do you want to play catch?”
Her eyes sparkled with joy and she started chasing him around the pool crying: “I am gonna get you.”
“Gotcha,” said the crushed child, reeling back the line.
“What did you do?” asked the second fisherman, “she’s off the hook. You said you were the Catcher of men.”
“I am,” replied the boy, “but I catch men by letting go.”