Lessons from Santiago

I can’t remember exactly how old I was when I finally sat down and read Ernest Hemingway’s classic novella, The Old Man and the Sea, but it profoundly changed my life and forever altered my definition of what it means to be a man.

Written from his home in Cuba in 1951, the book was published the following year and was immediately met with critical acclaim.

Although he had been a professional writer and journalist for some 30 years and had already published such classic books as The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, and For Whom the Bell Tolls, it was The Old Man and the Sea that made Hemingway a star – and won him the Pulitzer Prize in Literature in 1954.

It would also be the last major work of fiction published during his lifetime. Less than a decade later, Hemingway – who had battled depression and alcoholism for much of his adult life – took his own life with a double-barreled shotgun.

The book tells the story of Santiago, an aging and down-on-his-luck fisherman.

After 84 straight days without catching a single fish, the locals had labeled the old man “salao,” the absolute worst form of unluckiness. The parents of his young apprentice, Manolin, have even forbid their son to sail with him.

Undeterred, Santiago heads back out to sea alone and on the 85th day, he snags a marlin so enormous that he is unable to reel it in. Instead, the giant fish drags the wounded fisherman farther and farther out to sea where the real story begins.

Considering I’m not much of a fisherman, you might wonder how this seemingly simply-written book captured my attention.

I thought you’d never ask.

For most men, being perceived as “successful” is often seen as the easiest way to determine their value as a human being.

But success is little more than a status and more often than not, little consideration is given to the journey most men take to become “successful.”

Take Santiago for example.

He has nothing but a broken-down shed to live in and a rickety old boat with a sail that is “patched with flour sacks” and looks “like the flag of permanent defeat.”

But while nearly “everything about Santiago is old,” his eyes remain “the same color as the sea and are cheerful and undefeated.”

Instead of throwing in the towel after 84 days of terrible luck, he sails farther out into the Gulf than he has gone before.

Despite what society tells you, it’s always about the journey. It’s always about the lessons you learn along the way. It’s not where you end up. It’s how you get there that matters the most.

The current issue of Signature Magazine is dedicated to the men of our community and I can’t think of a finer representative than our friend, Terry Jordan, who is featured on our cover and in an excellent feature story written by Beth Bunch that begins here on Page 62.

Like Santiago, Terry has had plenty of sharks that have circled him during his life. They always seem to gather when they smell the blood of real achievement and through it all – Terry has created a name for himself as one of the Pine Belt’s most-beloved personalities and I'm proud to call him my friend.

This issue is for you, Terry. Don't let the bastards grind you down.

When not channeling his inner Hemingway or trying to avoid being “salao,” Gustafson spends his days as the not-so-mild-mannered editor and publisher of Signature Magazine.