Flash of a scabby fish knife

This was written by Calvin Seerveld, the uncle of my best friend. It’s a reminder to me of the power of small acts and the significance of work no matter how mundane. Heck, washing the dishes can be a sacred act…

My father is a seller of fish. We children know the business too having worked from childhood in the Great South Bay Fish Market, Patchogue, Long Island, New York, helping our father like a quiver full of arrows. It is a small store, and it smells like fish.

I remember a Thursday noon long ago when my Dad was selling a large carp to a prosperous woman and it was a battle to convince her that the carp, “is it fresh?”

It fairly bristled with freshness, had just come in, but the game was part of the sale. They had gone over it anatomically together: the eyes were bright, the gills were a good colour, the flesh was firm, the belly was even spare and solid, the tail showed not much waste, the price was right—Finally my Dad held up the fish behind the counter, “Beautiful, beautiful! Shall I clean it up?”

And as she grudgingly assented, ruefully admiring the way the bargain had been struck, she said, “My, you certainly didn’t miss your calling.”

She spoke the truth. My father is in full-time service for the Lord, prophet, priest and king in the fish business. And customers who come in the store sense it. Not that we always have the cheapest fish in town! Not that there are no mistakes on a busy Friday morning! Not that there is no sin! But this: that little Great South Bay Fish Market, my father and two employees, is not only a clean, honest place where you can buy quality fish at a reasonable price with a smile, but there is a spirit in the store, a spirit of laughter, of fun, of joy inside the buying and selling that strikes an observer pleasantly; and the strenuous week-long preparations in the back rooms for Friday fish-day are not a routine drudgery interrupted by “rest periods,” but again, a spirit seems to hallow the lowly work into a rich service, in which it is good to officiate.
Always in faith

When I watch my Dad’s hands, big beefy hands with broad stubby fingers each twice the thickness of mine, they could never play a piano; when I watch those hands delicately split the back of a mackerel or with a swift, true stroke fillet a flounder close to the bone, leaving all the meat together; when I know those hands dressed and peddled fish from the handlebars of a bicycle in the grim 1930?s, cut and sold fish year after year with never a vacation through fire and sickness, thieves and disasters, weariness, winter cold and hot muggy summers, twinkling at work without complaint, past temptations, struggling day in and day out to fix a just price, in weakness often but always in faith consecratedly cutting up fish before the face of the Lord: when I see that, I know God’s Grace can come down to a man’s hand and the flash of a scabby fish knife.

Reprinted in Comment, Winter 2000, by permission of the author.

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Posted in Attitude, creativity, Integrity, Meaning, work

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Jeff Vankooten is a speaker and author focusing on the power of resilience to effectively engage the challenges of change. He helps leaders, businesses, and organizations develop the skills necessary to thrive in an increasingly unpredictable business environment.
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