"You gotta have hope
You gotta have something
There's always a reason to break ... " Dateline: Words Unheard.
My ears speak for themselves.
Questions I have never asked have taught me the most. A career built on words, most unspoken.
But in the silence, I hear screams.
I don't ask for what it is I'm told.
And I take the telling and I write it down.
Then some read of the telling. And tell others of the telling. Telling squared.
As the telling grows, I sit in silence.
And scream. And worry that those who sit too close will hear the echo inside of me.
I was going to write a story called, "Hummingbirds at Sea." I didn't ask but in a several hour conversation with Kelly Jordon, he told me about a fishing trip he took out into the Gulf of Mexico.
Here's how the conversation began:
db: "KJ ... dude ... how are you?"
KJ: "db ... well, you know ... ... ... ... "
Our conversation had a word ratio of about 3,519-to-1.
I'm the 1.
The less I talk, the more interesting the conversation. With me, what you don't hear is what you get. Trust me, it's better that way.
So KJ is telling me about some sort of fishing trip he wants me to go on. KJ says 565 words about why I should go.
I say 1.
KJ takes another drink for his dry throat, and launches another 627 words.
Another sip ... another 870 words ... one of which is "hummingbird."
db: "No ... what."
KJ: 360 words, " ... hummingbird."
db: "I'll go."
KJ is now speechless. Me too. I have agreed to go out in the Gulf of Mexico and fish with him for some kind of fish that I never paid any attention to him talk about ... I remember thinking sandwich so I'm assuming it's tuna ... and KJ is stunned because I actually agreed to it while saying two words back-to-back.
KJ: "You serious ..." 1,120 words later "... Why?"
db: "Hummingbirds. At sea. With nothing to hum."
KJ was 50 miles in the Gulf of Mexico when a hummingbird flew by.
I need to see a hummingbird 50 miles out to sea.
A bird of a few ounces can cross a 450-mile wide ocean. If that's true, we have picked the wrong bird as our national symbol.
I want to watch a hummingbird at sea.
I want the courage of the hummingbird. At sea.
I need to watch a hummingbird at sea, because that is hope, with wings and a beak.
Above all I want to honor the hummingbird's heart.
So KJ and I made plans; he will fish for something in the sea, and I will fish for something in the sky.
Turns out, the next day or so I met a man with the stuff of a hummingbird's heart. A friend of KJ's.
Staff Sergeant Brent Homan of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Calvary, 1st Calvary Division.
And I sit in my hotel room, and in the silence I scream.
Scream for the strength of a Hummingbird at Sea.
Sir, is not me
Media Day, Bass 2010.
Words flying aplenty.
Not by me, I'm on my fourth biscuit. Media in reverse.
My phone rings, and it's KJ, he's two media tables and one biscuit to my right. "He's here."
As I walk up, Staff Sgt. Brent Homan has his back to me.
KJ: "Brent ... I'd like you to meet db."
And Homan turns to shake my hand with what's left of his right hand and arm.
As I looked at his hand with no wrist, and a bent thumb that won't move, held in place with a metal rod, a hand without any feeling left, an arm missing most of the arm, twisted and scared, I look up to his young face to say, Hello/Thank You/I'm honored to meet you/I'm so sorry, I see this ...
... a handsome 30-year old young man, with one eye.
And I know as I stood there and held his shattered hand that all of the horror brought on this young man was for me.
Was for the anglers behind me.
Was for the boat builders.
Was for the lure designers.
Was for the motor makers.
Was for you.
So I said hello, and hoped he didn't hear the scream. The echo inside of me.
"Nice to meet you sir."
SIR. Me. He called me SIR.
A shattered arm, traumatic brain injury, shrapnel still buried in his brain, and he calls me SIR.
So I held his broken hand and leaned in close to his body and whispered to him this:
"Dude ... son ... let me tell you this ... don't ever call me sir again, you my friend are the only SIR in this room."
"Please, put my thumb back on ..."
On a concrete bench under the blue sky of Birmingham I heard of horror in the sand from the young man with one eye.
Two combat tours in Iraq, one of which came to end with an IED explosion on June 10th, 2007.
I just listened to Brent.
You can, too.
"I was a Bradley Fighting Vehicle Commander, Section Leader, Infantry. We were on combat patrol on Route Tampa, night, I was holding my handheld GPS behind my sniper glass."
Nothing for Brent would ever be the same from this moment on. Ever.
"The explosion pierced the sniper glass and the turret, shrapnel entered my face and blew out my cheekbone and severed my optic nerve, it shattered my right arm, nearly blew off my right hand at the wrist, severed my right thumb."
Laying in the sand covered in sand and blood from a severed artery, "My men saw the shape I was in and wanted to keep me calm as we waited for evac, so they just kept talking to me."
I'm just listening, haven't said a word in 15 minutes. Didn't deserve to.
"They kept talking to me about fishing. They knew how much I loved to fish, how my dad and I used to fish together, and I was thinking of fishing and my family, and fishing with dad, and all I kept telling them was, 'Please, please get my thumb, don't let them take my thumb, please put my thumb back on so I can fish."
I can't breathe.
I can't blink.
I can't look at the young man's face.
If I ask him a question he will hear the echo inside of me.
"When I got to the theater hospital they told me they could save my eye, or my thumb, but not both. I told them I didn't want to be blind, but please try and save my thumb."
His thumb was saved, sort of, his eye was not. "I have no depth perception, when I try to throw to a spot in the water it takes me three times to have it go to the spot I'm aiming at."
But Purple Heart recipient Staff Sergeant (RET) Brent Homan fishes. Fishes the tournament trail in Texas with the Army Bass Angler Team.
"My dream is to someday be a professional bass angler just like the people in this room."
"Fishing special for you, huh?"
"Yes Si ... db ... "
His shattered hand comes up and adjusts the baseball cap on his head, his left foot moves, his right foot moves, he looks at the Bassmaster Elite anglers and the Media on Media Day.
"db ... I'm still in recovery you know, still dealin', and fishing, fishing, you know with the injury it's sometimes hard for me to you know get the words, but fishing, fishing, you know, on the water out there, on the water, no one can hurt me. I'm safe."
In my hotel room as I write his quote, I scream in silence.
This echo inside of me.
Scream for the strength, of The Hummingbird At Sea.
Cause nothing less
Will save the day."
Five For Fighting
Don Barone is an award-winning outdoors writer and a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association and the Outdoor Writers Guild of the U.K. You can reach db at www.donbaroneoutdoors.com.