Beyond All Comfort Zones

Peter was born during one of the most celebrated times in American history. 1923 was at the beginning of the Roaring Twenties when life was celebrated with such enthusiasm it could only crash years later.

Born to poor farmers in Central California, Peter spent most of his time as a child helping around the farm.

While America was celebrating a luxurious life, Peter and his family worked dry soil until it gave some form of produce. 

By the time the Great Depression started Peter and his family were already poor. He spent those years working just as hard as anyone else – probably harder.

He smiled as he shared the way his teachers would let him take a nap during the first few hours of class. 

“Better to have part of me than none of me,” he said in reference to the teachers accepting his full attention by mid-morning rather than his complete absence. 

He was, of course, working the farm before and after school. For Peter school was a temporary break in life. 

In his teenage years, Peter left the farm and moved to the coast. There he quickly fell in love with the sea.

No doubt it was easy to abandon the dirt fields for which he had toiled so greatly, especially because the sea was richer than anything he had ever seen. 

Peter learned to sail and to fish. And by the time he turned 18 and World War II was just kicking off for the US, Peter had become part of a small, but efficient fishing business.

He enlisted, as other men his age, and was prepared to fight where the military saw fit. 

As he was finishing training word somehow arrived that Peter was fully trained and licensed as a captain and quite adept at fishing.

He could serve his country better by way of the sea than foreign soil. The US military needed rations of all sorts and fish were among the list. 

So Peter fished his way through the war, growing more adept at a trade for which he had been called while providing for his country at the same time. 

When the war ended Peter purchased several surplus boats to add to a small fleet he had built during the previous years. In his early-twenties life was just beginning.

But not before he would make the biggest decision of his life. 

One of the men who had helped him learn the fishing craft was a Greek fisherman who had much respect for Peter and his work ethic. This man had a younger daughter for whom Peter had grown fond. 

“When are you going to marry her,” the old man asked Peter one morning taking him by surprise. 

“As soon as she finished school, and with your blessing,” Peter responded as casually as if he had been planning this response for some time. 

The fisherman’s daughter finished school one day and the next day Peter made her his wife. They would remain married for 75 years, 4 months and 13 days he shared with a tear in his eye. 

Peter was 97 years old when I met him. But you would have thought he was half that age the way he stood straight, spoke clearly and directly and smiled brightly.

The sea had made him tough over eighty years. But he was also the kind of man who was unafraid to cry, especially in remembering his beloved bride. 

Life carried on for Peter after the war, much the same as everyone else. Babies were born, business boomed and his love for the sea grew deeper. 

One day Peter made a discovery when it came to the way the radio systems worked on boats. Small craft did not have the luxurious technology of larger ships, and the military, of course, had all of the highest technology at the time.

So taking weeks of going to the library to study physics and mechanics, and bringing along a teenage underling as he had been brought under his father-in-law, Peter learned how he could adapt the radio equipment in his small fishing boats to be able to extend the radio communication.

Of course, this would be an advantage for Peter and his small fleet, now able to travel further and fish larger swaths of the sea while remaining in contact with each other and with the land. 

Peter probably could have made a fortune from this discovery but instead, he shared it with other fishermen in his community.

Word got out up and down the Pacific coast and soon small fishing vessels of all sorts had this manufactured technology to be able to communicate. 

This, in itself, would prove to be perhaps the most impactful event that would foreshadow a lifetime of a legacy for Peter. 

The years went on and the fishing continued. The business grew and his love for the sea never waned.

He’ll tell you now, at 97, that he has yet to retire from fishing. 

The kids all went to college. Peter laughed as he said how each one picked careers like doctors and lawyers that required a maximum amount of time (and expense) at school.

Nevertheless, he worked hard and provided for his children’s post-secondary education.

One evening while fishing Peter was hailed on the radio to help answer a question for another captain. In all of his previous self-studies he had learned much about many things when it came to fishing vessels.

So he responded with the solution. 

Moments later the radio was full of chatter from other captains praising him for such insight into how they too could fix their own same issue. 

Never wanting to keep for himself, Peter began an evening practice at sea of asking over the radio what help other captains might need.

Questions came in night after night. And solutions poured out continually in response.

The greater mass of fishermen on the West Coast were becoming better at their craft for Peter’s simple commitment to host this nightly conversation with others on the radio system he helped make possible for other captains. 

This community, albeit competitors at the core, grew around these nightly conversations and captains participated as far as their radios would permit. 

Eventually this nightly meeting turned into a time of prayer. Salty sea captains had the confidence not only in Peter’s insight into life, but also in the power of those on the other end of the radio.

Men who had never stepped foot in a church would open up about troubles in their families, struggling with addictions and the various other topics that plague us in life.

And each night Peter would lead, but not exclusively, prayer over these issues the same as when he helped others fix their boats. 

The rest of the years hurtled forward after these. Peter never left the sea.

But eventually, he captained large shipping vessels through distant places you only hear about in stories from captains like Peter.

He hauled drilling equipment through miles of ice-filled water north of the Arctic Circle and he maneuvered ships around the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Horn and every dangerous place in between. 

He did return, voluntarily, to enlist in the Coast Guard to serve his country as an older man. This time only increased his resolve to become one with the sea and it led to more adventures around the world. 

Peter has lived a full life and shows no signs at 97 years old of slowing down.

I met him in a restaurant in La Paz, Mexico and could have spent days listening to the many stories he told.

But in only a few hours he had imparted such wondrous accounts that the boy in me came alive with dreams of living my entire life as but just one chapter from his. 

As his daughter tugged on his arm to leave, apologizing to me with a smile on her face, I asked for a few more minutes. 

“He’ll talk all day if you let him,” she said. 

“Great,” I responded. “I have the time.” 

For all that Peter shared I had but one question: what is the one piece of advice you would give a 38-year old man like me. 

Without hesitation, and with a bright spark in his eyes, he looked at me and said this: Go beyond your comfort zone. It is there where you’ll meet the hand of God. 

I was relieved in this, that he did not tell me to go back to school to learn a trade or to race back into a classroom to teach.

Those things are noble and worthy of the effort and I sense, had Peter said either of these things, I would have trusted him enough to follow through with them. 

I smiled and shook his hand as he stood up to leave the restaurant. 

“I’m already there,” I said with confidence that his stories had instilled in me.

For every day since I married my own bride, and most especially in the past two years since we have left to live on the road, every day is well beyond my comfort zone.

“Good,” Peter said returning the smile. 

Then he walked out of the door.