Stanley Larsen’s fishing boat, Four Kids, pulled up to the dock in Menemsha a little after 10 am last Thursday, under a bright blue sky. Stanley steers it so it eases up next to its sister vessel, Richard & Arnold, and his helper, Eric DeWitt, unloads bushel baskets of fluke while Larsen grabs his paperwork and thermos and jumps onto the dock, headed toward me. “Hi, Connie,” he says, “sorry I’m late.”
He’s wearing one white rubber boot and one black, his ball cap shading his eyes and his ruddy, red-brown face.
We find some damp wooden steps right next to the water, and sit down to talk.
I’ve read Stanley’s comments on the Islanders Talk Facebook page, and they piqued my interest about where his faith comes from. His comments are about beauty, love, justice, and I find them mostly uplifting. It seemed to me that they were coming from a deep well inside him, and I wanted to see if I could find out just how far down it goes. Turns out, pretty deep.
Stanley was born and raised here, and has been a fisherman since childhood; he helped his dad lobstering from the time he was a kid. His father died when Stanley was in his early 20s, and then he carried on the family tradition, going out on long trips, steaming six, eight, even 10 hours at a time in his dad’s old boat: “I’d head down to Nantucket, out to New Bedford, south of the Island. I’d have fishing magazines that I’d probably read about 10 times, and I happened to be going through [his dad’s] drawer one day, and came upon the King James Bible. I just started reading it.”
He said the most he could remember from the Bible as a kid was a story about “David making a slingshot.” The more Stanley read on that fishing boat, the more questions he had. “I started right from the very beginning, then I began jumping around because I didn’t understand anything in it,” he told me.
In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Stanley said, he went out alone much of the time; the fishing was so bad that it was hard to justify paying someone to go with him. “I had to talk to somebody, so I talked to God,” he said.
He asked God the questions he wanted answers to, and, Stanley said, he would uncover those answers as he read the Bible.
He doesn’t recall his dad being especially religious, but looking back on his memories of spending all that time with him fishing, Stanley said his dad was “a very good person.”
“We spent a lot of time together,” he remembered. “Growing up, I was pretty rebellious, a troublemaker, so to speak, and spending a lot of time with my father, I came to really appreciate what he stood for.”
Stanley said he came upon Jesus’ teachings to his disciples, and started breaking down the scriptures, and when he got to “your kingdom come,” he said it made him wonder what or where that kingdom is.
“I started questioning, ‘your kingdom’; was it religions, was it churches?” Stanley said as we sat on the steps. “Then I realized God’s kingdom wasn’t in a church. It was a real government, the one people pray for in the Lord’s Prayer. It was an entity where everybody was the same, everybody was equal. Nobody is better than anybody else. The leaders aren’t better than the followers; this is what Jesus taught.”
I asked if his beliefs stirred up trouble in his own life. “It did impact other people as I was learning these good things, the good news,” he said. “I learned about no more money, no more sickness, even death will be done away with. These were all of God’s promises. This is what I was reading in the Bible, and as I started focusing more on Jesus’ teaching, it became clearer and clearer how simple that was.”
Stanley said he searched everywhere for answers, and spent a lot of time at the library and a lot of time reading, something his mother had instilled in him when he was a young boy. He’s started writing several books too, he said, but sitting down to write takes time, something he doesn’t have much of at the end of a long day fishing and then helping customers at the Menemsha Fish Market, the business he and his wife Lanette own. When we’re not in the middle of a pandemic, Stanley goes door to door with friends, spreading the news about how God’s kingdom will be realized here on earth. They go in twos, just like the disciples he read about. He’s found some answers, and a way to live while believing all of the promises he’s read about in the Bible. Stanley’s favorite scripture passage is 1 Corinthians 15:24 — a sort of conclusion about God’s kingdom, he says, “restoring the earth back to God’s original purpose, a paradise for all mankind to live in peace and love each other.”
“I do want to live forever,” he tells me. “I love being on the earth, I love being around people. I love seeing creation growing — plants and animals, it makes me want to cry to think of the joy of it.”
It’s a wonder to him, all the ecosystems on earth, and how they all work together and yet are independent. “I look at seeds, and there’s so many different seeds made out of the same components, and yet mankind cannot duplicate the simplest seed,” he says. “These are the things that make me so positive that there is a God.”
The current world situation and the racial tensions in the U.S. make for a “very sad and disturbing time,” Stanley said. He finds peace out on his boat, or driving alone at night under the moon and stars.
“I can look at the stars and say, What keeps all those stars in place? What holds all these things together? There’s some kind of super-powerful force or energy holding all this stuff together. Our bodies are made up of all kinds of materials, compounds, and water … and yet if we die, we turn back to dust.”
Stanley believes in something bigger than himself, something more powerful and loving than anything on earth. If you talk to him long enough, you can see where he’s coming from. He’s both a fisherman and philosopher.
“This is one of my favorite things,” he says, standing up to stretch and say goodbye, “to sit with someone like yourself and to talk about my faith, about the things I’ve learned in the Bible.”
I think about ordering some cooked shrimp before I leave. I turn around as I head to my car and Stanley’s already back to work, greeting customers who came to pick up some takeout. Another day, I think.