The fish seem to have noticed that it is spring. The little male gourami needs floating plants in which to build a bubble nest before his mate will take his advances seriously. As they have, quite inconsiderately, eaten all the floating plants I had provided for them in which to build the aforementioned nest, a trip to the pet store was required.
All well and good. Except, the pet-store had no floating plants in stock. After a discussion with the very helpful young man there, we managed to improvise. I replenished the supply of algae wafers for the big pleco and headed for the checkout. The mistake was passing in front of the tanks…
I’ve lost a few fish to old age lately and, while I may sigh at the beauty of some of the fish on display, I know the big pleco comes first. She…don’t ask me why, but I think she is a she… needs a fair bit of space in which to swim, so the bigger, more spectacular fish are out of the question until I can replace the tank for a more spacious affair. But the little glowlight tetras were on special offer… which struck me as odd in itself. How can you have a special offer on life?
As soon as I got home, I switched off the aquarium lights and opened the lid. You have to float the plastic bag to acclimatise the fish before letting the tank water in, little by little. It takes a while. A little neon had died while I was out… they are all reaching the end of their lifespan, so there was a certain sad inevitability to its end. Removing the tiny body from the water, I was faced with the same dilemma I always face at these times. How do you dispose of the remains of a life? The traditional method of flushing the little corpse down the toilet seems wrong, on all sorts of levels. The garbage does not feel right either. I almost felt it would be better to leave him to the other fish… but settled, instead, for digging the smallest of graves.
By the time that was done and the dog convinced she need not dig him up again, the new fish were ready for release. I watched for a while as they explored their new home. I saw them being checked out by the resident ‘owners’ of the tank, the small but feisty Buenos Aries tetras, asserting their right of precedence…and watched the little glowlights run for cover in the plants before tentatively trying again.
The conditions for new life were created for the little gourami, one life had been lost, and six purchased. And that’s weird. I own lives… technically, at least! They are, as far as I can tell, happy in their environment. They are all tank-bred, not wild, but even so, were they released into the rivers and lakes whence their ancestors came, would they come back through choice? I think not.
I own the dog too, in principle. In reality, she owns me… but that is a different story. On the odd occasion when she has illicitly taken herself for a walk, she has always chosen to return, so there is no sense of ownership, just friendship…and responsibility.
In truth, I own no life but my own. Neither the fish nor the dog belong to me… they belong to themselves; they are simply in my care and it is my responsibility to ensure their wellbeing. I have children… created within my body and brought into life…yet although they are ‘my’ children, they too belong only to themselves. The ‘ownership’ here is not about possession, but denotes a duty and, more importantly, a privileged responsibility to the lives that pass into our care.
It is a strange thing, when you think about it, that we use terms of possession when we speak of those we love; the highest form of love is selfless and every day we see examples of people giving, not seeking to possess, simply because they care. Such a ‘duty’ is not an onerous task, but a joy.
There is only one life we can truly call our own, yet we do not always lavish the care upon ourselves that we would on a pet. We let things slide that would ring alarm bells with an animal in our care. We may pay less attention to our own true needs than we do to that of the cat or dog…or even the fish. We know the signs of stress in our pets better than we do in ourselves and move faster to help. Because we acknowledge responsibility… and because we love them.
I keep reading about how we are supposed to love ourselves first…and because of the way it is phrased, it gives the impression that we should put ourselves first, which seems an awfully selfish way to live. If, on the other hand, we looked at the way we love those lives in our care, taking responsibility for their wellbeing, perhaps ‘loving yourself’ might take on a whole new meaning.
We are responsible for all the lives in our care…including our own. While we may feed, water and excercise our bodies, we do not always nourish or care for our minds as well as we could…and many pay even less attention to spiritual needs.
Today I bought six lives for the price of a single capuccino and was immediately reminded of their fragility and impermanence. We have a precious and priceless gift, and too often we let it fade into grey. There are no ‘two for the price of one’ offers on life…we owe it to ourselves to live the one we have as fully and as vividly as we can.