By Sharon Lynch
Mark wondered why he cared so much. Standing beside the aquarium in his den, he watched the fish struggling. He had been doing the same thing every evening for almost a week. The only light was the aquarium’s, spilling down into the watery depths as his tropical fish moved around plants, a miniature castle and each other. Different shapes and sizes circled, looped or suspended in the tranquil pretend-sea. Colours blended in or stood out against the background of an imaginary river bed.
It had been another tough week at the office. Dealing with difficult personalities, deadlines and office politics sometimes left him feeling worn down and weary. Watching the fish in their silent underwater setting was calming. Beautiful to look at with its greens and blues, smooth stones and feathery plants, it displayed a peaceful world that made it easier for Mark to let go of his daily life for a brief while.
But one fish was sick or injured. Mark could tell by the way it swam. Lopsided, it would give sudden bursts of movement, obviously pushing itself to get at the food Mark sprinkled into the water. However Mark speculated it was probably not very successful in feeding, as it appeared to be getting thinner, its eyes protruding more as it watched the others nearby. It looked as though it was trying to stay clear of them.
This had happened before, and Mark knew how it would almost certainly end. The fish would die, indeed it was dying as he watched. But it seemed to be a slow death, and he wondered if the fish was feeling pain. Over the years he had kept various fish and some lived longer than others. There was one that he had now had for two years, its beautiful fluttery fins trailing behind it like a wedding veil. Always in motion, it prowled the tank restlessly, sometimes chasing the smaller fish.
There was more going on in the aquarium than most people would think. Such was Mark’s view, based on what he saw. There appeared to be alliances, targeted victims, bullies and fearful swimmers. Little fish tended to stay away from bigger ones unless in a protective group. The sick fish was on its own. Mark saw how it hid when there was no sprinkled food, resting on the bottom of the tank or in between plant blades. It stayed motionless in these spots, as though trying to blend in with its surroundings and not be noticed.
As he watched and drew conclusions, Mark wondered how much of what he thought was going on in the tank was fact and how much was his own projected thoughts. And why was this struggling fish so interesting? Perhaps he identified with its determination to persevere no matter what.
Mark had always felt like an outsider, and as a child he had struggled to be accepted and blend in with others in the schoolyard. There was that word “struggle” again. Learning at an early age that to be different had ramifications, he had sometimes had to work harder, be friendlier or smarter or just plain more determined in order to achieve what he wanted. Discouragement. Self-doubt. He had learned to ignore these and push on. Like the struggling fish. But fortunately for Mark, his efforts had usually paid off. Or at least unsuccessful ones didn’t end in death, as he was certain would be the case with his poor little fish.
Then he realized there was more happening here than his own memories and experiences. The entire world seemed to be struggling. Terrible events continued to unfold as people fought to survive war, famine, injustice and lurking climate disaster. Survival was not a given. And what could the world do but struggle on, trying to overcome, hoping for change. Mark only hoped the world would be more successful than his fish. Because for the fish, he already knew how its story would end.