Life in a Fishbowl
“… for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:11b-13).
He swims about in his tank, peering through thick glass at broader life going on beyond.
I must be honest. I talk to him–tell him how beautiful he’s looking, how lovely his flowing fins, comment on how much he’s grown. Perhaps it’s because, most days, I’m rarely with others, aside from my immediate family. Maybe I’m losing my mind. Regardless, I find him pleasant company.
Once, a couple years ago, I temporarily tired of having him on my kitchen counter. It was nearing Thanksgiving, and we thought we’d see how he’d do in our laundry room. His tank looked so nice, tucked in among the detergent and dog treats. He’ll be happy here, I tried to convince myself. After all, it was a much quieter corner of our home (and not my kitchen counter!)–with only the whir of the washer, the gentle drumming of drying clothes.
Not so. Only several days after his relocation, it was obvious that he was lonely in such an isolated space. He just hung out on the bottom of his tank, really let things go. When I’d walk in to do laundry, he’d barely bubble hello. His fins lay limp beside him, and he didn’t swim to the top in anticipation of being fed. Indeed, his disposition changed–a reminder that we’re created for community, even when it’s but a small crowd. Me being the only fish in his sea, so to speak, he seemed sad.
Thus, we moved him back to the kitchen, just in time to be displayed alongside our vintage pilgrim candle couple–the dime store pair who make their annual appearance at some point prior to Thanksgiving. They were purchased by and belonged to my paternal grandparents, and I can only imagine what Grandma Alice would say upon seeing a goldfish as part of the seasonal decorations. “Sakes alive!” she’d likely cry, then cluck for emphasis. Grandpa would probably joke about enjoying him on a cracker, perhaps with a bit of cream cheese.
Of course, I shudder at such thought. After all, one can’t eat a pet with a name. His name is Buddy, and, quite honestly, that’s what he’s become. The first to greet me each morning when I venture into the kitchen for coffee, he swims around excitedly as I plug in his lamp–light up his world, small and simple though it is. Then, as I pad about, he follows me with his big, black eyes, and when I open his fish food, take a pinch between thumb and forefinger, he swims right to the top as though begging for breakfast, his mouth opening and closing wildly.
He’s at least three times bigger than when our daughter first brought him home from the fair–Allie’s “free-to-a-good-home” goldfish that someone offered her. “I won two but can only keep one,” the stranger explained. Had her dad and I been with her, we’d have likely declined, with a polite, “No thank you”–because we’ve had several, and they never lived long. Allie would have pouted, no doubt, but we’d have whisked her off to ride the Tilt-A-Whirl or perhaps bought her cotton candy, which we’d undoubtedly have regretted, though only for an ensuing energetic hour or two. Not nearly as long as we’d assume regretting saying yes to a goldfish, even if the new pet only lived for a day or two, which had been our dismal former experience–the passing of Goldie Hawn 1 and 2, as well as Molly Fish and Emily Fish (quite creatively named for dear friends of ours who conveniently bear that particular last name) bringing a jolt of sadness, though a lasting memory.
Alas, we weren’t with our daughter when she was handed that bulging plastic pouch, and so she squealed, “Thank you!” and gave its contents a name, just before handing the bag to her brother–who’d taken her to the fair–and skipping off with a friend to ride the ferris wheel.
Now tell me–how could we say no to a fish named Buddy once he was home? That was three years ago, which, as stated, is a much longer span of time than lived any of Allie’s previous aquatic pets. But before we invested in the high dollar tank with the filter and light, we read online about the lifespan of goldfish–found that, with proper care, they can live decades. (Decades?) “He may outlive us,” we’d told our girl, hoping this fact might steer her in the direction of our pond where we’d encourage her by singing “Born Free” as she released the fair-fish-not-yet-best-friend to the wild, allow nature to take its course.
Not so. Hence, we forked out the money to buy her friend a proper home–embellished it with colorful glass pebbles, faux seaweed, and a resin sunken ship. The filters we purchase regularly online, as so the food, and they’re shipped directly to our home as needed. Once a month, we thoroughly clean Buddy’s habitat, but only after carefully transferring him to an adequately-sized Pampered Chef mixing bowl and placing him on the table where he assesses the tank-cleaning task. Not his favorite ordeal, but so far he’s survived.
Lately, as Covid has kept me home, I’ve battled a bit–sometimes complaining about how life has changed, how there are fewer opportunities to have lunch with friends, less options for outings and adventures. Truth be told, I’ve been convicted by those big, black eyes that follow me, watch me through thick glass. Buddy seems mostly content, at least now that he’s in the kitchen–despite the small and simple space he occupies, the seemingly mundane that makes up his never-changing environment. Same pebbles, colorful though they are. Same faux seaweed. Same sunken ship. Though we shift them around a bit with each monthly cleaning–joke about rearranging his room simply for the joy it might bring!–very little changes for Buddy the Goldfish. Still, he swims. He trusts us to feed him, then eats what we give. He cleans his space. He lives.
Yes, he lives.
And I’d venture to say that, in some small manner of speaking, this finned friend reminds me, too, to live. Regardless of let downs, a decrease in moments with others, like him, I, too, can be content.
Yes, am called to be content.
In the words of Dorie from Finding Nemo, I can–you can!–“Just keep swimming,” content in this season as we hold to the life-preserving promise that God gives us strength to endure all things … with joy!
Yes, even life in a fishbowl!
Dear Jesus, help us be content in every circumstance. Remind us that, no matter where we may find ourselves, this “fishbowl” season can produce good and lasting fruit. Use this time at home with You to better enable and equip us for work in the broader ocean of community once we return to the bigger world beyond. Amen.
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Our pastor recently did a “Just keep swimming!” sermon. thanks for sharing this wonderful story and the great pix of Allie, Maureen!
Was fun to remember… and isn’t that one of the reasons we write… to live life twice (or three times or four…) Thank you, friend. You always remind me to “just keep swimming”–such an inspiration!
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