Monday, November 23, 2009
A Tale of Two Guppies
When I was a child, we had a fish bowl without fish. We had everything needed for them: little blue and grey stones covering the bottom, a little castle tower and some plastic "weeds". I constantly begged Mom to let us get a goldfish for the little bowl.
In school, we learned about guppies, and studied them in a fun class. Our classroom even had guppies and we got to name them, and the teacher told us where we could get them for ourselves if Mom and Dad said we could! They didn't seem too expensive, so I asked Mom if we could get a couple guppies. I promised I'd take care of them!
Mom replied that I didn't do my part to feed the dog each night, or check on her water, so how did she know I'd be faithful to the fish? I PROMISED I would be faithful and give them their food and water, and pleaded that it would be "a GREAT learning experience!" Finally she relented, we went to the pet store, and upon seeing the small cost of the little fish, she let me pick out two to take home.
I still remember carefully carrying them home in their little plastic bag. I didn't understand how they could just swim in there and not die. After all, WE couldn't breathe in plastic, and if we caught bugs, we were supposed to poke holes in it for air! Mom had to stop me from opening the top to "let more air into the water."
Swish and Stripe
The fish bowl was waiting for our new pets when we arrived home, and so I carefully poured my new little friends into their new home. They swam around, inspecting their bowl, so I went about my day, satisfied, but often returning to visit them.
I decided to name them "Swish" and "Stripe", for I loved their features and thought the best names were truthful ones that said something about them.
True to my promise to Mom, I was Johnny On The Spot with the food for the little fishies. I realized that they must be hungry after their long journey to our home, and so I made sure to feed them in the proper quantity: about the amount I would give the dog. The little flakes of what I imagined must be "manna" floated on the surface, and I was gratified to see that Swish and Stripe darted for it, biting off little chunks.
But they left most of their dinner uneaten. I thought that maybe they weren't so hungry because, well, maybe they were scared. So I stayed and talked to them and pushed the food towards them. They seems uninterested. Well, I didn't like it when Mom made me eat, either, so I left them alone. It was there if they wanted it.
Over the next few days I was quite careful to make sure they had the proper food at the proper time. And of course, since they never finished a meal, I figured that perhaps I was insulting them by not feeding them ENOUGH so I went back and gave them seconds. I didn't like soggy bread, either. The fresh stuff was the best.
But still, they didn't eat their dinner. I was getting very very worried. I must not be a good Mom.
Then one day I saw that they weren't moving so freely, didn't seem so interested in anything. Swish was starting to float a little. I poked him and he wagged his fins and swam away. I thought maybe they needed more food to keep up their energy, so I gave them some more.
All day long, their condition was of concern to me. Both were listless, partially floating, partially swimming. Their water was cloudy, and so I thought maybe if I cleaned the bowl, they'd feel better. It would be like getting fresh air.
Cleaning the Bowl
So very very carefully I picked up the bowl and took it into the kitchen. I ran the water, testing it to be sure it was cold (because it was always COLD water that revived people, it was logical to think it was the same for fish!).
I put the plug in the drain and slowly poured the water into it. The fish were caught against the trap as the rest of the bowl water poured over them, even as the cold, rushing water from the faucet infused it. The fish both wagged their fins, so I thought they were enjoying their bath. I made sure they were nice and clean before I took the water away in order to refill the bowl.
While it filled, I apologized to Swish and Stripe, and explained that they'd be back in their clean house in a minute, and I knew they needed water and felt bad about taking it away for a second.
As soon as there was enough in the bowl I put the fish in by dumping the trap into it, and then I ran the water into the bowl some more.
But Swish and Stripe didn't seem interested in swimming and exploring. I thought they were bored, so I set the castle up again, and the little seaweed. But still...nothing. One floated. The other, barely wagged his fin.
So I decided they must be hungry and gave them their dinner early. Then I left them alone; maybe they were just napping.
Later that day, I discovered both floating, and neither moved when I tried to encourage them to swim. I went and got Mom, saying the fish were sick. She told me she was sorry, but they died.
Sadly, I told her that I would bury them. They were mine, and I should take care of them, even that hard part.
So I found a napkin and laid it next to the bowl. With my own hand, I lifted them out, each in turn, said I was sorry but I would send them home to God, then placed them on the napkin. Together. I folded the top of the napkin over them, and then folded it again to make their shroud.
I went to my room to get my little shovel and my prized purple plastic flower. It was one of my favorite possessions and my little friends deserved to have it at their grave. I made a little cardboard "headstone" reading "RIP Swish and Stripe".
Before we went out, I remembered that when people die, there are prayers said, so I took a book from the shelf so that I could find a passage which I was hoping God would help me to miraculously read. (I couldn't read yet, but I knew my alphabet!)
Slowly, tenderly holding Swish and Stripe and all the implements of burial, I processed all alone out to the Maple Tree in the front yard...my favorite place. At just the right spot, where I knew I could look out and see and remember them, I began to dig.
When I thought the grave was deep enough, I carefully placed the little shroud containing Swish and Stripe into it and picked up the book. Turning to a page somewhere in the middle, I looked, hoping at some point the letters would make sense. I saw the word "The". So I began to "read" about how Swish and Stripe were good fish and that God must love them, too, but maybe more than I did. And so because God loved them, He wanted them to be with Him in Heaven but first we had to put them in the earth. I told God I was sorry I didn't feed them enough and that I hadn't done the right things to keep them alive and hoped that He could do a better job with them. And then when I couldn't think of any more, I closed the book and tossed it solemnly aside.
Slowly I shoveled the dirt over the napkin and packed it on top, then set the headstone and put the flowers on it. I said goodbye to Swish and Stripe, picked up the shovel and the book, and went inside.
I was very very sad. My friends had died, and I had a sneaking suspicion it was my fault, but I didn't know what I'd done wrong.
For a couple weeks, I went out to visit the grave and make sure the flowers were still there, and the headstone. The headstone was gone, maybe blown away, and the flowers moved, but I planted them deeply in the dirt to make sure they would stay. I knew the cardboard would be in terrible condition anyway so let it go. I knew where my fish were.
But as I dug the flowers into the grave, day after day, making sure they weren't lost, I began to wonder about the fish.
What happened to them after they died? Where did they go? Were their bodies still intact? What did they look like?
I tried not to think of these things. I knew it was "sacrilegious" to dig people up...did that apply to fish, too? Once in the ground, weren't they supposed to STAY there? But how could they be BOTH in the ground AND with God at the same time?
So finally, overcome by curiosity, I decided to check on them.
One afternoon I got my shovel and carefully removed the dirt. It was easy to pull the dirty napkin out of the grave, and as I did not intend offense, I "prayed" with my book before I dug them up.
When I lifted it, at first it seemed there was nothing there. Were they like JESUS??!!
Slowly I opened the top of the napkin. And stared. Fascinated.
All I saw was an outline of each fish, what remained of their scales. An outline on the bottom, a little on the "top". Swish and Stripe were GONE. I couldn't even see their tiny bones!.
Slowly I covered them up again and put them back into their grave. I paused as I re-buried them.
Looking up towards the sky I said, "Dear God, I hope YOU took Swish and Stripe, because if you didn't, that means the cat ate them!"