This is the next installment for my newspaper column. . .
My fish died recently. Rex was actually a hand-me-down fish from one of my children. This child begged for the fish at the pet store, and I caved, as I usually do, and bought it.
Plus the tank. And the food. And the gravel and life-like plastic water plants. Etc, etc.
Parents are gullible in pet stores and children know this instinctively. For some reason, adults suffer from selective amnesia once they pass through those automated sliding doors. We remember the thrill of being a kid wanting some little living thing to care for, and we forget the other animals we’ve previously bought for our children. The animals we fed and cleaned up after when their original owners lost interest. For, like a boomerang, the responsibility of ownership returns to us. See? Selective parental amnesia.
But I’m not complaining. Rex was beautiful in an iridescent red, purple, and gold way and we went through a lot together. His tank was stationed by the washing machine in the basement. Rex was my comrade in the laundry trenches, and we survived innumerable loads together. The whites and colors came and went, but that fish was a constant for me. He witnessed my muttering, my lame jokes, and verbal list making and didn’t jump from the tank to end his suffering on the carpet. Rex kept swimming, his elegance in tact.
Sometimes, we learn big things in small, unexpected places.
Rex had been ailing for some time. In fact, his drawn-out death scene would have done Hamlet proud. To borrow, and alter, that great line from Shakespeare, “Good night, sweet fish. And may the angels sing thee to thy rest.” Over the last eighteen months, I made countless trips to the pet store, discussing his condition with the fish experts and buying the latest fish-disease cure. I spent more on this one pet than I would have on a nice pair of open-toe sling-backs. (And I really love shoes!)
Despite my efforts, the inevitable happened, and when I found Rex lying on the bottom of his tank, I felt sad. It seemed fitting that it was just he and I at his funeral. No one else in the house paid much attention to him. It had been he and I since almost the beginning. I held Rex on my palm and looked at his still form. I said the first thing that came to mind. “You were a good fish. You did what you were supposed to do here. I’ll miss you.”
The leaving of this humble creature from the world was but a blip in my day’s occupations. Yet, Rex’s existence had value. His life was a success. When I die, I hope the same can be said of me. Because if we try to be good people, if we do what we are meant to do here, if people miss us when we’re gone, we will have left a meaningful legacy indeed.
All these deep thoughts inspired by a tiny fish. Who would have guessed so much could be learned in a laundry room full of dirty clothes? Yes, readers, you can find big things in small places.