The parable - FamilyEducation

The parable

May 12,2011
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

We were wrapping up after-dinner chores on Monday evening after a nice, leisurely dinner on the screened-in porch (Mexican lettuce wraps and melon ice for dessert!) and I was just about to feed our fish, when I noticed a sizeable pool of water on the floor in front of the tank. I stared incomprehensibly at it for a moment, wondering what on earth the water was doing there. Spill from a child's glass? Was the dog to blame? The cat? Then I realized that the tank was leaking. It's pretty disconcerting to realize that a tank containing 55 gallons of water and 25 expensive fish is leaking all over your wood floors. If you know anything about the physics of fish tanks, a slow leak almost always turns into a tank blow-out--a true disaster when it comes to fish-keeping--turning your nice aquatic world into a ticking time bomb.

Discovering all this at 7:15 on a Monday night is a terrifying, stomach-sinking  thing. I had things I wanted to do! Kids to get to bed, a television show I wanted to watch later, and I did not want to spend the evening with my arms in a fish tank. Scott plastered silicone and plumber's tape all over the side seam that was leaking, but it was clear that wouldn't do the job. We were both exhausted, though, and decided to leave the fish in there all night,  and deal with the problem in the morning. We went to bed hoping we wouldn't wake up in the wee hours of the night to a dining room full of flopping gasping fish and 55 gallons of fish water spreading across the floor.

When the kids got up the next day we gathered around the tank. It was still intact but somehow the bright aquascape had a doomed look about it, and a sense of foreboding shadowed the tank. I wondered if the fish could sense that something was wrong; if they somehow felt the precariousness of it all, this underwater world of theirs that could be there one minute and whoosh! gone the next, in an explosion and rush of water. The slow leak continued and as we looked beads of water bubbled ominously out the side seam and dripped onto the bed of towels below.

"The fish look worried," T. said, echoing my thoughts.

But they didn't, really. They went on doing their fishy things on their side of the glass, swimming and darting into the rocks, displaying their puffed out fins at each other, flashing and fading their colors as they always do in an endless dance of dominance and submission. They will keep on vying for the best piece of the tank, the most coveted rock cave, the flattest piece of shale on which to breed. Two of the fish are holding babies, and any day now the females will release them into the water and they will explode in different directions like fireworks, darting left and right and up and down, seeking cover. Some will make it, others will not. 

When I was growing up we used to have a tropical fish tank in the hallway of our house and my sister and  I would pull the long piano bench out there and sit in front of the tank, voyeuristically watching the fish world within. Now, fish-gazing with my own children, I remembered suddenly a fanciful idea I had when I was a child: what if our whole world were contained in something like a fish tank and some greater being was watching us carrying on our lives? I remember being so taken with that idea--half in-awe and half-afraid of it. Now, some thirty-odd years later, the idea surfaced again.

A fish tank is hardly an apt analogy for our own world, but still I couldn't help but think about our own planet, and how many slow leaks there are at the seams, all around us; we still do our thing, though, just like the fish--we live and breathe and laugh; we cry and flash our colors, we are born and explode in different directions, some will make it, others not.

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