Last weekend, I made what is perhaps the most significant decision of my adult life, if not all of my life.
I got a fish
I’ll pause a minute so that can sink in.
If you’re a friend, co-worker, relative, student, Blog reader, or a person who’s talked to me for more than five minutes or seen the impressive and elaborate diversionary tactics I take trying to avoid the fish section in pet and/or superstores, you probably know that if there is one thing I do not — or, well, did not — like, it’s fish.
The very concept of fish has terrified me for years. I have fish nightmares, fish-prompted panic attacks. I once walked through a pet store and had a feeling I can only liken to the sensation one might feel when one realizes that Hannibal Lector is following you with a fork. I turned around and there it was: my personal Hannibal Lector, a giant display of Beta fish. When I was in graduate school, the secretary kept a Beta fish on her desk for a while. I didn’t go into the office for the rest of the semester. When I lived in Auburn, my walking route went past a retirement community. One day, I decided to switch things up and walk to the lake outside of said retirement community. I saw carp. I screamed and ran, and as I did so I noticed three ladies pointing and laughing at me from the rocking chairs on their balconies. In other words, fish + Emma = pure, unadulterated panic.
Flash forward: 2012. A fall weekend that, since our setting is Statesboro, Georgia, felt nothing like fall and more like summer. I’m
at the county fair, awkwardly attempting to carry the sweater I definitely didn’t need. Then I see it: the fish game. Apparently the fish game is a thing, but I’d never seen it before. The object of said game is to throw a ping pong ball into a fishbowl — with the fish inside. If you win, you win a fish. I stood and watched as people practiced their fastballs, as the balls bounced from bowl to bowl, sending the fish inside to flipping in that crazy way only fish can do. And then, suddenly, I had a basket of ping-pong balls, and then my hand was sending the aforementioned ping-pong balls (softly, overhanded) towards the aforementioned fish bowls. One landed squarely (and, thankfully, gently) into the middle of a bowl. I’d won. I’d won a fish.
Though I realized (and considered) (okay, repeatedly considered) that I had a choice — I could just finish my red velvet funnel cake and leave the fair without returning to pick up my fish — I didn’t take it. I took the fish, and she (named, appropriately, Esther Williams) is currently dancing around in an aquarium (with a tight, cat-proof lid) in my living room (high on the top of a chest-of-drawers, which is also cat-proof). And I haven’t panicked or died.
I realized that fears — even fears so intense that they lead you to re-arrange your very life — can be overcome. I also realized what leads us to overcome them: love. I don’t mean romantic love (which I probably don’t actually have to say, since I’m talking about a
fish and all) but the kind of love that’s more like respect, more like empathy, more like trying to understand the world and the people and animals and yes, even fish, that populate it. I mean the kind of love that leads us to realize that the people and animals and yes, even fish, around us are living, just like we are living. I mean the kind of love that leads us to want to make things better, and to take the actions necessary to do that — even if they terrify us.
I also realized just how small the fear I thought was overwhelming huge really is. I started to wonder: what else has fear prevented me from doing, or made me do? How much fear have I let into my life, and how much have I let that fear overcome my life?
The answers to these questions — for me and, I think, most people, probably — aren’t particularly easy or pleasant to face, as the answer to pretty much all of these questions is the same: a lot. But these are questions it’s essential to ask. In answering them, we acknowledge, and in acknowledging, we take action. I’ve realized in this last week both that it’s time for me to acknowledge and act on the fears I’ve been too afraid to even face and that it’s possible for me to face — and even conquer — these fears.
And I have a goldfish to thank, and also to remind me.