I’m back in the office after taking a few weeks holidays. Trying to book concerts during the month leading up to Christmas was proving fruitless, so, under advice from a trusted friend, I decided to walk away from things for a bit and recharge.
Over Christmas, we took some time away to visit family, played lots of board games, went tobogganing, built a snow fort, and just generally had a good rest from things.
Upon returning home, I found an email from my friend Ken, who was moving soon, saying that they needed a new home for their tropical fish. A few Tetras, an algae-eater, a Siamese Fighting Fish, and something called a Blue Dragon Goby. Since our tank has seen a steady decline in population over the past few months, so I gladly agreed to take on these new refugees.
He showed up the next day with a cardboard box containing sizeable collection of plastic bags filled with all manner of aquatic life. The Siamese Fighting Fish is one of the most stunning creatures I’ve ever seen. Iridescent blue and crimson, it’s a majestic combination of beauty and violence. It’s quickly become the most prized addition to the tank. The Tetras are a plain, but pretty. The algae-eater is ugly, but practical. These, along with a few plants, were a welcome addition to the tank, and I was glad to accept them.
Then, Ken got a little quiet as he reached into the box to pull out the Goby. He handed me the bag, carefully holding it at arms length with a look of apology. He’d mentioned on the phone that is was an interesting fish with a lot of “character”. And now, I saw exactly what he meant. What he’d “forgotten” to mention on the phone was that it was also the ugliest thing a person could lay eyes on and still live.
The animal was more snake than fish. Long and slithery, with beady eyes that would chill the warmest of souls. My first instinct was, “Kill it”.
I’m not especially fond of snakelike things, and I have relatives that may never visit again, knowing it’s here. As I looked at it, I told myself, “Wait ‘til he leaves, then flush it.”
The algae-eater I could tolerate. It’s ugly, but at least it’s useful. The Siamese fighting fish serves no real purpose, but at least it’s beautiful. The goby is hideous, and serves no purpose. So I quietly decided to send it to a better place. But something stopped me.
I realized I was willing to end a creature’s life simply because I found it repulsive and because it had nothing to give me. The Siamese Fighting Fish I would keep because, even though it served no purpose, it was beautiful. The algae-eater I would keep because even though it was ugly, it was useful to me. What I saw inside myself was something far uglier than a Blue Dragon Goby.
It made me realize that I often do the same thing with people. I invest time and energy into people who captivate me, or who I perceive as useful to me in some way. People who are neither beautiful nor useful are a distraction or an annoyance. I tend to treat then as objects.
This becomes especially true during seasons when I feel that I have little to give. Most of the time this goes unchecked, but for some reason it became crystal clear as I stared into the cold, beady eyes of the serpentine menace floating in a plastic bag, waiting to be released in either my fish tank or the sewer beneath my home.
The point is not the fish. The point is that everything God has created has been endowed with a sense of dignity. Not because it has value to us, necessarily, but because it has value to Him. All of creation is God’s craftsmanship, and no artist likes to see their work defaced or devalued. All of Creation, whether it’s people or plecostomi, has value and we will learn to value God’s works to the measure we value Him. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe the only way to value Him is to value His creation. It seems hypocritical to claim otherwise.
Almost paradoxically, it is the things we value least, which we often come to value the most, since it is only the ugly and the useless which can put us in touch with this reality. So the Goby will stay. It will be given a position of honor in the tank for teaching me a valuable lesson. A lesson none of the other creatures could. The humble has been exalted. The low has been lifted high. I think that’s the way God wants it. And besides, I’m starting to like the little guy.