“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”
– Galadriel, The Hobbit (movie)
“Weird, isn’t it?” Not an unusual statement round here, of course, but I needed some clarification.
“How the plight of one small fish can generate such interest from all over the country….”
“… the world…”
“Really?” Well, yes… but then, it is surprising how human beings can react with compassion to the smallest of things. Two days before we had been eating fish… now we were on our knees gazing intently at the unhappy creature in the infirmary tank and wondering what more we could do.
I had expected to find the stressed and bloated fish dead in the water this morning, but somehow he was still hanging on. Oozing slime, immobile, looking as if his flesh was dissolving, becoming more translucent by the hour…. But he was still with us. Just.
I rolled up my sleeves and headed for the shed. I managed to find a much larger container and exchanged the temporary tank for the new one; filled it with water from the pond so the environment would be more familiar, added several handfuls of pondweed for oxygen as well as refuge and sorted out a makeshift lid to let air circulate and keep predators out.
Very carefully I emptied the slime-filled water and transferred the poorly fish, appalled at the state it was in. It simply lay on its side at the bottom of the tank, unmoving and gasping. We had both felt we really ought to allow the poor thing to go back to the pond it knew to live out its last days in familiar surroundings. The trouble was, I had seen two of the other fish pushing this one around the day before… whether curious or simply trying to get the sick fish out of their space, I cannot know, but it wasn’t gentle. Then… we couldn’t try to help this one in the big pond. So we decided, instead, to make it as comfortable as possible, do what we can to ease its discomfort and try our best to allow it chance to heal.
Covering the tank, and expecting even more to find a dead fish when I returned, I set off in search of a chemist that stocks old-fashioned magnesium sulphate…Epsom Salts. Third time lucky… I came back and gradually started to add the tub to the water… we would need it all. The fish must have tasted the saltwater as it was gently poured in, and swam away, dragging itself across the bottom. At least the plastic is smooth, not the gravel of the pond…
The second batch, it stayed put, but upright at last. By the last batch it was able to swim at a fair speed the length of the tank and seemed much livelier than it had for the past twenty four hours. Several hours later, he even managed to swim up to where I was leaning over the water and stick its head out of the water to look at me. Even the pine-coning of its scales looked less severe… though still dreadful. I took a picture for reference, to compare… if he is still with us tomorrow. Hope can play tricks on the eyes.
I may not expect the fish to survive, but at least he finally seems more comfortable. There is hope, albeit a very slim one. The magnesium sulphate should allow him to expel some of the excess fluid causing the swollen body and eyes. Medications and aeration are on their way too… if he can hold on till tomorrow, but it is still a long shot. We can only do all we can and hope he will heal, or pass gently if he cannot… an idea that has a deeper resonance for me since the attack on my son that left him on the edge of death with no apparent hope of survival or healing… and one that has haunted me; how can we ever know what to hope and pray for in such circumstances?
Hope, said my son a little while ago, is at the root of life itself. It carries us forward, gives fire to our dreams and is the star that lights our darkest moments. Without hope, we have no reason to move onwards… whether we simply hope for a better day tomorrow, or for a life held in the balance to find its best resolution. We cannot sit back and simply hope… we work towards our goal, doing anything we can when it carries us… even if we can do nothing but pray.
There is more than hope at work here, there is healing too. The little fish, hovering between life and death, is a teacher. There is a parallel between the fish and my son’s own journey. We talked about it today, agreeing that while a fish may seem a small thing in comparison to a human life, it is still a life… another living creature. We could neither of us bring ourselves to extinguish that light. Neither because we could not do it, nor because of any moral consideration… but simply because there is still hope, however faint.
We accept the likely outcome. We are not in denial. But we hope nevertheless and with that hope comes the inevitable fear that we are doing the wrong thing, following the wrong star. Those emotions I have lived before on a scale far greater and more intimately devastating. My son too, then unaware and locked in coma, has since faced the painful backlash of the fears and hopes I felt at that time. Now, thanks to the miracle of my son’s survival and this one small fish, we face those same fears together, for another life, sharing the hope and the fear in equal measure, questioning our decisions, afraid that if we get it wrong another being will pay the price.
There is beauty in this, that a seemingly insignificant fish can touch hearts across a world and heal wounds in the hearts of those caring for it together. Perhaps what we do will not influence the outcome… perhaps what we do matters little in the greater scheme of this small creature’s life. I think it matters more what we try and intend… what we give… and this little fish, weak and hovering on the edges of life, is giving a great gift. As we work together to allow him a chance, however small… he too is helping us to heal.