A Story by John the Fish
Before I begin my story I’m letting you know that I’m a rather small fish. I mean, if you put me next to most of the fish in my pond, then you would probably call me a ‘lightie’ even though I’m actually an adult fish. In many ways I believe it is mostly because of my size that I never ‘got on’ well with the other fish that I was at school with. Thus I have spent many hours in my own company, which has forced me to find different things to do. When I say ‘different’, I mean: ‘not-the–so–called–normal–things-for-a-fish-to-do’ things.
When I was just a young fry I used to enjoy exploring the depths and darkness’s of the pond. I used to go on little journeys and treasure hunts, which held treasures that only I understood and only I could enjoy. I used to leave the other fish in their regular banter, playing: ‘who can reach the fastest swimming speed in 2 sways of the pond reeds?’ Apparently that game has been one of the favourites for generations. I never paid that much attention to it though. So, I remember enjoying my newly found route to the cold side of the water. I would go slowly, because I knew the others were enjoying themselves and that they would continue until the light had shifted beyond the reeds; and they wouldn’t even notice I had gone. It was on one of these expeditions that I ventured to the far heavens of our pond and truly found the most amazing treasure that I have ever found.
Fortunately I had outgrown the awkward stage of learning how to move my fins to set me off in the right direction, and even though I was going slowly, my movements were swift and I was paying a good deal of attention to the scenery around me. It always amazed me how the different temperatures of the water around me affected my little body. Each of my scales could feel the changes and, sometimes, if I went into water that was too cold, then I wouldn’t be able to keep my eyes open and the greatest pains would go from my eyes to the top ridge of my head.
It was terrible the first time I felt the pain. I rushed back to the warmer water as fast as my tail could take me. The pain seared through my spine as the warm water stung my cold bones. My breathing and my fin movements were out of sync for the next few light overs; and I didn’t venture back into the cold again for the next two full moons. After that, however, I talked myself into reducing the intensity of the pain I had felt, and my memory told me it hadn’t been that bad, so I ventured out again and achieved the identical results that I had before. The only difference was that on my second attempt my father had seen me. I had thought that I had been clever and lost all the other fish, but I was wrong.
“Johnny, what do you think you are doing going out on your own like that?” My father asked me as I tried to relax my breathing. He rubbed his side fin along my spine as if he knew the exact spot where I was hurting.
I looked at him and his eyes widened questioningly.
“Please don’t tell my friends, Dad. Please!” I pleaded with him. My friends were already weary of me being so very different.
“Only if you answer my question, my boy.”
“Dad, I just don’t fit in with the others. I’m not interested in being the fastest, or having the shiniest scales, or playing hide and seek in the pond plants. I want to explore everything around me. I want to find out new things and learn about what it is to be a fish.” I said, hoping on every bubble that he wouldn’t tell my friends.
He just smiled at me. “Don’t worry Johnny, I won’t tell to your friends. Let’s say we’ll keep your exploring between the two of us. What do you think?”
“I think that would be fantastic Dad,” I said as I snuggled into his side.
“But only on one condition Johnny,” he looked at me seriously, “Make sure you tell me whenever you go. Alright?”
That seemed fair enough so I nodded.
Then he whispered to me, “When the cold strikes you – don’t rush out of it, instead, move out slowly.”
I used his advice the next time I had worked up enough courage to swim back into the cold. As I moved slowly out of the cold my body got used to the temperature and I was able to spend longer periods in the cold, without feeling any pain around the shivering temperatures. Eventually I got to the far border of the pond and to my amazement there was a shiny spot of light reflecting off the rock. I couldn’t see a source in the water, so I looked to the heavens and saw a stick with two very big fins attached to it. Curiosity got the better of me and I slowly floated to the surface to meet the source of the light. The stick with big fins had landed on a leaf and the stick’s light weight had tipped the leaf ever so slightly that a drop of dew was teetering precariously on the edge, whilst reflecting the light of the warmth into the pond.
“Hello,” I said.
“Hello,” she replied.
It was a very strange feeling to have my head outside of the water. I was still too young to be allowed to be at the surface.
“What are you?” I asked.
“I’m a butterfly.” She replied.
“A butterfly...” I repeated in amazement. I couldn’t believe how relaxed and calm and good she made me feel. “What’s your name?”
“Angel.” She replied with a beautiful smile.
“I’m John,” I said.
“It’s good to meet you John.”
“Why do you have such big fins?” I asked.
“They aren’t fins John, they are wings. I don’t swim like you do, I fly,” and with that she opened her wings and flew off the leaf to hover above the surface of the water.
“Your wings are beautiful, Angel.”
“Thank-you John. Many things that are different are beautiful.” She flapped her wings again and started to rise,” Don’t forget that John,” she told me as she flew into the sky.
Every time I thought of Angel for the next few moons I smiled. She was so beautiful and she made me feel so good. Unfortunately I couldn’t go back to that spot on the far side of the pond again because my life became too busy. I became a father and our five little ones reached the age of being able to use their fins properly. There was lots of work involved in teaching them how to swim and gathering their food and making sure they weren’t caught.
We gathered our food once a light over. We had to fetch it from the surface when we had families of our own. The food came from the Great Shadow at the start of each light over. There were many different opinions on the Great Shadow in our pond. Some were scared of it, some were nervous of it and some worshipped it; but no matter what each of us thought, the Great Shadow would come every light over and give us food. It never forgot us and always provided for us. It never came into our water or interrupted our swimming, but if one of us were sick, it would be the first to help. When a fish went belly up, as we all know we will one day, then the Great Shadow would take that fish away. I liked the Great Shadow and I wasn’t scared of going belly up, because I knew he would take me. My brother Thomas, however, didn’t agree with me.
Thomas was very doubtful when it came to the Great Shadow. He would stay in the darkness when our food came, whilst many of us would swim to the heavens to receive the lovely gift of food we were getting. He would only come out once the Great Shadow had gone and take the leftovers. When we first became fathers, and had to collect our own food, I asked him why he preferred the darkness to the light?
“John, I feel safer in the darkness. I know that the food will be there when the Great Shadow has gone. So I don’t need to go forward like you and your friends do.”
“But we get the best for our families,” I argued.
“How do you know it’s the best?” He asked me.
“I know it’s the best because of the way it tastes and the way I feel when I receive it.; and there is always more than my family’s full. You have to take more than you need each time, in case there is none left over the next time. Surely my way is easier than yours?” I queried.
“No, your way is too risky. What if a little shadow comes, then what will you do?”
“The Great Shadow scares the little shadows away, and the Great Shadow would never hurt us.”
“How do you know?” He asked disbelievingly.
“I believe, my brother, I have faith.”
“Well, then you can keep your faith and I will keep my darkness so that everyone is happy.”
That was the only response Thomas ever gave me when I tried to invite him to join us at the feasts. He wouldn’t budge. I tried to tell him that if he didn’t come into the light, then the Great Shadow would never even know he was in the pond and he couldn’t help him if he got sick. Thomas wouldn’t listen.
Unlike me Thomas was afraid of going belly up. He had never introduced himself to the Great Shadow and so he was scared of the time when he would have to meet the Great Shadow. I still don’t know why Thomas won’t listen to me, but hopefully one day he will seethe light and join me. Maybe one day he will realise that the Great Shadow won’t let the little shadows hurt him.
There were many different types of little shadows. One of them would sit at the edge of the pond and wait for a fish to swim past. Then it would put its paw into our water and try to catch the swimming fish. Another little shadow would fly, but not like my Angel. It would fly hard and fast and dive into our pond to catch a fish. Many little shadows liked to catch fish in the darkness, because then the fish wouldn’t see them coming. They broke up families and caused so much pain. Many fish disagree about the Great Shadow, but all the fish agree that the little shadows are bad. Thomas is very scared of the little shadows, which is why I don’t understand why he stays in the darkness of the pond, where it is cold and the water is murky so that you can’t see other fish properly; and you can’t see if a little shadow is watching you. It is my choice to do what I do, and my brother must make his own choice too. My exploring taught me many things, and because I have seen many things, I know that I have made a good decision.
My exploring also taught me that I wanted to give my children a choice too. When they were all of a proper fin using age I brought them together on the edge of the change of water temperature.
“Dad,” asked the eldest, “What’s this all about?”
“I want to teach you all something.”
I received a set of blank stares. Perhaps they were thinking that their old fish was going a bit mad, but they were too polite to say it out loud. I smiled at them and continued the lesson.
“Follow me,” I said. One by one they followed in a row behind me. I went very slowly.
“Dad,” said the second eldest, “Can’t we hurry up? I have a game of leap fish starting soon.”
“Just be patient and see what you can feel,” I responded.
The youngest noticed it first. “Dad it’s really cold.” I noticed a hint of panic in his quiet voice. The little one had always reminded me of myself at his age. He was very perceptive and also battled with being different from the other fish in his school.
“That’s right Simon,” I encouraged him,”but don’t panic you are going to be fine.”
“Dad, it’s too cold, I’m going back.” My eldest declared.
“Wait first,” I told him. “We’ll all go back, but I want you to go back slowly.”
“I don’t have time for this Dad,” said the second eldest and he picked up a great pace to get back to his game. As the water temperature changed he screamed in pain. I flinched at his agony and recalled all that I had been through. Hearing him scream the others became cautious and followed me slowly out of the cold water.
The second eldest was in tears, “How could you do that to me Dad?”
“I didn’t, son, you did it to yourself. I told you to go slowly and you raced off. Sometimes you need to trust the wisdom of your elders and learn from them.” I hugged him and wiped away his tears. Then I faced all of them.
“In your lives you are all going to have to make choices. It is important that you have explored yourself and learn to know who you are, what you stand for and what you believe. I took you into the cold water to show you something different; to show you that there are many things in life that you don’t know and that there are many things you can still learn. If you want to start exploring the waters around you, then it is your choice to do so. There is only one request I ask: Always tell me when you are going exploring. I will always be here for you, but I can only do that if I know where you want to go to.”
They each looked at me, a couple with blank stares as if they were thinking of dinner, and the others with a certain understanding of what I had said. I could only hope that they would choose to explore and use the knowledge they would gain to live the best lives they possibly could.
After my little lesson they all went their own ways and each of them did tell me of their adventures. The adventure that moved me the most came from my youngest. He approached me two moons later.
“I went exploring,” he said cautiously
I smiled, “That’s good. Tell me what you found little one.”
Simon took a deep breath, “I don’t know if you will believe me, but I promise that my story is true.”
I interrupted, “Simon, let me decide what I believe.”
“OK Dad, but I did warn you.” He said with all the authority that a father would use towards a son. “I used what you taught us, about going slowly through the cold water, and after many tries I reached the other side of the pond.” He looked up at me, perhaps to see if I was perturbed. I kept quiet and nodded for him to continue.
“Well, on the other side there was a light and I followed it to the heavens. When I reached the surface there was a butterfly on the other end called Angel. She told me that she was a butterfly. She uses these big fins to fly.” Simon looked at me again. I was smiling softly to myself.
“What else did she tell you?” I probed.
“She told me that often different is beautiful. She made me feel beautiful Dad.”
“I do believe your story, my son. You are beautiful.” I smiled and whispered to him,” And, by the way, those big fins of hers are called wings.”