I arrived early to my appointment. For the first ten minutes, I sat in my car journaling, a habit I’ve neglected but vow to resume in the new year. I jotted down my daily reflections and made my way to the waiting room where I sat in my regular chair. The chair is farther away from reception, tucked in a corner with a large fish tank, book shelf and TV running slides to promote healthy living. I stowed my cell phone deep into my coat pocket, intending to use my time to practice presence. At first, I watched the stream of informational and motivational slides on the TV. After that became redundant, I turned my attention to the large fish tank in front of me.
The tank was about 5 feet long and 2 feet high, and it housed several species of varying sizes. I watched two of the more active fish dart and pivot from one end of the tank to the other, until that also became redundant. Then I turned my attention to a fish hovering near the bottom. He was mouthing the black stones that lined the tank and spitting them out. He appeared to be building a mound for some reason. I was intrigued by his behaviour and watched him repeat this action over and over: mouth, drop, build. Why was he doing this? What was he building? He was safe from predators and environmental changes. He had someone making sure he was well taken care of and could potentially live a long life. All potential threats were removed, and with that, he needed to utilize only a small percentage of his natural instincts. So why build a mound of rocks? There wasn’t a storm coming, and neither was the threat of a hungry predator. Maybe he was preparing for mating season, was that possible? Nonetheless, how boring would this be for the fish? Hours upon hours of doing the same thing with no change in his environment? Wait…isn’t that what I want – routine and safety?
A smaller fish was hovering near the surface, where the filtration system generated bubbles. He lingered near some plastic greenery, bathing in the bubbles away from the others. He appeared to have hope, like he knew there was more to life beyond this 5ft x 2ft tank. He, unlike his tankmates, refused to swim from one end of the tank to the other or to mouth and pile rocks. Near the surface, he was waiting for an opportunity to escape. (At least this was the story playing out in my mind.) I found myself not wanting to notice him like when we pretend not to notice a beggar on the street. I didn’t want to acknowledge what he represents: pain, loss, loneliness, and a naive hope for a more interesting existence.
Practicing presence in the waiting room before my appointment had me observing fish in a tank. Life in a tank would be routine, predictable and familiar. And as I ruminate, the more I understand that this is alright for a season but I was born in an open ocean, and with it comes challenges, hurt, tragedy, joy, friendships, love, passion and beauty. I will gladly swim in a tank for a season, and from time to time, I will dip my toes and maybe even go for a short swim in the ocean, re-gaining the courage and strength to once again plunge into open waters.