So, I’m not the greatest aquarium keeper. It took me forever to get the water chemicals and pH balanced when I first got my fish seven or eight years ago, and many poor tiger barbs, guppies, and tetras met their maker while I tried. Then there was the time my YoYo loach hid in an ornamental tower I was cleaning in a bucket of water I was changing and got tossed out in the backyard. I didn’t realize it in time to save him.
My husband convinced me that it was the dumb fish’s fault, not mine, since these loaches love to snuggle their way into the tightest spaces possible, often getting stuck. The most recent one had to be rescued when he got caught inside the mouth of a stone dragon and later committed “suicide” climbing up into the way too small filter and getting tossed out onto the kitchen floor. No more YoYos for me.
But we’ve also had the opposite problem: so many baby platies that we had to give them to the fish store, parents and all. Not only is my aquarium a place of death, it is a place of new life. Platies are livebearers, meaning they don’t lay eggs and are prolific with babies. We asked for all males, but someone at the fish store oopsied and we looked in one day and saw 2-3 babies. These were the ones who survived, because fish are famous for eating their young. How bad could it be, we thought. And then there were 6-7 babies, then 10-15, then over 20, and the first batch of babies started having babies, and well, we were done with livebearers. No more platies for me.
So for the past several years we have lived happily with beautiful tetras, the beginner fish of the aquarium world. They lay eggs, aren’t prolific breeders unless you’re trying, and tend to get along well with one another. They are not as flashy as platies and some of the other fish we’ve had, but they are beautiful in their own way. For example, the X-ray tetras are just white fish, but they are almost see through in parts (thus their name) and flash around in large groups, making it a fairly pretty fish in my colorfully decorated tank.
We were down to four when I noticed one had either separated itself from the group or been harassed out of the “school.” That usually meant a fish not long for this world, so when it disappeared I didn’t think much of it. I tried to find the body – you don’t want a dead fish dirtying up the water, but fish are not very polite about such things and will happily eat a dead neighbor, so I never found it.
Then things got crazy at home. I try to do water changes at least every two weeks, but it’s a process. I did a quick one, barely using the gravel vacuum and hardly getting the algae off the sides of the tank, let alone the plastic plants, but I thought I’d get to it after my week-long trip to the mountains in a couple of weeks. When I didn’t get another water change in, I suggested my husband might do one while I was away, but I also assured him that if he were too busy they probably wouldn’t die from the algae growth until I got back. But I knew it is not really the algae that’s the problem – it’s the way the water chemistry changes when there are too many nutrients and the “fish waste” decomposes. I was a little worried my ammonia or nitrate levels would spike, but off I went.
When I asked my husband about whether he’d had a chance to change the water he hesitated. “How many fish did you say you have?” Oh no, I thought – some have died because I didn’t clean it – oops! “No,” he assured me, “You still have three white ones and one rummy nosed tetra.”
“Then what’s the problem?” I asked, confused.
“Well, could that fourth white one you lost a week ago have shrunk?” It turns out there is one tiny little X-ray tetra swimming around still hiding in the plastic plants. Of course, it’s not the one who died, but maybe it’s her baby? Maybe she was separating herself from the school to lay eggs? And I was in such a hurry at our last cleaning that I didn’t vacuum and clean them all up like I usually do, not even knowing it was a possibility, and at least one hatched, hid away until it was big enough and has now found its own tiny place in our algae covered aquarium. Eric didn’t want to change the water now for fear of sucking the poor thing up in the gravel vacuum. I’m going to have to do it tomorrow, I think, VERY carefully.
This seemed to me like an interesting spiritual analogy. Most of the time I keep myself busy “cleaning up” my spiritual life, making sue things are in their place. This is important the spiritual master’s tell us, cleaning things out so there is room for the Divine. I even teach this when I am doing spiritual direction or leading prayer practices. But in my aquarium, all that “cleaning” was sucking up any fish eggs that the X-ray tetras might have laid. It wasn’t until I left it alone for a little while that new life could come forth.
Now in my fish tank, I don’t really want new life – although that tiny tetra is SO adorable, I’m making this ONE exception. But in my spiritual life, it is nice to know that the Divine can work even among the messes that I have failed to clean up.
What tasks are you just too busy to do and are putting off these days? Do your priorities feel right spiritually? Have you experienced a time when the Divine was working in your life and you didn’t even know it? How do your pets or the great outdoors inform your spiritual life?
Openings: Let the Spirit In can help you explore what is happening in your spiritual life. For more information contact us about spiritual direction or retreats.
P.S. – Now there are two very tiny fish!