If you’ve spent any amount of time with me, you know how much I love my fish tank. I started the hobby soon after my family was targeted by people so unhappy with themselves, they hid behind fake email accounts and anonymous letters spewing racial and, oftentimes, hate-filled barbs about the atrocities they’d suffered at the hands of blacks. Since I was available and black, they wanted me to kindly shoulder the blame for all of the wrongs they had experienced in the world.
If you know me, you know I could not and would not comply with their requests. I, rather eloquently, replied to each of their messages, with a compassionate, but stern tongue, letting them know their healing was not in hurting me, just as mine was not in hurting them and my husband and I were promptly taking their messages, ip addresses, and arses down to the FBI office, and they would be charged with harassment and a hate crime, at the least, if they made any more threats. Since I’m VA (by birth) and PA (by choice), I also added, I am not their typical “libtard professor” as they labeled me, and, in fact, I am an Army veteran, 2nd-amendment-loving, get-all-up-in-your arse woman, so “If you come, you better be ready.”
Thankfully, the messages ceased and they were replaced with newfound relationships of love and reciprocity, things I work so hard to foster in my everyday life. Still, that was a difficult time that led to my tank and my fish. I started with a 34-gallon freshwater tank I purchased through Craigslist. I loved my fish so much, I wanted them to be happy and being happy meant more room. So, I purchased a 55-gallon tank. Then, I needed more fish because that’s what you do in the hobby, so I got another 55-gallon tank. Then, I decided my fish babies needed even more room and I found a great deal on a 150-gallon tank. I never got rid of the other tanks. Much to my hubby’s dismay, my home had become an aquarium. But I still wasn’t satisfied. I wanted to get to the mecca of fish keeping. I yearned to get back to my VA roots, where you taste salt before you see the ocean, where sand in toes, hair, and swimsuits is something to bathe in, not wash off. I wanted to go home, which meant going saltwater.
After a bit of begging, pouting, and loving, my dear husband agreed to convert the 150-gallon tank to saltwater. But, he’d only do that if I rehomed the other tanks. So, I did and now I have my new baby, my peace, my stress-reliever. (It’s no stress for me mainly because hubby does the majority of the maintenance. Ironically, he says that is his stress reliever.) I spend many hours after work watching the corals opening and closing, the fish grazing, and the crabs and shrimp picking at the rocks, eating the leftovers, the dead, and sometimes the living. What a beautiful and chaotic world it is, but my favorite part of the tank has to be my carpet anemone and her relationship (Yes, I say it’s a “she.”) with my Clarkii Clownfish.
If you’ve seen Finding Nemo, you know anemones and Clownfish have a uniquely beautiful, reciprocal relationship, one that scientists still don’t fully understand. It’s enlightening to see the fish wrapped inside the anemone like a Clownfish taco, snuggling against her mouth, frozen in ecstasy. The thing is, only certain anemones can host certain Clownfish. If the wrong Clownfish attempts to host the wrong anemone, it can mean certain death or certain pain which will lead to certain death. I’ve lost a few fish to Carpet, but she never hurts, never stings the two Clarkiis that have become her home and she theirs. I often watch them, cleaning her, protecting her, and when hubby feeds the corals, snatching whole pieces of shrimp out of their mouths, just to feed her. I know then love can exist anywhere.
And when she wraps herself around them at night, knowing full well opening her mouth or tightening her grip would mean a meal, would mean a delicacy, and still, she doesn’t, I am in awe of her. She just cradles them, and they rest in her, as she rests around them. Then, I am most grateful for the Lord, my own anemone and I pray those people that wrote those hateful messages, and all of the pained in the world, I pray they have or can find an anemone to be grateful for as well.
I imagine the people that wrote those hateful letters were afraid, hurting, and they decided they would wrap themselves in that fear and anger, in hopes it would offer some much-needed relief. I don’t condone what they did, but I do understand. I know wrapping myself in pain and anger has, at times, made me feel safe, even though I was not. That is why I choose to wrap myself in God and in people able to wrap themselves around me, people able to allow me to wrap myself around them, people willing to clean me when I am dirty and willing to be cleaned as well, people who live reciprocity, even though certain death is imminent and there is always the risk of being stung. Still, they love anyway. They rest anyway. They cradle anyway, knowing that compassion, that loving, that reciprocity is the only way we will all thrive and survive.