Tag Archives: fish

Something Fishy

This summer, photographer Tim Samuel was freediving off the coast of Australia when he happened by a curious sight:  a fish stuck inside a jellyfish.  Who knows how the poor guy got into this predicament–a lost bet?, a quick dart for cover?– but there he was, encased in the transparent innards of another being, struggling to set his course.

Much like the Pushmi-Pullyu of Dr. Doolittle lore, the fish tried valiantly to steer in one direction, but the jellyfish had other

Doolittle's pushmi-pullyu
Doolittle’s pushmi-pullyu

ideas; that is, as much of an idea as a non-sentient creature can have.  So the two ended up in a frustrating dance, the fish leading in one direction for a few hopeful moments, then twirling in circles led by the motions of the jellyfish.

Utterly stuck.

I stared at the pictures of that little fish for a long time, alternating between fascination and pity.  This was no symbiotic clown fish-anemone bargain.

It was a Big Oops.

How long had they been existing like this?  Had he surrendered to his plight as the new normal or did he hold out hope of escape?   Do fish hope?

Sometimes we cruise along merrily, caught up in the current’s rush and not paying much attention, and something takes over, recharting our course.  Maybe it’s a surprise pregnancy, a sudden loss, or a change in job status.

Image: Tim Samuel
Image: Tim Samuel

Oh, hello, Jellyfish!  Didn’t see that coming.  We have to readjust, struggling to steer with limited visibility through the gauzy haze that’s fallen.  Eventually, we part ways with the jelly because it was a temporary retreat.  Like Jonah’s whale,  it spits us out once we’ve sat long enough to learn the lessons within.

Then there’s the more worrisome situation.  The light shines down through the waters one day just enough to light up our prison.  We wake up out of our fog and see the walls of our own making.  All this time we thought this was living.  Realization settles in and a lump grows in our throats:  Regret.

Imagine how the heart sinks.  We never took that class, got the degree, popped the cork on a bottle of chilled champagne.  One day we look around and our passports remain unstamped, our taste buds untitillated.  As we drifted aimlessly inside the jellyfish, the current made the easy choices for us, leaving the hard, messy, rewarding roads open for those who swam unswaddled by limits.  There, the lowest common denominator makes the rules, and too much of anything (joy, faith, love, discovery) is frowned upon.

Sometimes we’re lucky enough to get shaken awake and make a run for it.  Unlike the unfortunate fish, we can escape from the trodden miles of waste that lie behind (wasted time, chances, calories) towards a different path.  Outside the jellyfish there’s an abundant waste, one that comes from an overflow.  Outside the jelly, we are in all the pictures because makeup and good hair doesn’t matter.   There, we ride the rides, eat the chocolate, and take scary steps of faith because the alternative is a lack of oxygen and color that shrinks us.

Outside the jellyfish an alabaster jar pours a wealth of grace at our feet.  It’s okay–encouraged–to pray big, sing loudly, jump into a pile of leaves like when you were young, and be so touched by beauty or kindness that it brings tears.  It’s no big deal to learn to tango, start that novel, or dress up like a T-Rex because it taps into your happy.  You don’t have to go 3.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu, but at least you have the option.

We weren’t born to just pay bills and die.  Somewhere between wanting to be a fireman when we grew up and sitting on the porch in our 80’s with a blanket across our knees there’s big wet sloppy kisses and zip lines and ice skating.  There are broken hearts, outrageous risks, and the cold side of the pillow.  There’s stuff in us waiting to be turned inside out and shown to the world because that’s what living out loud and living on purpose look like.

Stretch out your arms big and wide.  Draw a breath from the well that lies low in the depths.  Relax your shoulders and neck from where you’ve been balancing all the shoulds and oughts and expecteds and think about that fish.  All that open ocean and he’s stuck tight turning in circles.  Regret like that is heartbreaking.  Let’s put on some Jailhouse Rock and blow this joint.





After four girls in a row, in the early 70’s my parents finally had a son, who immediately shook sense into them and put an end to their creation of offspring.  This small, blonde, slightly pigeon-toed child gave wet kisses and had trouble saying his “L’s” so he could melt you in seconds with an “I wuv you.”

Despite being adorable, from the time he arrived on the scene, babied and held dear as the sole male child, he was bound and determined to escape and wander free.   By the time he was two, he would wake silently in the early morning hours, hop the bars of his crib like a miniature parkour

Houdini in action.  Note the padlocked gate:  futile.
Houdini in action. Note the padlocked gate: futile.

expert, and head out the front door.  My mother’s Spidey Sense would eventually kick in and she’d sit up in alarm, bee-lining for the front yard.  He was quick, this little weasel.  In no time, he’d have yanked off his sleeper and diapers, leaving them as a trail of breadcrumbs for my poor mother to follow.  Somehow, he’d make it across our suburban street into our neighbor’s house across the road.  He’d climb onto their kitchen counter and help himself to a couple of cookies from their jar and toddle into their bedroom.  Many mornings, they’d wake to the sight of my small brother sitting casually on the end of their bed, naked, his face smeared with chocolate chips.   Social services would have had a field day with us.

His unflagging desire to be free–of crib, clothing, and boundaries–made him a walking nightmare for my parents in their house full of kids.  We had a backyard pool.  As a result, we were one of the first families to enlist Dr. Harvey Barnett, who has since popularized the Infant Swimming Resource (ISR) technique.  Before he was walking well, you could throw my brother into the pool and he’d immediately right himself, hold his breath, and paddle to the side to get out.  He swam like a fish.  Water was apparently his natural and preferred environment.  We worried he’d actually start to develop webbing between his toes.

No coincidence, then, that he melded instantly with my mother’s dad, who owned a charter deep sea fishing boat in Panama City.  Boat! Water! Fish! Ocean!

At the PCB docks, fish bigger than himself.
At the PCB docks, fish bigger than himself.

My brother’s idea of heaven:  sun on your face, wind in your hair, trolling on the open ocean with a fishing pole.  While most kids watched Saturday morning cartoons, he preferred hours of National Geographic and Nature, soaking up information about anything marine-related.  I could totally see him growing up to replace Aquaman from SuperFriends, riding the backs of dolphins and communicating telepathically with creatures from the deep.

By the time he was in grade school, he could out-fish many grown men.  He’d disappear on weekends and head to the nearest canal, coming home at dark smeared with scales and slime, tanned and smiling.  I never saw the appeal.  I went out once with him and my father and caught a redfish, after I refused to bait the hook with anything that wriggled.  He (him, not it) stayed alive in the brackish water in our cooler until we got home.  Immediately, I transferred him to our laundry sink, where I monitored him all night for signs of life.  The following morning I tearfully demanded my father return him to the river so he could once again be with his friends.  I couldn’t bear the thought of a filet knife touching his shiny scales.

My mother tried to keep my brother in sight to corral his wandering.  She’d sit him on the counter with her as she cooked

an opah, or moonfish, from Hawaii.  It contains 3 different types of meat.
an opah, or moonfish, from Hawaii. It contains 3 different types of meat.

dinner, consulting her red-checked Betty Crocker cookbook.  After she died, I’m not sure any of us were surprised when he became a chef, making his way through the industry on his own terms, without boundaries, skipping the expected college route and wrangling an apprenticeship in France.  He specialized in seafood.  He could spot the freshest specimens and knew which species were in and out of season.  His seafood paella is like manna from heaven.  As he got older, his skills expanded.  He began spear fishing and free diving, holding his breath for over three minutes at depths of 50 feet or so as he scouted the sandy ocean floor for snapper.   He got his captain’s license and piloted around the Bahamas, serving as a personal chef for the boat’s owner.

He worked as a chef in Alaska and Miami before his hands gave out from all the slicing and dicing.  He’s still in the seafood business, now as a buyer and supplier.  And he’s great to have at parties, capable of whipping up tasty morsels at a moment’s notice.

Every time I hear Lee Ann Womack’s song “I Hope You Dance,” I think of my little brother (who is truthfully no longer little and no joke to wrestle with).  More than anyone else I know, and probably because he had to realize the “life is short” lesson fairly young in life, he’s done what he loves.   And I love that about him.   Mike and fishCareer counselors tell people all the time to “do what you love, and the rest will follow.”   I love that he’s kept his Houdini spirit intact, taken risks, followed his passions, and thumbed his nose at the expected and the “safe.”  It’s made him such an interesting person and inevitably a happier one by using his gifts and talents to make his own path in a career that seems to fall into place tailor made just for him.  Not many of us can say the same.

He’s got a birthday coming up this week.  I hope he gets to spend some time out on the ocean in his kayak, doing what he loves best.  Knowing him, that might be wrestling a shark or spearing eels or just paddling across the waves with the taste of salt on his lips.  I wuv you, bro.