Blogging is narcissistic, but also an opportunity to express some sentimentality during chaotic times.
Lately, my brain has been muddled by politics. Like some kind of mental fog, it has cast a shadow over the small glimmer of creativity I used to possess, leaving me unable to produce anything inspiring. Reading up on world news is important. Being angry is worthwhile. But losing the ability to create seems like an unfair bargain.
But yesterday, something resembling sentimentality payed me a surprise visit. It happened in my Catalan class while we were having an early introduction to the imperfect tense, marking the first time I have been able to speak about the past in this new language. The teacher asked us all to talk briefly about our childhood. What were we like? What kinds of things do we remember most?
The class is diverse. I tilted forward in my chair, trying to see my peers as they spoke in choppy fragmented sentences about being mischievous and cutting class in Morocco, or learning to sew to help their parents’ business in Bolivia. Some shared more painful stories of leaving their native country due to regional conflict. Most read from notes they had nervously scribbled onto lined paper in preparation for this brief moment of public speaking.
When it became my turn, I realized I hadn’t prepared anything, not even a simple mental note about what to say because I was so caught up in everyone else’s stories. I paused, my notebook blank, everyone looking at me. My childhood seemed simple and common compared to that of my peers.
Then inexplicably, a flash of red surfaced from the back of my mind. I could see her clearly blowing tiny bubbles, flapping her red body, gazing emptily at the bedroom beyond her reach. Hardly a remarkable element from my past, Raspberry was my pet tropical fish who swam in silent circles in a glass bowl that isolated her from her adoptive sister (brother?) Blueberry who swam in an identical adjacent bowl. Raspberry lived like an ornament for a full year in my bedroom without making much of an impact on our lives. When she died, however, I remember my sister cried.
The traditional thing to do when a fish dies is flush it down the toilet. Return it to its source, I suppose. But I remember my dad found a little white jewelry box, which was the perfect size for her one-inch frame. It was the carton kind that has a soft layer of cotton on the bottom so that Raspberry could rest comfortably in peace. He dug a hole in the backyard that was also just the right size for her cardboard coffin, and the whole family gathered outside for the burial.
My dad gave a eulogy.
“Raspberry was a quiet fish,” he said. “She never complained. She never bothered anybody.”
My sisters and I giggled, and my dad shrugged at us and said, “It’s true, isn’t it?”
I shared this story with my Catalan peers and they smiled. This isn’t something I think of often, but it is a beautiful memory.
It is also surprising because my dad is not the sentimental type. I wouldn’t describe him as serious, but he’s definitely practical enough to toss a fish into a toilet, pull the trigger and walk away.
But over the years and in many indirect ways, my sisters and I were taught the value of all living things, the eulogy for a fish being an early example. We didn’t practice any religion, we were just taught that life is to be respected.
As the world becomes more divided and my brain becomes more fogged with politics, this lesson on basic humanity seems like a relevant bridge connecting the solemnity of current events with creativity and empathy.