Lessons from a Fish Tank

My family were more of the dog and cat variety when it came to household pets. We prefer the sort of pet you can play with, cuddle with, and talk to. But in my new family of the teachers I share a house with, we have a less allergenic, easier to maintain kind of pet: fish.

This is an entirely new concept for me. What do fish do? You can’t pet them or cuddle with them, and I learned that talking to them just makes your housemates think you’re cracking under stress or something. But in my study of the scaly little creatures, I’ve learned that fish do possess one quality that cats and dogs possess as well. This quality has helped me relate to our four new little pets in a way that I never thought was possible with a fish.

Fish have personality.

I know, it sounds crazy. But bear with me.

Our first fish is named Freckles. We inherited him with the tank, and I was so fascinated by him. I couldn’t wait to get him out of his little Tupperware container and into his home. But, as my housemate Rebekah informed me, we had to let the water filter first. So we had to keep him in the dish overnight. It was for his own good, even though it was a struggle now.

We unscrewed the lid on the dish so he could breathe, and he did fine all night. But in the morning, I made my coffee and went back upstairs to drink it—my typical morning routine—and when I returned twenty minutes later, I found Freckles out of water on the counter.

Freckles, it turned out, was an impatient fish. He had seen that I was awake; and in his desperation to get out of his little container where we had him, he put himself in a more hazardous situation. 

Now before you get all worked up, he turned out to be fine. We put him back in the dish and eased him into the tank, and he recovered well enough. But now he mostly lurks beneath the toy bridge, hiding from the light like a good algae-eating fish does. He’s learned his lesson about dish hopping, apparently.

Recently, the housemates and I went to the pet store to purchase a couple more fish for our tank. While we love Freckles, there is something exciting about picking out a fish for yourself. We bought three tropical fish: a pink one named Glowie, a green and black striped one named Zippy, and a gold and black fish named Feisty. Three different fish, and three totally different personalities.

Glowie is a show off. She’s a neon pink little thing that paces back and forth across the tank, flashing her scales with each quick turn. If you get up close to the glass, she swims and turns faster. Zippy is vain. He’s not a hard fish to locate—he’s usually right up next to the glass making faces at himself. He darts around, looks away a moment, then zips back to the glass as though afraid he’ll miss something. And all the time, he’s moving his lips.  I can almost hear him talking to his reflection. Feisty is adequately named. He’s the first to the top at feeding time, and he’ll dart for the biggest flakes before the others can get there (although he only has to compete with Glowie, because Zippy doesn’t leave his reflection for too long).

Watching and yes, talking to our fish makes me think about my own personality. What must my fish think of me (if they could think, that is)? I hope that if they could assign some attribute to me, it would be something nice. But what if it weren’t? What sort of message would I be giving to my fish?

You see, the world sometimes looks at us as though we are fish in a tank. They look at us wanting to see something worthwhile. But what do they see? Do they see impatience, pride, vanity, aggression? Or do they see Christ shining through us? These little fish have taught me to be careful of my actions, because every day I give someone a single impression—whether they know I am a Christian or not. And I hope that single impression would be one pleasing to God.

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