“We are the miracle of force and matter making itself over into imagination and will. Incredible. The Life Force experimenting with forms…you for one, me for another. The Universe has shouted itself alive. We are one of the shouts.” -Ray Bradbury
I have been struck by the power of the life force of late. It is a force that animates everything we do, but we hardly recognize it as such, except in moments of birth and death. The brief opening of the veil between worlds shines a bright light on this mystery of what keeps us tethered to life. We don’t think of it much on the birth side unless things get scary and then you realize how life can swing either way. It is usually as we observe death that we begin to grasp the vitality and power that infuses life.
I realized this week that the death of even the smallest of creatures can awaken the compassion of this perpetual departure. I have lost dogs and cats before and those deaths after years of petting and snuggling stay with me still. I wouldn’t have thought that a goldfish could elicit a similar response until this last week as I have watched our family gold fish hang onto life with nothing but courage.
Ours was a feisty goldfish who would swim to the side of the bowl you were standing at and shake its tail furiously for food. Communicating as one can in a small bowl on the counter, this fish made its presence felt. I have witnessed the signs of goldfish failure before, where they become unable to right themselves. This begins a continuous deterioration usually in a matter of days. It is hard to watch a creature dying. It doesn’t really matter what kind.
The goldfish hasn’t surfaced in over a week, and hasn’t eaten in longer than that. Yet somehow it comes up with the energy to keep lifting its little body. Each time I come home, thinking this must be it, the fish is still there puffing. Over the weekend, I found the fish on its side and thought at last, it’s over. But no, minutes later it was up again, puffing, hanging on to life.
I am grateful for this goldfish vigil because it is teaching me the incredible tenacity that all of life has to hold on to this miraculous journey. I have heard many hospice workers speak this way about witnessing the final moments in a human life as well.
It is in the letting go that we learn what we held.