The Aquarium In Our Living Room
by Ruby Bayan
As far back as I can remember there had always been an aquarium on the built-in hardwood divider shelf that separated the dining room from the living room in our old house. The five-gallon aquarium fit snugly into the divider as if the shelf was specifically built around it.
The earliest recollection I have of this aquarium is when I was too small to reach the top of the tank, and I would climb up the arm of the couch beside the shelf to take an active part in feeding our colorful swimming pets.
Somehow, in my youth, I considered the aquarium a basic element in our house, and feeding the fish an integral part of our family's daily routine. On some weekends, I would watch my mother clean out the tank, meticulously re-landscape and re-decorate the habitat, and re-stock the tank by bringing in the most colorful tropical fishes.
We had a backyard pond that had some wild guppies and exotic swordtails, and my mother would pick out the best ones to put in our living room aquarium. This was the life I was born into, so, the aquarium and the tropical fish just seemed to belong in our regular scheme of things.
In our pre-school years, my brother and I would constantly be attracted to the tank, and, of course, naughty as we were, we'd drop anything and everything into the aquarium to see how the fish would react or just to find out how our innovative underwater décor would look. A few shiny marbles would be okay, but most of the time my mother would sigh in exasperation, when she has to rescue various items from the bottom of the tank, like the flashlight we thought would remain lit underwater, the alarm clock that looked art nouveau half-buried in the sand, and, of course, the multi-colored crayons.
Patiently, my mother would tell us why these items did not belong inside the aquarium. "They are harmful to the fish because they pollute the water and disturb the balance," she would say, trying her best to make our innocent minds comprehend.
Eventually, we understood that we couldn't drop our stuff into the water, so my brother and I resorted to "interacting" with the fish instead. We would splash the water and tap the walls of the tank.
"No, kids, don't tap the glass because the fishes feel the pounding in their ears!" my mother warned us, emphasizing that the fish could hear our voices through the water, and they get hurt when we tap the glass.
I didn’t pay much attention to what my mother was actually saying then. But I soon realized that she had been teaching my brother and me our first lessons in being kind to animals.
Over the years, the family aquarium continued to evolve, and the various fish inhabitants came and went. But there was never a time when we didn't have a bustling community of fishes that my mother would lovingly attend to every single day.
It was only when I was about ready to move out of our old home to live in a place of my own that I took the time to ask my mother the question I had always wanted to ask her.
"Mom, we've cared for dogs, cats, rabbits, and hamsters, but none of them became a constant in our lives like these fishes in this aquarium. Why is that?"
My mother eagerly answered, "Fishes in an aquarium are probably the easiest pets to take care of. You don't have to housetrain them, take them out for a walk, or bring them to the groomers. They don't give you allergies, and they don't keep you up at night.
"Instead, a thriving community of fishes in an aquarium moves about gracefully, and gives you soothing performances of astounding hues and colors, and smooth and agile motions, in a world of harmony and indescribable charm." I told her I wasn't sure I totally understood what she meant, but she was glad to explain.
"The fishes are my escape when life gets a bit harsh and unbearable -- I just sit and watch them and blend into their tranquility and balance. They help me meditate. They help me relax."
My mother then uttered what may have completely influenced my perception of tropical fish for the rest of my life. She said, "Very soon you will start your own family and live your own life. Remember what I told you about the fishes -- they will help you maintain your sanity... they will give you peace... let them do this for you as they have done for me." I understood. And I remembered.
Published in the anthology "Their Mysterious Ways: Amazing Stories About God's Animals and Us" compiled by Phyllis Hobe
And now I pass it on...
Visit my aquarium fish hobby site for tutorials, digital photos, and other fun stuff: OurSimpleJoys:Freshwater Aquaria