I recently read about a study at the University in Sydney which suggests that some fish have higher cognitive function than previously believed. I am reminded of a large carp that I have thought about many times over the years. I know it may sound odd that I would be pondering the life of a carp, but this one is different.
There is a storefront somewhere around Queens, NY that I would often walk by while visiting the area. Before I knew it, I would be standing in front of the store window mesmerized, and a bit saddened...by a fish. The owners, for attention seeking purposes that obviously were effective because they stopped me in my travels more than once, have a fish on display. In most circumstances, this would be an ordinary occurrence, but this large fish is in a narrow tank and only physically able to swim in one direction…for its whole life.
Don’t get me wrong. My dad was a fisherman. I’ve pulled my share of red snapper out of the ocean without a second thought. But I ATE them. I didn’t put them in a skinny tank to spend their existence swimming forward.
So, after I read an article about the higher thinking abilities of fish, I started contemplating what this fish could be “thinking.” He has no idea if there is a large, hungry shark behind him, if there are tasty morsels up ahead, or if he is actually making progress in a sea that has the same scenes on either side throughout the entire body of water. And how painful was the realization for him that he does not possess the ability to swim straight backwards, or did he just succumb to moving only forward because the end result would be the same?
Does he (or she?) continue to swim forward in infinite continuity because he is propelled to be in motion to survive, or does he believe he is actually advancing, perhaps on the way to discover a wider area where he can make a U-turn?
I like to believe the latter. I like to think he is driven by hope. After so many years of swimming in the same direction, he must possess some faith that tomorrow will bring different circumstances, and that keeps him swimming onward, hour after hour, day after day.
As a creative writer, I do tend to find inspiration in the most unlikely places, a carp in a store window for example. However, so many similarities of the carp’s banal existence can parallel our own journey:
- Like the carp, time continues a forward trek and it is impossible for either to reverse its trajectory.
- The carp does not look back, cannot look back, and knows the only thing that truly matters is what is ahead.
- Though finding himself in a place in life neither planned nor desired, the fish continues to move forward. He doesn’t give up -- or give in, to his present circumstances.
Oh, I’m sure many of you are reading this and thinking I have granted this fish way too much intellectual credit. Most likely, you’re right. But…what if you’re not?
There is analysis currently being conducted regarding the behaviors of fish, from initial perception to decisive movement and even, decision making. If it is not pure ignorance, as some of these studies might vaguely suggest, that keeps this fish from opting to go belly up, it would have to be faith. If his dedicated actions cannot be attributed to sheer stupidity, indeed there must be some level of hope that tomorrow will bring a brighter day.
Moral of the story: Keep moving forward, no matter your circumstances. Believe that there are indeed better times awaiting your arrival. Just keep swimming.