Friday, August 24, 2007

Another Story

Once upon a time, there was a man who was full of love. He loved his family, he loved his pets, he loved all living things. One day he decided to set up an aquarium. He carefully studied the needs of fish and frogs and snails and other aquatic creatures, how they interacted, which kinds worked best together, how to create the very best environment for them. He carefully selected gravel, washed it thoroughly, and spread it over the bottom of the tank. Some plants were added, for shade and hiding places and food, some rocks for beauty and spawning, and even a little ceramic hollow log, for those creatures who liked refuge.

He carefully filled the tank with water, adding conditioners and biological filtration bacteria, and then let it run for months, so that the tank would grow healthy before he added any creatures. He turned on the light each morning, and turned it off each night. At last, when there were signs that microscopic life was thriving, a little algae was growing, and the plants were lush, he began adding fish.

Guppies went in, for their beauty and fecundity, catfish to scavange what others missed, Zebra Danios for their amusing races around the tank, a Khuli Loach for its unusual shape and wild dashes. Two Angelfish went in, for their friendly grace and lovely elegance, a Red-Tailed Shark, for its benign appearance of menace, some Cardinal Tetras for their neon-like colors, and a Betta Splendons because he was so gorgeous. He also added some snails to help clean away the algae, and some frogs because they were so cute and funny, always posing so dramatically.

And when he was finished, it was very good, and very beautiful, and very soothing.

For a time, all went well. Then one day, one of his cats got sick. It was worrisome, and a little hard to treat, but he managed, even if he couldn't afford the very best care. His dog took ill, and its treatment was even more expensive, but he took it to the local SPCA, which offered veterinary care at a reduced price. But worst of all, his mate fell ill. There was no question now of not getting the best care they could, her very life was in danger. It took many sacrifices and a long time, but eventually she was on the road to recovery.

He turned his attention back to his aquarium. There were problems. Too many snails were being born, and they were taking over the tank, eating too much, fouling the water. So he studied the situation, then got some Swordtails, who loved dining on snail. The Betta and the Shark had taken to bullying the other fish, and nipping their fins. He tried putting in isolation screens, giving them a sort of time out. It worked on the Shark, and when he was allowed to return to the community, he stopped his aggressive ways. But Bettas are bred to fight, and at last he realized he'd have to put that fish in a small bowl, all by itself.

Disease struck next. This was a more serious problem. He bought some medicine, but the label said it would burn the tender skin of the frogs. So, until the tank was healthy again, he had to put them in with the Betta. They got along tolerably well, since the little frogs would fight back if the Betta challenged. The man added the medicine to the tank, and it turned the water blue, detracting from the beauty. Some of the fish recovered, but others began to show signs of severe illness.

He looked at his beloved cat, and his beloved dog, and his dearly beloved mate and children. The fish were very inexpensive to buy, but very, very expensive to take to a Vet. So he allowed death to enter his world. Each day he netted out the fish who had died, and each day he monitored the water and the medicine. Finally there came a day when no more fish were ill. He then started the laborious task of slowly replacing the water, until once again it was sparkling clear, and the frogs could come back home. He bought new fish, for only a few dollars, to replace the ones who had died.

The man had a kind and tender and loving heart. But in the grand scheme of things, the deaths of a few fish were a small matter, and he had far greater worries resting on his shoulders. There was the house to maintain, his need to tend to his spouse, to raise his children, to worry over the cat and dog, bills to pay, work to do, car repairs, groceries to buy. He mourned every fish he had to flush (sometimes even shedding a tear as a favorite went belly-up), but fish were prolific and cheap, and had very small lives compared to the lives of his other pets, let alone the many years his family hoped to have.

Was this man then very good, for all he tried to do, for all the little lives he tried to make peaceful and happy and lovely? Or was he a very bad man, for not saving even the smallest life, no matter what sacrifice that would entail, no matter how it might affect, down the line, his ability to care for the bigger, more important things?

Or is it all just a question of balance?

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