For the latter half of my single-digit years, two goldfish held residence in my room. One boasted the name Lisa, while the other bared the name Tom. I greeted Tom and Lisa every day, offering them food and occasionally, a clean bowl. Over the years, Tom and Lisa heard countless stories as I wandered around my room, shaking my hands with reckless abandon each time I stumbled upon the appropriate words to bring my imaginative tales to life. And they listened, patiently, to my temper tantrums over botched French braiding efforts, as well as failed endeavors to “teach” my little brother every component of second grade, and my unsuccessful foray into personal training—a bleak attempt to torture Barbie with calisthenics so she could adequately compete with GI Joe.
I’m sure Tom and Lisa didn’t survive for five full years; however, when I think back to my childhood, I only recall two fish. As soon as one died, we replaced it with a new fish, and in an effort to preserve the order of things in my room, I promptly named that fish either Tom or Lisa. In my little mind, those two names were the most fitting names for orange-gilled creatures moving into my fish tank.
For that reason, death never seemed like a real thing to me. I knew it existed and I came to understand it a little more when I watched both of my grandfathers die, but even then, I didn’t fully understand the depth of their absence until several years later when I noticed how much I missed them, when I started to lose the image of their faces, when I began to accept the fact they would never materialize on the recliner, or around the dinner table ever again.
Since the passing of my grandfathers, I’ve experienced a slew of other deaths, but instead of growing callus to the departure of life, each time I lose someone, I find myself increasingly more saddened, and increasingly more appreciative of the people who are still with me.
This all struck me today when I found out that a friend of mine lost her father. A bowl of sorrow opened in my gut as I empathized with her plight. I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been to get that phone call; how do you respond to that type of news? What comes next, after you hang up? What happens in the silence that engulfs you?
As I thought about my friend, I wished so badly she could venture out and find another Tom or another Lisa to make her smile. I wished she could go to the store and pick out a shiny, new goldfish, one who could do everything the old fish could—that way, she could go home, plop him into the tank, pick up the pieces and go on. When it comes down to it, I wished so badly that she could slip into my seven year old life.
Sadly, I realize life doesn’t work as simply as it did when I was seven years old, but I do hope that the best part of that simplicity is still possible. I hope that even though we cannot replace those we lose, we can find joy again in our lives. And I hope—that despite the deepest dips of sadness—we can always find the strength to pry open the cracks in our hearts and let loveliness leak into the gaps.