When our son, Brendon, was about eight years old, we drove to the pet store, where he chose his first pets: two goldfish.
After the store clerk took them out of the tank for us, we purchased all the supplies we needed to be responsible goldfish owners. When we arrived home, we cleaned and prepared their brand new bowl, placed them inside, and put them on his dresser.
That evening I went to his room to take a look at our newly-purchased goldfish. They looked less energetic than earlier that day, even lethargic. I did not express my concern to my young son because I did not want to worry him, but the next morning my fear was confirmed.
The two goldfish had died.
Later that day, my husband, son and I dug a grave in the backyard and held a small ritual for them, accompanied by our son’s tears.
Perhaps it could be too easy to dismiss the significance of the life and death of two tiny goldfish, but the tears in a little boy’s eyes revealed something different. My son’s affection for his new pets, and his grief over their deaths, reminded me that no creature is too small, too insignificant, or too unimportant to be outside the realm of love.
To me, my young son was a reminder that love comes with risk, the risk of loss, the risk of being hurt. His tears, an expression of tender vulnerability, served their purpose: he was able to grieve and then move on, allowing the goldfish to be a nice memory.
It is indeed a paradox that in our most vulnerable places, where we feel tender and fragile, also lay our source of strength, healing, and hope.