family stories: flying fish (pt. 2)

I woke up after the experience, vague memories still brushing my mind. I knew I had been there, but it was all fuzzy. I can remember the dare: to be free. I remember thinking all sorts of things, and having some pretty strange delusions. Now, however, it was time to go to my school. I felt elated until I realized that everything was exactly the same as before, except now I had huge green bags under my eyes.

One of my coworkers commented on my eyes. Asked me if I’d been up all night. Then I acted in a way completely uncharacteristic of my former self. I snapped back by saying, “You know, it’s not about the looks. We’d all do a lot better to focus more on the important things.” My coworker just smiled, and agreed, swimming off with his team.

It was a long day, longer than I remember these days being. My mind kept floating off, thinking about the stars and when I would get a chance to see them again. I was training a new set of fish on how to properly swim after food. I found myself changing my usual speech. When I should have told them how to dart after the food, I ended up blurting out “You know, gathering food’s not the be-all-end-all of existence. There’s more to life than just swimming after food.” My unusual retort caused some fish to chuckle. One fish raised its fin and said, “So what you mean is that we should give food to others?” I thought about it for a moment. “Yes, we should be charitable.”

This was met with approving glances from most of the students who understood what I was saying. Be charitable. Great idea. After the warm feeling flowed through the school, I was met with a stern command from Jody, which was an order to visit the school principal.

I swam half-heartedly to the principal’s quadrant. The flatfish looked at me with his one working eye, wearing a giant frown. Mind you, it’s hard to tell what he’s thinking, because flatfish are always frowning. He began to part his bulging lips to say something, but I could not contain my outburst. “I know there’s something different about me,” I began in my own defense.

“Different, indeed. Jody tells me you’ve been changing the training, the training we have spent so many years establishing. You don’t need me to tell you how unusual this is.” I began to interject, but I had already been impolite, and something in the principal’s eye suggested I should hold my tongue. “Now the students are talking about charity…. and we think this is a wonderful idea! How could one fish persuade an entire class to become more productive, and gather more food? Your genius is undeniable. You should start the program at once. Your rations, naturally, will increase with the students’ productivity.”

A commendation from the principal! And a promotion! The principal winked at me as I left his quadrant, and I was feeling puffed with esteem, glad that I had for once done something unusual. Maybe our society isn’t as conformist as Jacob would have me believe. But there was still something nagging at me. I should feel on top of the sea at this point, so why did I still think something was wrong?

As I left the quadrant, I noticed a change in the way other fish were looking at me. They were either proud to know me, or jealous of my success. Either way, I was a superstar… stars

What had I learned last night? I had learned that I needed to be free. Obviously, learning about freedom was an important step, and my change of thought had brought on my current happiness. But it was something the principal had said that netted me. It was his use of the word persuade, perhaps, as though I had pushed the students to think something that they would not have otherwise considered. But that can’t be a bad thing. Maybe it was the words to become more productive. Were we really being charitable? Were we really thinking about others’ needs, or our own? Either way you sliced it, I was now thought of as the charitable fish. I was the one with the halo, the one who was doing some good in this sea. I could tell others about my charitable works, and easily appear to be the best fish in the school. This was a great power, and as I began to thank the stars for my newfound power and wealth, a thought dogfished me: Is it enough to simply be thought of as being good? Is it even desirable? What does it really amount to?

That night, I again strayed from the schools. I reached the surface and I saw something terrible. Lights were coming from the sky, and it was not the light of the stars. Nightfishing. A line dropped into the schools. I saw a fish, screaming and wriggling, being lifted out of the schools. I recognized her face before she disappeared into oblivion. It was Jody.

The lights were out. I peered up to the sky, looking for an answer. I thought of my commendation and promotion. Regardless, if I would have stayed in the schools that night, that could have been me screaming and fighting the taut line, instead of Jody. My success would have been worthless. Whatever good I had begun would be for naught.

Before the massive carriers above us belched their dark grey smoke into the water, signaling their departure, I saw something else. It was like rain. No, pebbles. Then it dawned on me. The same vessels responsible for fishing us out of the schools were the ones responsible for dropping the food. They were keeping us there in our own little protective ball, just so they could fish us out when they needed to take us away. I saw into the stars, and a new message appeared:

You are not free.

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family stories: flying fish (pt. 1)

young gun park

So, Jacob starts swimming with me. I’ve heard about Jacob. He’s that fish who swims with all kinds of schools. He starts talking with me about all the different schools where he’s been swimming.

 

“Don’t you get tired of swimming with so many schools?” I asked.

“Life’s got all kinds of schools, man. Do you ever look up at the night sky?”

“No. Why bother? It’s just a bunch of darkness,” I replied.

“Aw, then you really HAVEN’T looked up at the sky. It’s not just darkness. There be stars up there, matey. Beautiful stars. Constellations. Galaxies. Places you can visit and chill out at. Realms of wisdom lost to the ages. Been a long time since folk dared to go up there.”

Go up there? Are you insane? There’s no water. You’d die.”

“Would you believe me if I told you I’ve been up there? Let me tell you, life’s like a stream. It flows into this nook or that cranny. Right at the end of the stream you see something folks call death. But it’s actually the big unknown; the mystery. It’s waiting for you, yah know?”

“So, if you’ve been to the stars, why are you down here swimming with us normal fish?”

“You all are too far out. I love to observe. Fish swimming here and there, darting furiously after little pebbles of food like it’s the most important thing in the sea, never looking around and feeling the gift they’ve been given. Every now and again though, I see a fish who needs to fly, you know? Just needs to. You ever hear of this salmon giving talks out at the berg? He says there’s this kind of fish, the boddhisatfish, who goes to the stars and then comes back to the schools to chill and help wherever possible. Help in the real way, dig? So now you know it can be done. Do what you will.”

He swims away. Pfffft. Far out. I’m not the one who’s far out. Yeah, jump out to where there’s no air, and maybe even a hook. Enough hooks dip into the schools as it is. I don’t need to get closer to the surface, where all the hooks come from. What’s wrong with swimming with the same school? Here, I know I’m safe. I’ve got a bunch of fish to swim with, and we’re doing just fine. Everyone shows up on time, and we have a purpose. We’re here to keep the schools going. We toil tirelessly for the greater good. If he really wanted to help, he’d be stooping to dart after pebbles of food like every other fish. He’d be a part of one school, and he’d devote himself to the greater purpose. Once we start going off on our own, the whole thing will fall apart. No more schools. No more structure. Everyone just going off and doing what they please. It’s shellfish.

Still, it hits me one night. I’m having dreams about what he said. I’m filled with the burning desire to see what’s beyond the schools. The feeling is so strong it could filet me. One restless night, I decide to swim closer to the surface. I’ll just have a look. I just want to see if what he’s talking about is true. Once I know he’s putting me on, I can come back to the safety of my school and I’ll know not to trust what he says. That’s why I’m going out there. To prove Jacob wrong.

Once I get there, I see what Jacob was talking about. There really are stars out there. Well, I guess I can’t prove him wrong. From this view, I take a look down and see why it is all the hooks dip into the schools. It’s because that’s where all the fish are. There they swim, just waiting to die. No, there must be a reason I felt so safe there. Now that I look out at these stars, however, I can’t think of a single reason why I thought that place was so secure. I’m just as secure here, with this beautiful view! I think I can even see something in that cloud of burning stars. Now I’m seeing words swirling around in that cloud. I dare you. No, there’s something more. I dare you to be free.

It’s a challenge. It’s a challenge to go and see beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Oh, but the risk—I dare you—it really isn’t safe—to be—but what if I—free.

Nothing in the world can stop me at this point. I swim back to give myself some momentum. I am gaining speed I never thought I had in me. I am hurtling myself toward the surface, towards the deep darkness and luminescent flare of astral bodies, and I anticipate a painful crash. I break through the surface. Instead of a crash, there is a sudden wash of nothing: a perfect lack of sound. No more voices. No more posturing. No more fish telling me what I am and what I should be and what I need to do with my life. No more schedules, no more appointments, and no more expectations. Nothing remains but beautiful, sterling silence. I thought I was going to die, but now I feel as though I haven’t been alive until now. The remaining bits of water fly out of my gills and I need to keep the breath in my body. A new breath emerges. Now I am breathing fully, deeply, and meaningfully. The light of the stars is approaching me, and I see that the stars are not terrible and pain-inflicting balls of fire, but just water in another form. I prepare to enter the mass, the words growing before my eyes.

I dare you to be free.