What a life! Get a life! That’s what it desperately wanted. That’s what it frantically sought as it made futile attempts to break free and widen its horizons. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the gold fish as it languidly,aimlessly swam round its glass globe, doing nothing more exciting than blowing bubbles as I gazed at its secure prison/ home on the window-sill opposite my room. What a boring existence, watching the world go by and not being part of the action!
Periodically the poor fish’s frustration would reach breaking point. Its patience would snap. It would summon all its energies and make a giant leap for freedom –only to crash-land panting, gasping for breath. As it lay helpless on the floor it was strand, totally out of its element. Fortunately, at that very moment, I passed by, noticed its predicament, rushed to its rescue and returned it to its watery home in the bowl. Once more it was back in its element...cramped though it was, it could breath; it could blow bubbles. Though its life was limited, at least it was safe! True, it had to face down our cat as it sized it up as a tasty snack. But that eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation did not seem to make our goldfish neurotic.
Very different was my reaction to my tedious, drawn-out illness while working in Spode Conference Centre. Great was my frustration during the A-Level Scripture courses. I had started them. I used to lead them. I longed to join the action. Being a tutor, working with such lively youngsters, was stimulating. And I learnt so much while teaching. Then there was the joy of making friends, joining in the lively liturgy and trying to beat the teenagers at table tennis. I really came alive during those courses!
But then illness put an end to all this –at least for a couple of years. During that time I could identify with the gold fish in its glass bowl. Both of us could gaze longingly at the world around us. By no choice of ours we were placed in this safe, but very limited environment. But neither of us could join the action. Like the gold fish, I longed to leap out, to break free. Sad to say, the result of my own attempt to escape was just the same as that of the golden fish. Neither of us could cope with the freedom for which we both longed. Out of water the poor fish lay exhausted, gasping for breath, as it lay on the floor. The same was true for me. My attempt to become involved in the world outside the confines of my room wore me out and set back my recovery. Both the fish and I had to be put back into the limited, safe environment in which we could survive.
I had to learn and accept that this must be what God was asking of me at that time. Instead of feeling frustrated at being unable to do what I had loved I had to learn to find fulfilment in what was possible and learn to love that. That meant having to work through negative self-pity to a positive approach to life. Not an easy task. We certainly need God’s help to reach the serenity St. Paul described in his letter to the Philippians, when he wrote,
"I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am," (Philip. 4. 11).
The same is now true with the inescapable limitation resulting from the frailty of old age. Instead of envying the vigour of the youngsters in my community, I must find fulfilment in what is still possible for me. It’s so reassuring to remind myself that Jesus achieved most –the salvation of the world –when He was helplessly nailed to the cross. The sick and frail can identify with Him, and He with us. We can even share in His work of salvation in a way impossible for healthy, active youngsters.
I think God wants the goldfish to teach me to make the best of the opportunities and situations in which I now find myself, where I can still find fulfilment within my limitations. That’s far more positive than wasting my time and energy hankering for what is no longer possible. I would only make a fool of myself if, as an octogenarian, I tried to behave like brethren young enough to be my grandchildren.
Incidentally, I think we only really appreciate something when we lose it. That’s certainly true of the vigour of youth. I agree with George Bernard Shaw, when he said, "Youth is wasted on the young." Now it’s up to me to find the advantages of frailty and old age. Perhaps the youngsters are not yet ready to appreciate them! OR US!!!!