I once owned a goldfish. His name was Cochise.
Cochise was the result of an unfortunate series of events that ended with 30-50 small goldfish in my bathtub one evening. My only explanation is that I was a college minister prior to coming to Africa.
Being the tenderhearted, animal-lover I am, I sought to rescue said goldfish from the ultimate peril of my drain by scooping them out and putting them in a glass cookie jar. This jar turned fish refugee camp housed most of the fish in a suitable, yet cramped, environment. In other words, the jar was so full they could hardly move.
And as cheap Walmart goldfish tend to do, they began to slowly die off. Every morning, I would wake up and find one or two belly-up in the cookie jar. Every morning, I would have a burial by toilet bowl.
The numbers soon dwindled until I had only one left, and man was he a keeper! Cochise was by far the ugliest fish of the whole group. Most of the other goldfish were, well, gold.
Not Cochise. He was a nice shade of duct-tape grey. Furthermore, one of his eyes was much larger than the other one and somewhat bugged out to one side. Despite his obvious handicaps, Cochise was apparently a fighter, because that guy held on to life like no fish I have ever seen.
We were together for several years. In fact, it was not until months after I came to Africa that I learned of his eventual demise. I charged a friend with his care, only for Cochise to head off to that happy fish pond in the sky. My only guess is that he died of separation anxiety.
Cochise and I shared many fond memories. During the final months of my masters degree, his bowl was next to my computer on the desk. After I moved to a new house for a brief time, he lived on the counter in the kitchen, the room I frequented the most. Often times, I would walk by and see him sitting there, staring back at me. More than once, I caught myself wondering what the world was like from his perspective. How did the world look through Cochise’s bugged-out eyeball? What is it like to live in a bowl and watch the world go on around you?
A piece of me now knows.
My 10-year high school reunion was last week. (Put the old man jokes aside until I finish making my point.) It was an event that, for all intents and purposes, I should have had a hand in planning. And certainly, had I been in the States, I would have.
Instead of catching up with long lost friends about life and their pursuit of happiness, I got to look at pictures of the reunion on Facebook. It appears they had a good time, a fact of which I am glad. Yet, like so many other things in the past year, I “experienced” this milestone from behind glass. I watched through the lens of Facebook.
I have already confessed to being a Facebook stalker. It has become my means of watching my old world march forward without me. I have indeed succumbed to the fish bowl effect. I sit back and idly watch as friends get married or have kids, as events take place that I should attend, and as family and church members get sick.
Facebook albums and status updates fill in the details of county fairs and Strawberry Festivals, of celebrations at church and tragic events that shake my community. All the while, I stare through my little glass wall and watch from a distance.
At times it has been hard. Sometimes, it hurts because you realize you are not a part of what is happening back at home anymore. On other occasions, it hurts because you realize it can actually go on without you. You see group photographs that should have your face in the middle of them. But then, you realize they are all smiling just the same without you.
Before you gather that my point in writing this is to garnish your pity, let me assure you this post has a happy ending. I am by no means upset by my current circumstances. Quite to the contrary, I thank God for my position. For, while I spectate on my old life from another world, I am indeed experiencing this new world as well. You see, there is a life on this side of the glass. It is a life full of new faces, new places, and new memories. For the time being, I have an abiding peace here, despite the separation from those who are so close to my heart. Truly, it is the kind of peace that can only come from being obedient to God’s call.
Ironically, with the end of my term in sight, the realization is dawning on me that I may soon be viewing my world here as though from a fishbowl. In the event that I return home to stay, I may soon be casting glances back on my new friends and family here through the lens of Facebook and scattered collections of news and tidbits I gather through email. The work here is so important, and the people here are so dear. To watch it from behind glass, it would hurt.
Yet, no matter where I land, that will be my reality, to watch one of my worlds from a distance. Solace comes in knowing there is true peace for those who are obedient to God’s call, wherever it may lead.
For all of my friends out there who have attended a wedding via Skype this past year, I imagine you know how I feel…
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