At work the other day, a message flashed on my phone. I happened to see it. I don’t always; I turn off the chime while laboring away in the newsroom and only check now and then to be sure my offspring aren’t in distress somewhere, incapable of phoning but still, somehow, able to whip out their thumbs and compose pithy tele-communiques with or without the aid of autocorrect. They could be floating down the Hudson in a cereal box, and I’d get a text that says “headin downstrm to NYC love you.”
But the other day. I checked my phone, and there it was: a text from my son announcing the death of our goldfish. You might not remember our goldfish, and even if you do remember it, you might not care, scratch the “might,” but this is the sad orange small finny creature who remained anonymous on a shelf in our kitchen until, back in December, I ran a poll asking readers to name the poor thing. And then they (THEY means YOU, and YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE) named it Sushi. Which is clever. Which is also kind of sick. Which is why my children summarily rejected it. I am sorry to say this, or maybe I’m not sorry, you’ll have to guess which, but no one ever, ever, ever called him “Sushi.” We preferred “Jesús.”
In any case, he’s dead. This is not happy news, but the text? The text is a beauty — trenchant, informative and compassionate, its five words
conveying all the necessary intel and profound emotional depth. “The fish is dead. Sorry.” Seriously, what else can be said? About this small death? About any?
My response isn’t worth discussing. But his reply to that text was, in its way, an equally crisp and composed metaphysical discourse on life and death, on the brevity of one and the inevitability of the other: “He lived for like 5 years. INSANE.” It took seven words to say it instead of five this time, but still. It’s a feat of reflective and incisive spiritual commentary, and not merely on the lifespan of the Carassius auratus auratus. This should be our response to every birth, every life, every gift in between: Life is always INSANE, a crazy boon and boodle no matter how long it lasts. When it ends — whenever that may be — we should count up our blessings like pirates with a stash of plunder. And we should be doing that all along.
My son the philosopher! Give him a long white beard, and watch him scratch his chin!
As for Jesús, may he rest in peace. He was a good fish. Sorry.