My wife walked out of the dining room bearing a fish net and a distressed expression. “Funny Whiskers died!” she said. After 15 years our brave little algae eater had earned his reward.*
Funny Whiskers was tiny, maybe the length of two quarters placed side to side, yet he existed in a fish tank full of behemoths. We bought the tank and the fish for our six-year old daughter as a reward for learning to read. We thought we were buying Funny Whiskers as a tool to help keep the tank clean. We didn’t know he would become one of our favorites.
The most endearing thing about Funny Whiskers was how he swam. It was more of a waddle than a swim. While the other fish glided gracefully along, Funny Whiskers wiggled. And he never rested. The clown loaches took naps, and the other algae eater only came out of the caves at night, but Funny Whiskers never stopped swimming from the day he entered our house.
I admired Funny Whiskers for minding his own business. Often there was drama between the fish in the tank. Sucker the algae eater (that grew to become a speckled, 14-inch long monster with dangerously spiny fins) had seizures. Without warning he thrashed and thumped all over the tank, upsetting the clown loaches as they scrambled for safety. During these times Funny Whiskers wiggled over to the leafy corners of the tank and continued his business. He seemed to be a happy fish.
Watching him live his own life in his little world, busily wiggling along doing I know not what, (we never saw him eat), was inspiring. Maybe he was an example of being in the world but not of the world. I don’t know. But he made us feel happy. Just the way an uncle or grandparent who lives far enough away to be fun during short, infrequent visits makes a person feel.
Maybe he was teaching us that we don’t have to save the world to be happy. As long as we take care of the things in our own part of the tank we can let the big fish thrash around all they want. They might be inconvenient at times but ultimately they are pretty unimportant to our own purpose in life. He was a good fish.