What animals teach us

I adopted a tiny creature. A very small, delicate, beautiful little betta fish.

I’ve welcomed different animals into my home over the years, but this little one is by far the creature I feel the most profound responsibility toward. Of every animal family member I’ve ever had, he’s the most delicate and vulnerable.

We did a lot of research before bringing him home – he has the correct sized tank with a heater and a pump, some snails to keep things clean, food that’s balanced for a fish and not full of a bunch of filler. I was prepared for him, and yet still, I’m a bit nervous. I worry about him. Did I think of everything? Did I do enough reading? Am I giving this fish the best chance at a long, healthy life?

The older I get, the more the impermanence of things and the fragility of life has become a poignant awareness. I look at the little creature floating around in his tank – I can see him from where I’m typing – and I think, this beautiful little fish is now completely dependent upon me for everything…to a much greater extent than any other animal I’ve ever lived with.

He can’t defend himself or fend for himself, as some of my other animals could, so I need to be careful with him. He can’t let me know if there’s something wrong, as some of my other animals can, so I need to be vigilant with him. He requires a very specialized environment to survive, unlike my other animals who simply co-exist in our home.

I think about these things, and it’s just such a big feeling. He’s not “just a fish” to me – I don’t see him as less important because he’s small, or as some disposable ornament that’s here for my pleasure, but a small being that I’ve committed to caring for and protecting for the next few years.

They say animals teach us a lot – and in the short amount of time he’s been here, he’s made me realize just how thoroughly disgusted and absolutely infuriated I am by anyone who treats the lives of the vulnerable as disposable – be those vulnerable animals, or vulnerable people. He serves as a reminder to keep committing myself to causes that help animals and people, to keep speaking up for them, to keep thinking about how I can minimize the negative impact and maximize positive impact that I have on others.

This little guy also reminds me that there’s a lot of work to do in this world. Sometimes, the sheer amount of work we need to do is overwhelming.

But in the end, his greatest gift to me so far as been a realization that being sensitive to one tiny creature can radiate outward to other creatures, animal and human alike.

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