Lessons of Gratitude Next to a Fish Tank

Op-ed

If someone were to come up to me and ask, "Fairooz, how shall I teach so and so 'how to feel grateful'?", I wouldn't know how to reply. I perhaps may stumble a little, play around with my words, look down at the floor and try to re-direct the conversation elsewhere, but I would not have a definitive answer. And that is because gratitude is like one of those rare days that elusively passes you by and you are simply left, taken aback by its beauty.

I remember one evening my parents hurriedly called my sisters and I to their window to look at the sunset. Initially, I was like: "What's there to see? Doesn't the sun set every day?" It wasn't until I had gone up to the window and looked at the setting sun, did I realize the reason behind why they had called us. It was wonderful. The burning crimson circle against a pink sky, melting into its own reflection (its own beauty) in the lake below. If someone were to ask me then, "Fairooz, how do you feel?", I would reply by saying "I feel grateful." Gratitude comes in all forms: appreciation of beauty, a good and stable lifestyle, family. Or, simply just one conversation. One conversation that is powerful enough to teach you countless lessons.

My Sister's Birthday present

My younger sister is the favourite: the apple of our father's eye. Anything she asks for will be granted rather sooner than later. However, this is not to say that she is spoiled because, quite frankly, she is not and knows very well how to control her temptations like a sensible young girl. Anyways, she had requested a pet fish for her birthday, saying that we had never kept any pets before and how it would be her dream come true if that were to happen. It didn't really require much convincing as my sister's wish is my father's command. So, for her 13th birthday, she received a pet fish, as well as a fish tank. She was, of course, elated, but so were my older sister and I. However, since we are a family that are inexperienced regarding the proper care of fish, my father invited one of his friends over to set up the tank properly, but also to teach us the details behind keeping a pet fish. This friend of his is very well-versed when it comes to caring for fish as he has been a 'fish fanatic' since his boyhood!

He was showing my sister how to change the water properly, when I entered the sitting room (where the fish will be kept). I greeted him with one of those awkward teenage smiles and sat down on the sofa, intrigued by all the 'fish talk'. He was enlightening us with sundry interesting, yet bizarre facts about fish that I decided to stay behind and not leave like I usually would have. For example: the male Molly fish will keep on poking at the belly of the pregnant Molly fish until all the babies come out, but the catch is that he doesn't know when to stop, so the male fish continues to poke until the female dies. Thus, my father's friend advised us to keep the female fish separate for a while for the sake of her survival, just like how you would keep a new born baby away from the dust and the dirt of the road.

His first pet fish

I asked my father's friend, judging by his sheer fascination with the fish's movements, which you and I may not pay much heed to, why he hadn't "pursued a career like marine biology?" And his reply was a little humbling, rather his reason. You see, he told me how his family hadn't much money growing up; thus, any career he had to go into had to be quick at generating money. He proceeded to say that with them "it was never about interest when it came to choosing a career; it was about financial sustainability." That part gripped me slightly. It made me think how easily we received our fish tank and all the various supplies (some weren't even necessary) with it. We didn't really work for it. We simply asked, not even begged. It was funny how fortune worked, though. But, I was grateful to God, nonetheless. The friend laughed and said, "When I was a child, there were only three ways you could have a pet fish: beg, catch or steal. And I have done all three!" He had done all three. And we have done neither because we don't need to. I'm not saying this in vain or smirking at his childhood hardships because fortune, though it does come with hard work, is also unpredictable.

The friend was around six or seven when he had his first ever pet fish. He used to have a pond-like gutter behind his house where, along with debris and dirt, you would find small fish. He went down on his knees and waited for the perfect opportunity, which comes rarely, quickly grabbed a fish in his hand. He then ran to his house frantically and put it in a Bournvita bottle (a chocolate powder drink) with some water. Though, soon enough, the fish died, the passion in his eyes didn't, because I suppose the gratitude for the fact that even with little money in his life, he could garner such happiness was enough for him to sustain.

Our first pet fish

The way we got our first fish was by going up to our father and asking him to buy it for us. There was no running, no gutter and no stained Bournvita bottle. When we arrived with the fish, there was a beautiful glass tank with a blue sea coral background prepared to sail our desires. We even hissed slightly when the process took a little longer than anticipated. Not because we were annoyed, but rather too excited and too oblivious of our history. However, my father's friend brought us back, unknowingly illuminating a candle of sheer gratitude. His first 'fish tank' wasn't even a fish tank! It was an ordinary cylindrical plastic bottle with an orange and purple wrapper around it. There were no artificial decorations to glamorize this tiny world, nor any plants that he could buy to place inside, nor any chlorine remover or filter to clean the water so that his first pet fish could live longer. But, here we were with our fancy, advanced supplies to not only maximize the mortality of our pet, but to also jazz up our tank. How could I not feel grateful?

Now, if someone were to come up to me and ask, "Fairooz, how shall I teach so and so 'how to feel grateful'?", I would share with them this story of how my father's friend got his first fish and gaze at the beautiful sunset whilst doing so.

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Fairooz Jahan

Fairooz Jahan is a high school student in the UK. Originally from Bangladesh, she discovered her passion for writing whilst she was exploring the process of acquiring English as a second language. Besides writing, she enjoys watching films, cooking and talking a lot.