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Monday, October 9, 2006


Goldfish and Miracles

I promised my subscribers (that's right - if you send me your email address I eventually add you to my notification list, which means that you're updated when I post, usually in the form of a snarky little one-liner direct to your Inbox) that the next post would involve little boys and goldfish. I'm not known as a man of my word by the people who know me best, but I've always aspired to be such a man, and today's as good a day as any to start, so herewith is a story about a little boy and a goldfish.

Caleb came into the kitchen last weekend, sobbing and holding his fishbowl. "My goldfish is dying!" His mother took the bowl and brought it to the counter, where we watched the fish, whose name is Gold Star, alternately puff and roll to his side and float. I've never seen a goldfish in the throes of death before, and I'm here to tell you that it's not pretty. Caleb buried his head in my stomach and cried the hopeless, dejected sort of cry that we've all experienced, the kind where there's not even the strength to raise your hands to your face, there's just the limp-armed, mournful cry of someone learning that the world isn't as lovely as he thought.

The wife immediately went about trying to resuscitate the fish, which involved putting it in fresh water and telling it to breathe. "Caleb," I asked, "when did you feed him last?"

"I don't know!" There was a fresh round of sobbing. "He's going to die!" From where I stood, the fish was already more dead than alive. The wife took Caleb's hand and told him we should pray for the fish. Great, I thought. Teach him early that there are no miracles any more. So they prayed an earnest little prayer for Gold Star, and I stood there with my hands on Caleb's head, already angry with God for letting him down. When they were done, they looked up to see Gold Star staring at them through the clear glass of the bowl, with that perpetual look of fishy surprise on his face. "God made him better," said Caleb with confidence. Then he took Gold Star back to his room and fed the poor starved thing.

I'm sure it was the clean water that did the trick. Or perhaps all the wailing shocked the fish out of his coma. To Caleb, however, it was a miracle, and when he prays he expects God to move. I confess I don't ever expect miracles when I pray. I don't even expect things to go right. I expect disappointment at every turn. I expect disease. I expect an early death. I suppose one day Caleb's prayers won't be met with a miracle. By then maybe he'll understand what I'm still only learning, which is that the very fact that we have any life and love at all is itself a quiet miracle, one that we usually forget because we are so intensely focused on the one that never comes, the great audacious miracle that will finally set everything to rights. So my question for you this Monday morning -- and I hope you understand by now that my questions are always as much for myself as you -- is simply this: what will you do with your miracle today?


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