Of Gods and Small Things

My new Betta fish, Hermes, glows and shimmers in his gown of fins.

It seems terribly cliche to write the words, but it truly is the little things in life that often matter the most. One little thing I am thinking of in particular is my new fish, Hermes. Hermes is a Betta, or Siamese fighting fish, one of the bright, colorful captives in plastic containers found by the dozens in pet stores. Named for the Greek god (the patron of poets among other things, I learned) he has become a little beacon of hope for me in my new home.

After deciding to stay in Glens Falls, I had begun thinking about getting a fish tank again. I had always had one growing up, whether it was a goldfish bowl as a kid or the large community tank I had throughout high school and college. I loved fish, and the glimpse of life and activity underwater that a tank provided.

Having fish had always been soothing to me, watching them swim, silent aside from the quiet purr of the filter as it circulated water. I always tried to imagine what it was like for them in their liquid world, hearing nothing, or nothing like the sounds I was used to. I wondered what they saw, thought, experienced– such a different life than my own. I knew a tank was not an ideal place for them, but I hoped if I made one nice enough and took care of it, it would not be so bad, either.

Shopping in Petco for cat and dog food the other day, I once again passed the usual row after row of beautiful Betta fish trapped in little jars. They are kept in these small containers because they live primarily in small rice paddies in their native spaces. These slow moving or still bodies of water allow the gorgeous, elaborate fins of the males to develop.

The bright males come in an exotic array of colors, from neon green to red, blue, white, black and purple, as well as many combinations of colors. Looking at them in the store, I read through all the different names of each kind. I picked up jar after jar, looking at each fish and waiting for one to jump out at me (metaphorically speaking). They were all so beautiful, it felt very hard to choose.

Then I came upon Hermes. He was not so flashy. Dressed in fins of gold and lavender, under the bright lights of the store he looked rather dull compared to the others. But this seemed different to me, humble even. I thought he was less likely to get a home than the others, so I decided to give him one. Excited, I went about getting all the supplies to set him a small tank.

My fish keeping skills happily came back to me once we were home. I had gotten him some live plants, as this is better for the fish and the water. And I like having them, too, in a kind of underwater garden. He seemed happy right away to be out of his plastic jar and into his larger, more colorful home.

As I sat watching him that first night, under the the LED light of the little tank his colors truly began to emerge. Yes, he was gold and lavender; but there were also hints of purple, and green and blue along his fins and scales. He swam about displaying for me, and for the other fish he saw in the little floating mirror I got for him. Amazed, I realized how quietly beautiful he was, and I was glad I had picked him to come home with me.

I sat thinking of names for him, and it didn’t take long for ‘Hermes’ to pop into my head. I always enjoyed the stories of the Greek gods, even though they are thousands of years old and from another culture worlds away. Hermes, I knew, was the messenger of the gods. Fleet-footed and sharp, he was also a bridge between the mortal and divine worlds, an idea I very much liked.

I Googled the name and also discovered Hermes was the patron of literature and poets, as well as travelers, those on journeys of any kind. I felt I had begun a new journey coming to the house, and of course, I write. So it seemed appropriate to invoke the name of this deity, and invite him into my life with the presence of my new, divinely handsome fish.

A few mornings ago, I was sitting at my kitchen table having coffee. Hermes’ tank sits on the table, so it’s easy to see and enjoy him this way. I noticed a large line of bubbles forming at the surface of the water. I wondered if this meant the water had gotten dirty and needed to be changed. I tested it, but all was well. Then I watched as Hermes made bubbles with his small mouth, and brought them back one by one to add to the line that was forming.

I realized he’d begun building a bubble nest, which the males do when they are happy and thinking they will find a girlfriend. It was a sign to me that I had made a nice and fairly natural home for him. He was comfortable, content, and planning for the future, like any happy homeowner.

Why such a thing, so small and meaningless to some, could bring me such joy I can’t say. I felt elated watching him build his nest, this little miracle of nature. I believed that I’d done well by him, and also I felt happy I’d rediscovered something that once had brought me such joy– something I had previously given away, but could now have again.

I cried truthfully, watching this little event unfold. To me, such things are never really appreciated by most people, the small wonders that animals, insects, and other living things create. I felt privileged to be seeing it.

And I understood again, the animals I live with, my cats and dog, and now this fish, aren’t just pets to me. They are fellow creatures I share my life with, brothers and sisters of a kind, and I’m just the one responsible for us all (and best suited to it). Like the birds outside that I feed, and yes, even the squirrels, we all share our small part of the world, along with the small worlds of everyone and everything else that make up the whole.

Any God or gods I believe in lives in all these things, along with me. That is how I have always felt, down to my bones, and feel today. I see the divine in everything in nature, both the light and the dark sides, not just in ancient stories and old legends (although they do have their appeal). I see the divine close at hand every day, and have never felt the need to find it in a church or give it a name of any kind.

And I see it in my small fish now, swimming in his glorious, humble, delicate beauty, building his nest of equally delicate bubbles. He is a window into another view of the world, where human cares and concerns don’t really matter very much. I see just another fellow creature I am sharing my life with, living a life of his own, too, and it makes me feel both small and great at the same time.


One comment on “Of Gods and Small Things”
  1. Marcia in VT says:

    Several years before we retired to VT in ’06 I had a Koi pond installed in the back yard of our NJ home. I spent countless hours watching pond life, from the koi, most of whom had Star Wars characters’ names, to a few other kinds of fish, to the snails, and to the toads and frogs that also set up house keeping there. When it came time to move I was able to find a young man in our town who raised koi for sale. We were able to capture almost all of the larger ones with his help. (We left the pond with clean filters and a good supply of high quality fish food and loads of information about caring for the pond for the people who bought our house.) Our home in VT has a large pond but we’d never have been able to keep the koi there. We never went back to our NJ home. Maybe the pond is there still, maybe not but it will always be in my heart.
    Hermes is quite lovely.

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