There are moments in all of our lives which shape who we are and what we become in our lives – many times we don’t realize these have happened until we look back over our lives and try to figure out what went wrong — sometimes we are lucky enough to recognize them at the time they happen and make the most of them. I was one of the lucky ones.
On that momentous day, I was a senior in highschool when Mr. H, our history teacher brought a fish bowl containing a goldfish into class. I loved Mr. H’s world history class — he was a very popular teacher because he really brought history alive for us and helped us understand not only the relevance of history but our place in it. He made history interesting and often funny — so none of us were surprised that he had brought a goldfish to class for the day. We figured it would work into the lecture in some way. However, we were all stunned by what happened next.
Without a word, Mr. H took the goldfish out of the bowl and laid it in the middle of his desk. He then proceeded to give the lecture for the day without talking about the fish at all. The fish thrashed and slapped the desk with its tail – struggling for life. Yet, Mr. H did nothing and made no comments — he acted like the fish wasn’t there. No one in the class moved – we were all waiting for Mr. H to save the fish he had laid out on the desk and to make his point. After all, Mr. H was the teacher, he knew what he was doing – he was an adult – he would never intentionally kill the fish just to make a point. We figured it was just a matter of time before he turned around from the chalkboard, scooped up the fish and dumped it back into the water. Surely, he wouldn’t let it DIE?!?
The clock ticked off the seconds, the fish slapped the desk and Mr. H droned on – and no one moved to save the fish. I would like to say that I finally got up from my desk and put the fish back in the water – but that would be a lie – I had put all of my trust in Mr. H since he was the adult and was waiting for him to take care of the situation. It was my best friend who courageously stood up, walked up to the desk, grabbed the fish and slipped it back into the water – thus saving its life.
At the sound of the splash, Mr. H turned around and faced my friend, the hero. We all expected him to berate her and tell her that she had ruined his experiment (although we had never seen him berate a student before) – and were surprised when he merely said, “It’s about time – why didn’t any of the rest of you take care of that poor, defenseless fish — were you waiting for George to take care of it?”
We all asked “Who’s George?” – to which Mr. H responded — “George is always the other guy — any guy but me.” It was then I realized that I had been waiting exactly for that person — I didn’t want to take the risk of being wrong to do the right thing — I didn’t want to be the first one to take that first scary step — it was much safer to see if someone else would take care of the situation. There was a whole room full of people – one of whom was an adult — why should I have to stick my neck out and possibly be ridiculed for doing something silly – even though I was distressed at seeing the fish dying on the table?
But my friend had that courage – she had that ability to say to herself, “This is wrong and I’m not going to put up with it any longer.” When asked why she had stepped forward, she replied — ‘Well, the fish was going to die and I couldn’t let that happen.” If only I could have been as brave.
It may sound silly to say that a goldfish changed my life — but I realized that if I didn’t have the courage to save a goldfish, what would I do when I was faced with truly big decisions? The little things are what define us and tell people who we are – and it took a goldfish to make me realize that I wanted to be that person who stood up for what was right – no matter the cost and regardless of the outcome.
I think we all wait around for ‘George’ to take care of things – to help the homeless, the weak, the poor, those unable to take care of themselves. We wait for ‘George’ to stand up to the bullies of the world and say when someone is not being treated right. We wait for ‘George’ to make things right regardless of the consequences.
Thirty some years ago, I decided that I didn’t want to wait around for someone else to handle the problems I saw – that nothing could be as bad as how humiliated I had felt because I had been afraid to take control of the situation. I decided that I would rather be “George” than wait for him.