Koi before the ambiguity

Everything is ambiguous;
everything is always shifting and changing,
and there are as many different takes on any given situation as there are people involved.
Trying to find absolute rights and wrongs
is a trick we play on ourselves
to feel secure and comfortable.  

Pema Chodron

My friend’s fishes are dying.

One a day. 

Eleven so far.

These are beautiful Koi that have been with his family for 10 to 15 years. The experts have tested the water, medicines have been dispensed, and even autopsies performed. No cause has been discerned. I know this is a first world problem. But the ambiguity of death, when the grim reaper knocks and why others are spared, is a fascinating mystery. 

For more than a week, each morning we found the floating remains of one of the jewel like creatures. In the beginning you think it is “natural”, old age, a predator, some disease, or was it “his time.” The second one was odd. The third one strange. The fourth was like a crises and triggered the call for the experts.

And the fish kept dying. 

You feel helpless and you become a Sherlock and apply logic and propose theories and then it all devolves with our imaginations. 

Our attention shifted to the enigma of the pond and what lurked there.

What was killing the koi? An invisible enemy leaving no trace or evidence.

A water borne virus?

Was it contagious? Could it be Koi-vid? 😊  sorry.
To what extent were these deaths impacting the life expectancy of the survivors? Resolving the “crime” can overtake the care and appreciation for the living. 

We checked on the koi frequently like nurses at a NICU. We visually examined each fish and noticed differences, odd behavior, and ominous signs—we thought. There was a real and noticeable lack of energy in the entire pond. The fish were uncharacteristically resting on the bottom for long stretches. At times it seemed to be a purgatory pond.. It was eerie and depressing.  

Does it take tragedy to elevate our interest, attention, and care? I regret to say it does. 

We have all been part of a fire drill when someone gets very sick or is dying. We move and get moved.

Our emotional connection to the residents of the pond shifted dramatically. We were sad, we mourned the dead. We sensed the suffering of the survivors.

The experts continued to test and intervene without answers. This was very “unusual.”

The koi were always a special part of my friend’s house. I would take the time to look at each one. I have my favorites. But I admit I took them for granted. It was something that pleased me but I gave little thought to their welfare.

I have many powerful memories of koi. Admiring their beauty and tranquility throughout my childhoold and young adult life. A copy of my mother’s most well-known painting–The Koi–hangs in my house.

Do we notice the beauty around us? We expect perfection but never tragedy that could disrupt our little private party. 

What do we really see? Don Miguel Ruiz describes the smoky mirror that creates the illusion of what we see, the images we project and the many filters we see through. That smoky foggy lens impacts everything around us. What is relevant, irrelevant. What is beautiful and worthy of our attention. 

Death has a way of getting people’s focus and interest. We lean in like never before. Ukraine and Uvalde come to mind. Yet death is all around us. It is just occurring. Some deaths are good, some are insignificant, and others are bad. 

I’ll assert that all deaths are ambiguous. What really caused the end of a life? An accident, a disease, what the doctor said—all of life and all of death is an accumulation of unfathomable cellular, neural, historical and DNA influences. The complexity of the co-morbidities of the unique composition of characteristics and experiences can never be fully understood or known. 

Trying to make sense of any of them sucks us into a black hole of assumptions. The koi were no different.

Pauline Boss coined the term “ambiguous death” forty years ago.  “What people really want is finality, is clarity. What they really want is certainty about what’s going on. Closure has meaning `in the business community for closing a contract, for closing a real estate deal, or for closing a road after a flood has occurred, but it is a harmful word in relationships. It indicates that even though we have had attachment to something, that once they are gone, we can close the door on that. That’s not true. There are continuing bonds and we don’t close the door, we live with loss and grief.”

Grief must be deeply interwoven into our life path. As we mature, we understand our own mortality and the mortality of everything around us. As we accept these lessons, we hopefully savor and cherish the brevity of life. 

Ambiguity, mystery and wonder are such important and omnipresent parts of our world and experience. 
We live with loss through memories that will endure. What we see, feel and learn is imprinted in our minds and if lucky, in our hearts. Our relationships, interactions, and experiences matter. If we pay attention with open minds, we become better humans. 

We live and learn from the ambiguity by resisting simplistic answers and explanations that give us the illusion of finality, clarity and closure.

Just to set the record straight. Koi are related to goldfish and are intelligent fish which have long memories. There are studies and research verifying this. While we are suffering from greater degrees of attention deficits, the meme about the goldfish’s attention span is an urban myth and a slur on our shiny swimming friends. 

It is not just our failing attention spans or certainly the little screens that distract us. It is our egos. Our focus on ourselves that separates us from the incredible people, living things and the world around us. We can put down the screens. We can really notice the miracle of the energy and life that surrounds us-before it is gone. Not to find answers, but to embrace the delicious ambiguity. 

We may never know what ended the lives of the eleven koi. It was painful to witness and imagine the suffering. I am not bothered by the ambiguity. The water had been cleansed, aerated, and treated many times. For some reason the pond’s parade of death has mercifully ended as mysteriously as it began. The survivors have returned to their lively swimming and their anticipation of being fed. My favorite still comes towards me. 

An ending portends a new beginning. 

Things look normal. But what is the new normal? Sound familiar? 

I remind myself that the koi will remember us even if we never remember them.

The koi before the ambiguity. 

A watery canvas
For the koi to paint
Beautiful art forms

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