Fish Eyes

Rebecca Brown

I think pretty much everyone has heard of Jonah and the Whale. You know … the guy who gets himself thrown into the ocean while trying to weasel out of some serious work and ends up in the belly of a whale. There’s a lot more to the story, but it was the belly of the whale part that always hung me up. Hearing the story as a child, I wondered whether someone could actually live inside a whale. Could it happen to me? And then there was the whole “gross” factor on the whale puking Jonah onto the shore. Followed by the chorus of “eews” from the Sunday School story circle.

Even today it still hangs me up. What exactly was Jonah doing in that whale the whole time? I’m guessing he was praying, giving thanks for being alive (albeit in a belly) and making amends with G-d. But seriously folks, three days is a long time. There must have been more.

If I were stuck in a whale for three days (and believe me … some days I actually wish for three days alone … anywhere) what would I be doing? Besides praying. If it’s like anytime else I’ve felt trapped in a place I didn’t want to be, I’d probably obsess about not being able to run. And then I’d obsess about all the things I could be doing … like billing time, running errands, planning dinner and finally remembering to not send the kids to school in their grubbiest t-shirts for picture day.

And then I’d settle in. Right in front of those two big fish eyes that would be my windows to the world and make a decision.

Would I look out those windows wishing I were someone else, namely someone not trapped in the belly of a fish? Someone else that I imagined was luckier, had better judgment and surely would have not gotten herself into a pickle like me.

Or would I look into the windows at my own reflection. Not at the wrinkles and the scar beneath my left eye that I’m still trying to embrace, but inside myself … the woman who landed herself smack dab in the belly.

Having spent a good number of my nearly 40 years looking out, I’ve pretty much concluded that wishing I was someone else does not make it so. If it did I would have been prom queen or “that mom” whose life seems to spin in perfect order. I’ve let go my the ballot in the box, prom queen validation and am finally beginning to understand that “that mom” who appears to be floating through life is probably paddling like hell underneath just like the rest of us. Wishing for those things now only makes me, well, less hopeful.

I’ve also spent a good amount of time, particularly lately, looking in. Looking within myself for the reason why I’m sometimes the one stuck in the belly and making changes to insure I don’t end up there again anytime soon. And I can tell you sometimes it’s pretty darn hard. Like “throw me overboard so I can wait for someone else to save me” hard. But most the time its been worth the effort with each effort building upon the last. And that’s what makes me, well, more hopeful. Not to mention stronger, more honest and more certain.

So if I ever find myself in the belly of a whale like Jonah, I’m planning to use those three days and those two big fish eyes to look in.