Roll Down Like Waters

Last January Sonny burst through the door after a day of kindergarten and cornered me in the hall. “Did you know,” he asked. “Did you know that there used to be laws that said kids with black skin could not go to school with kids with white skin?” He rattled off the names of several classmates. “They wouldn’t have been able to go to our school! And their school wouldn’t even have been very good!”

Sonny was agitated. He stared me down, wide-eyed and waiting. Waiting for disbelief, for shock, for indignation that matched his own.

I hope he always becomes incensed upon reports of injustice. I hope that he always expects the same reaction of others.

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” – Benjamin Franklin

Last month Sonny, Ace, and I were reading a story about Jackie Robinson and the abuse he endured upon joining major league baseball as the first African American to play Major League baseball: taunts, hate mail, racial slurs, physical attacks, threats to his life. Midway through the story I heard low growls beside me: Ace, who was flopping around on the couch, plainly uncomfortable.

“Don’t you want to hear the story?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “But this story hurts my feelings.”

I hope that stories of injustice always hurt his feelings.

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” – Elie Wiesel

Sonny and Ace belong to a demographic that doesn’t experience racism. We in this demographic can too easily be oblivious to racism—the subtle kind and even the not-so-subtle variety. We can secretly, or unsecretly, believe that the Civil Rights Movement mostly eradicated racism and that any “vestiges” of it might best be quietly endured because, really, haven’t we come a long way? We in this demographic can easily be tempted to cherry-pick examples of stories that suggest claims of racism are fabricated or exaggerated.

I don’t want Sonny and Ace to ease into these traps, to remain sheltered from the reality of injustices, to become impatient or bored at the mere topic of racism. Not when this kind of thing is still going on. I want them to be outraged despite being unaffected. What can I do to help ensure this? Any ideas?

“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” – Amos 5:24

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Death of a Goldfish

Sunday afternoon I wandered down to the basement to feign some interest in the football game that the rest of my family was watching. On the way back upstairs, I passed the fish bowl and did a double take: Did we now have half as many goldfish as we’d had only hours before? Yes, it seemed that we did, if we define “goldfish” specifically as live goldfish.

Fireman Fish had shuffled off this mortal coil and was doing the back float.

Fireman Fish and his bowlmate had joined our household in the fall of 2011, compliments of the fish pond (okay, plastic wading pool) at the harvest festival on the library lawn. The enthusiastic fish-pond director cheered and coached Sonny and Ace on to victory: “Keep trying! Here, go for that slow one. I’ll block him for you,” said she, obviously determined not to be saddled with leftovers. Upon their success she presented them each with an occupied plastic bag. “Enjoy!” she said. And they did.

Sonny named his goldfish Fireman Fish after his heroes. Ace named his goldfish Otto after the fish in A Fish Out of Water.

(Confession: The deceased may not actually be Fireman Fish. It may be Otto. Because Otto was originally brown, I could once easily distinguish between him and his companion, but then he inconveniently and inexplicably turned orange, confusing me henceforth.)

Would Sonny and Ace be upset? I didn’t know, and I wondered how to break the news to them. But they fortuitously paved the way with a discussion about pets. Maybe they could get one, they thought. A hamster, perhaps, or an emu. Maybe a proboscis monkey, or cats like Aunt Sara’s. Then it occurred to them:

“But we have pets! We have fish!”

“But you can’t pet fish. Petting would hurt them because it would rub their scales off.”

“Maybe when they die we could pet them.”

I know a cue when I hear one.

“Um, guys? I have some bad news. Fireman Fish died.”

They looked stricken.

Ace: “Can we still keep him for a decoration?”

Sonny: “Do we have a waterproof marker?”

Me, envisioning my organized seven-year-old attempting to write directly on the carcass to label it for posterity: “Why?”

Sonny: “So we can write ‘Here lies Fireman Fish’ on a little stone when we bury him. And it’s not fair, because now I don’t have a fish and Ace still does.”

Ace nodded sympathetically. After a brief conference they decided to share the survivor. He would need a new name, though, to reflect the new ownership arrangement. They settled on Lloyd as a good new name for Otto.

Sonny remembered how excited he had been to finally scoop a fish out of the little pool. Ace remembered the little TV he had made from aluminum foil and sunk into the bowl for Fireman Fish and Otto to watch a few months ago. They agreed that they would miss Fireman Fish but were glad that they still had Otto . . . er, Lloyd.

I probably won’t miss Fireman Fish himself, but I’m surprised to be feeling a little wistful. Maybe because his name was a vestige of Sonny’s devotion to firefighters, before his interest in lesser superheroes such as Batman set in. Maybe because my erstwhile preschooler and toddler displayed a level of excitement over the acquisition of Fireman Fish and Otto that they will probably never again exhibit over pets as mundane as goldfish. Maybe because Fireman Fish’s survivor looks a little lonely now.

I’m glad we still have Otto . . . er, Lloyd . . . too. Maybe we’ll read A Fish Out of Water tomorrow night, just because.

R.I.P., Fireman Fish (or Otto, maybe). Thanks for being our pet.