By Sister Judith Ann Zielinski, OSF
What’s new at my apartment? Gordie is dying but the hydrangeas have resurrected.
First, Gordie: He is a male Siamese betta fighting fish who lives on my kitchen counter. Gordie flashes a fierce red color and is named after former Detroit Red Wings hockey great Gordie Howe. (All my fish have been named for Michigan sports personalities, based on their color. I have previously owned Bo, Brady, Fritz, Al, Izzo and Harwell, among others.)
Male bettas are beautiful freshwater fish with large flowing tails; they are native to Southeast Asia and are among the most popular aquarium fish in the world, due to their colorful variety and relatively low maintenance. However, they are NOT “community” fish.
Gordie swims alone in his bowl since Bettas are well-known for being highly territorial. Males are prone to attacking each other if housed in the same tank; without a means of escape, this will usually result in the death of one or both fish. Female bettas can also become territorial in confined spaces. (Sound familiar?)
I purchased Gordie in early 2020 and have enjoyed his zen-like energy since before the COVID lockdown. Bettas are fairly intelligent; I taught Gordie to come for food by tapping on the rim of the bowl with his flake food tin and play “Enemy Fish!” with him, stimulating him to flare his fins (a warning to other threatening males) by waving my fingers outside the bowl.
However, Gordie has been slowing down lately, spending long periods resting on the plastic ferns or sitting perched behind the air filter, barely moving. I have kept vigil on his health and movement for the past month, anxiously expecting—when I come in after work or turn on his light in the morning– to find him expired at the bottom of the bowl. So far, he continues to hang on.
Meanwhile, outside my slider door, the garden has revived in a riot of activity: Suet cages regularly emptied by voracious birds, a red geranium spreading in the turquoise blue watering can, and the huge living room fern, somewhat pinched and battered and root-bound, now transplanted to a bigger pot and liberated to the outdoors, trying to refresh and recalibrate and regroup.
But the true miracle has been the three “Charlie Brown” hydrangeas I bought last summer. Hydrangeas are my favorite garden flower with huge full-headed blossoms that vary in color depending on the acidity or alkalinity of the soil– the more alkaline, the pinker; the more acidic, the bluer.
These three caught my eye last July when I noticed them at a clearance price. They were not very exciting-looking, so I bought them with my “Let me rescue you!” impulse in full force.
After a ho-hum summer, I transplanted them last fall from their pots into the ground. When I observed them through the glass slider during the winter and early spring, I saw three mounds of dead brown twigs and I mused that I had probably wasted valuable budget money on them.
But spring in the Midwest makes believers of us all. With May’s rain and warm sunshine, the dead-looking branches punched out lush green leaves. Will there be blossoms this summer? I don’t know—but there is certainly new life.
Inside, Gordie swims slowly and stares out of the bowl, a “senior fish” awaiting his fate. He still comes to breakfast and dinner when called, but retreats to a perch and sits, staring. I watch him sitting and waiting.
The Paschal Mystery cycle of Birth to Life to Death to Birth is written in plain sight, surrounding us continually. I know you can see it in your own life if you look. It is surely throbbing around me where I live, at Maple Lane Apartments, most clearly in Gordie and the hydrangeas.
PS: I found Gordie dead, as I had been expecting, on May 31. I now have a lovely deep blue-colored betta, Desmond– named after Michigan wide receiver and Heisman Trophy-winner Desmond Howard– getting adjusted to the bowl on the counter. Thanks, Gordie, and welcome, Desmond.