This morning, a carp was thrashing in the shallow water off the beach near my house. After watching him for a bit, I decided he was stranded, unable to get back into deeper water. When a sick whale or dolphin gets stuck on a beach, people come out in droves to give it whatever help they can. Inspired by them, I got out my rubber boots and gloves, and set out to rescue the fish.
The carp was beautiful. Nearly three feet long, he was covered in golden scales edged with bronze. He was clearly alive, mouth opening and closing, fins brushing against the sandy bottom in gentle rhythmic strokes. Every now and then, he would thrash about, twisting and splashing, as if he were stuck.
I waded out into the water cautiously, trying not to scare him, and to be honest, a little afraid myself. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had this idea I would pick him up and turn him around. Silly me. Whenever I approached, the fish would wriggle. More than once, he splashed around in a tight circle, turning away from the beach, then back to it. He always wound up where he started, his chin on the shallow bottom and his back sticking out into the air.
After a few minutes, he got used to having me around. I got close enough to touch him. I pushed on his side gently until he moved. He wouldn’t go in the direction I wanted him to, no matter what I did. I was getting ready to give up and gave it one last try. He swam out into deeper water where he was clearly free from the bottom. My heart leapt. Then he turned and swam into the shore again.
After that, I did give up. I had to accept that he might not be well, that he was doing what he felt he needed to do, and that there wasn’t anything I could do to help.
I won’t pretend I’m not sad. I’m very sad. It breaks my heart to see such a beautiful animal just waiting for the end.
It feels familiar. I had to watch my 97-year-old father-in-law in the nursing home. He was there for the last 18 months of his life. Just like the carp, he had calm, lucid moments when he was himself and ready to die, and others when he fought his situation, questioning where he was and why.
When he finally died, I felt relief for my father-in-law. He’d told us he was ready to go, with his actions and his words, and he was in enough pain at times that I could understand why he wanted to move on. But it still made me sad to say goodbye to such a kind and funny man.
I don’t know what will happen to the carp. Is he in pain? Is there a chance he will get better? Or is this really his last hours in the world, his time of waiting for the end with what patience he can muster? I don’t know. I went back out to take photos and make drawings of him, my feeble gesture at honoring his life and the choice he’s made today. After having the help I offered refused, it was the only respectful thing I could think of to do.
But it still makes me sad.
Have you tried to rescue a sick or dying animal? How did it go?