My three year old experienced a significant personal setback earlier today. His special treat after a swimming lesson was a baggie of rainbow goldfish, perhaps his favorite food of all time. As we braved the frozen hellscape the weather forecasters referred to as a wintry mix, he was engaged in what amounts to gleeful multitasking for young boys. While munching his brightly hued salty snacks he was pelting dad with ice rocks and splashing through each and every puddle in his path.
As he became fully engrossed in demolishing a rather deep pop-up pond on the sidewalk, he neglected to notice the precarious position of his goldfish and they escaped the confines of the baggie and returned to the sea. A great horrified howl arose behind me and I saw the smiling little piscine shapes bloating in the cold dirty water. He cried bitter tears of great suffering and loss as if there were no consolation for his disintegrating snacks.
It was a bittersweet moment and it is easy to laugh a little at his plight. We’ve all lost an ice cream cone in the dirt or seen our freshly jellied toast land delicious side down on the floor. Yet, his pain was intense and very real. For a few moments he grieved with such profound sadness. There was no future. Everything was gone.
Despite his disbelief, there was another serving of goldfish waiting at home. Once we ditched our boots and warmed our hands he had a small bowlful to feast upon. With renewed joy he shoveled them into his gullet moments after we returned.
His predicament provokes comparison to my own horror when faced with setbacks and challenges. There are times when my suffering is very real and I shed tears and see no light in the darkness. This is the end. This failure is the ultimate failure. All possibility has been crushed. This loss ends everything.
I’ve learned the only answer is to stand up, dust myself off and move on. There is an ample supply of goldfish waiting in the cupboard. I can’t save those who drowned in the puddle, but I can accept their loss, grieve for the snack that could have been and make my way back home.