Last night, as I opened the lid of the aquarium to put in food, a little hatchet fish jumped out. Apparently he hit the lid hard enough to knock himself out. I tried to help him regain consciousness as best I could. Yet despite my efforts, there was no skill or technology at my disposal that could save him.
On the one hand, aquarium owners get accustomed to losing fish. It goes with the territory. But on the other, I can’t help but blame myself for many of the losses. Maybe I introduced a sensitive species into a tank before it had fully completed the nitrogen cycle. Maybe I started medicating the tank too late, or kept the temperature too high or low. In this case, perhaps, I was careless in opening the lid too wide, knowing that this particular breed of fish is prone to jumping.
The Jacobean poet John Donne famously wrote that “Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind.” I’d say any death, period, diminishes me. Life is precious in all forms. There’s something about being human that makes us resist the loss of any life, no matter how small.
This morning as I drove into work, I heard a heated debate on sports radio about whether former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick should be allowed to play in the NFL again. Vick recently completed a federal sentence for his role in a dog-fighting operation. Among the charges were allegations that Vick personally tortured and executed dogs.
Some argued, convincingly, that Vick paid his debt to society and is entitled to make a living. He deserves forgiveness. On the other side, some argued just as convincingly that while Vick is entitled to make a living, he has forfeited the privilege of playing in the NFL.
The money and visibility that come with the job entail a certain degree of responsibility, and Vick has fallen short. There are other talented players who do not kill dogs, and they should be the ones held up by the league.
What’s interesting to me is that this debate wouldn’t be happening if there wasn’t some common recognition of the value of life, in this case animal life. Some argue that animal cruelty statutes are necessary because abusing animals is a precursor to violence against humans, and that’s true. But such laws are also important because life is inherently valuable.
Four times I’ve experienced the joy of going to the doctor with my wife and hearing a new heartbeat for the first time. It’s nothing short of miraculous.
Life is miraculous, in all its forms. It’s worth fighting for.
Rob Witwer, who grew up in Evergreen and currently lives in Genesee, is a former member of the state House of Representatives.