Eels and Ordinary Stars

There are ordinary stars out tonight, and an ordinary moon shining above the row of rooftops that I spy from my patio. Somewhere, elsewhere, in brackish estuaries, in riverbeds, I imagine the eels are out, sliding amongst rocks under similar stars during their nocturnal swim sessions, hunting for food, the same moon barely illuminating the top of the water, the light so pale that no one sees the eels swimming there, except maybe the other fish.

When I think of all those eel bodies in the dark, at the bottoms of the lakes and streams they inhabit, I am also recalling childhoods standing in lakes, my toes digging into the sand, trying to stand still enough that the fish would mistake me for roots or weeds and wind their way through my legs, those slippery scales that would brush past my calves and be gone. I imagine standing amongst the eels would be like that—a transitory flash of flesh near my skin. And despite the fact that eels can live potentially for a long time, this is how I always think of them, as temporary beings never meant to stay, their time in those freshwater sources only a brief interlude between the birthing and the dying.

When eels are born they drift, the ocean currents directing their movements. They drift and then move inland on a journey that can take years before they reach their temporary stopping place. Even when they populate a lakebed for 10 to 15 years, they will never stay. Their goal is always to go back to the sea one final time, where they will meet with other eels, where they will spawn, where they will die. On the journey back, they undergo a metamorphosis, become incapable of feeding. Powered only by the energy left in their dying bodies, they become silvered in color, like the twinkling stars under which they swim. It is useless to expect an eel to stay. It is simply not in their nature to.

Sometimes I am no better at reminding myself of this fact about eels than I am at accepting this about people–that they too have essential natures. That there are those who will hold us tighter than we wish. That there are those we cannot hold, not even for a moment. That to try is almost to take something away from them, the very them of them. That if we want to love them, with the depths of what love is supposed to be, we must learn to be not hindrance on their journey. To be perhaps instead just ordinary stars, a bit of light on their path. That if we want to love them, we must first let go.

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