While viewing a lake at a local park, my children and I spotted something not too far off the shore, gasping. Just under the surface, I saw the signs of landscaping net, and I knew what had happened. Some of the landscape netting had made its way into the lake, where a poor, unsuspecting fish had managed to become entrapped.
I explained to my children what happened to the fish. At that point I could have walked away, but our family tries to help others. A fish was no exception. I looked around for the biggest stick I could find; it was too short to reach. The water was murky, although not too deep. While the day was a lovely temperature, the water itself was cold. However, compassion isn’t always convenient. Sometimes we have to make an effort.
I handed my 11 month old to her older siblings, took off my sling, and stripped off my socks and shoes. I rolled my jeans up as far as I could, hoping that we wouldn’t be leaving the park with me soaked in muddy lake water. Then I waded in. The cold mud oozed between my toes and over my feet, although I couldn’t see them for the murky water. I finally was close enough to reach the net with my stick, as I noticed small bits of blood escaping from the fish.
Snagging the net with the stick, I pulled it, along with the fish, back to shore. I wasn’t hopeful that I could save the fish, but I had to try. Back on the soft mud of the bank, I crouched before the water, working to rip the net apart to free the fish, my audience on pins and needles as they watched to see whether their mother would indeed rescue the poor fish.
Once freed, I hoped that the fish, despite its injuries, would swim away, happy for another chance at life. However, it’s gasping continued and, no longer anchored by the net, its body floated upside down, blood occasionally seeping from the damaged gills. There was only one more thing I could do to help: end its life quickly and painlessly. I loathed the idea of doing it. I wasn’t certain how exactly I was to kill this fish with what I had available in such a manner as to ease its suffering rather than increase it.
Looking up toward the park proper, I noticed another family looking out towards the lake. I put the sling back on with my youngest in it, grabbed by socks and shoes in one hand and helped my other children up the embankment with the other, and headed toward them. I explained the situation and the father nodded, asked where it was, and headed down to help out.
Compassion isn’t always convenient. Sometimes we have to reach out a hand or go out of our way to help someone. While not always convenient, compassion is also not a convenience. It’s a necessity. If we have no compassion for others, we cannot fully connect with them. Compassion is a necessity, whether in regard to a friend, a stranger, our spouse, or a tired three year old.
This article has been edited from a previous version published at Living Peacefully with Children.