Lessons from fish

Last week as I sat down to write my weekly blog, I opened my computer screen to read the horrific details of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting. I cried for hours and days, sent a card to the school, and held my boys tight in bed as they fell asleep.

I, like thousands of parents all over the country thought, “What now? How can I send my boys to school? How can I even let them out in such a scary, unpredictable world?”

There have been countless blogs, articles, news specials and stories, and memorial pages dedicated to the grieving families in Newtown and how to help them recover. I don’t feel like I can say anything more to either help or make sense of what happened and where to go from here.

But as I was processing it the other day, a random, almost silly, thought popped into my head. It was a scene from one of my favorite Disney movies, “Finding Nemo.”

Marlin, a clown fish who has been out looking for his son who was taken by divers is stuck in a whale with Dory, the palette surgeonfish who suffers from short-term memory loss. Dory claims to speak whale and tells Marlin that they need to “let go” — to apparently swim deeper into the whale where he will use his blow-hole to spray them out.

Marlin is obviously very skeptical of this. As all the water is draining out of the whale’s mouth, and he’s desperately trying to hang on with just one fin, Dory yells, “Everything’s going to be OK!” Marlin answers, “How do you know? How do you know something bad isn’t going to happen?” Dory pauses a moment, then says, “I don’t!”

I’m not sure why this particular part came into my mind. It is a movie about fish, after all. (Talking fish, at that!) But what is so brilliant about the movie, and this particular scene, is that it’s all about overcoming fear. Overcoming fear despite not having complete control.

The fact is, we live in a very scary world. Bad things happen. Terrible things that make us cry out in anger, fall into despair and want to shut our doors tight, never leaving the house.

But that can’t be. Marlin was terrified of having something bad happen to his son because of a tragedy that caused him to lose his wife and other children. He felt he needed to hang on tighter, to control every aspect of Nemo’s life.

On Nemo’s first day of school, Marlin is a nervous wreck. And then his worst fear comes true: Nemo is taken by divers, and Marlin spends the rest of the movie stopping at nothing to save his son.

Even though this is a made-up Disney story told in an underwater world, the lessons have never stood out more to me. We cannot live in fear. And even though it turned out all right for Nemo and his dad in the end, sometimes it doesn’t for us.

I think President Obama hit the nail on the head when he said, “Someone once described the joy and anxiety of parenthood as the equivalent of having your heart outside of your body all the time, walking around.”

It’s hard to “let go.”

For now, I’m going to try and take advice from a fish and just keep going. Keep loving. Keep praying. Keep living.

As Dory so simply, and straightforwardly puts it:

“Just keep swimming.”


  1. Jennifer

    I truly appreciate the sentiment of this piece. However, I couldn’t believe that no one who read this article before publishing it realized that the fish in Nemo is names MARLIN not MERLIN!!!

  2. shawnm750

    I actually reflect on another line from that movie any time the topic of children’s safety/parenting comes up. There’s a great dialogue between Dory and Marlin:

    Marlin: No. I promised him I’d never let anything happen to him.
    Dory: Huh. That’s a funny thing to promise.
    Marlin: What?
    Dory: Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then, nothing would ever happen to him. (Marlin stares at her.) Not much fun for little Harpo.

    We can’t be so afraid to let our little ones out the door that we just keep them inside all the time. Life’s about having experiences, both good and bad. We can’t ever avoid the bad completely, and it’s through those bad experiences that we usually learn the most and are better prepared for future experiences. All things in balance.

  3. Mitch

    I thought this was a very interesting article that makes a lot of very good points about parenting in a funny way. I think it is kind of awesome that you made that connection.

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