When Life is Stressful… Or, A Chair Is Not Just a Chair


We’re experiencing some moderate upheaval in the Dana house.

My husband’s company was recently acquired by a firm in California. This has meant some exciting opportunities in the works, but also a lot of a travel.

Like, Monday-Friday travel.

Like, every week travel.

Like, ten days in Bangalore this spring travel.

We know that things will settle down once the initial process of merging two corporate cultures is complete. There will still be business trips, just not every single week. In the meantime, it’s something we have to make it through as best we can.

I do a fair amount of travel myself, often to lead conferences and retreats and things, and while I absolutely love it, it can be hard to practice self-care while on the road. It’s hard to eat well, find time to exercise, and get good sleep (especially in a different time zone). Then you come home to various chores and responsibilities that have piled up. Over the last few weeks, the home projects (and there are many that need to happen around here) have ground to an utter halt. Not to mention the needs of children who missed you and held it together in your absence but who now want to spend every moment with you. And/or who let loose with all kinds of unpleasant behaviors now that there are two parents to absorb the very big feelings.

It’s a stressful time in general… and then I worry about Robert’s stress level on top of my own. Yes, I feel sympathy stress.

But there’s this funny thing that I’ve noticed over the past few weeks that calms my worries and tells me that everything’s going to be OK. You see, Robert recently got a fish tank, after many years of wanting one. He was smart about it—he knows that our life isn’t set up for a fiddly hobby, so he stocked it with fish that are easy to care for, bought a couple of automatic feeders, and so forth. I’ve always been pretty ‘meh’ about fish, but we’ve all enjoyed having these little creatures in our family room/kitchen. Frederica is a pearl gourami and is the queen of the fish tank. We think she’s brilliant. The rasboras have distinct personalities; the scrappy guy is named Joe Pesci and enjoys bugging the other fish. The cory cats are determined to breed, but someone keeps eating the eggs.

Anyway, the image that cheers and comforts me is not the fish tank, exactly. It’s one of the kitchen chairs, pulled out from under the table and sitting facing the fish tank. I will come down in the morning, after Robert’s gone to work or left for an early-morning flight, and I will see that chair facing the fish tank. It makes me smile. The chair means that, before heading out in the morning (or sometimes before coming upstairs to bed), he sat down for a few minutes and watched the fish.

A fish tank is like an organic lava lamp. It’s hard to feel stress when watching fish.

The thing is, I have no idea whether he sat there for ten seconds or ten minutes. But it doesn’t really matter. What matters is the intention. What matters is taking the time to pull the chair around to the aquarium, to sit, and to watch.

Your life may be stressful right now. Time for rest and recreation may be hard to come by. But I hope you’ve got something like a chair and a fish tank. It can make a big difference.


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Image: Fish and family room.


11 thoughts on “When Life is Stressful… Or, A Chair Is Not Just a Chair

  1. Caity Dawson

    Thank you for sharing; I needed to hear about taking a moment out for relaxation today. Prayers for your fam as you sort out this new adjustment.

  2. Kelley

    This is a beautiful writing. I feel your pain about Robert’s travel. Kent travels on a regular basis. My children, however, are not as young as your children. Everything will be okay. But I will pray for peace and low stress. And watching fish is a very centering thing.

  3. anne

    we’ve enjoyed fish tanks at various times in our lives. i especially recall the peaceful fish tank moments the first year i taught kindergarten. i’d come home from school and sit there with the fish for as long as it took to decompress.

    love the image of robert pulling that chair up to the fish tank. i guess my personal fish tank now is the ducks and geese and sunsets on the lake.

  4. Mamala

    Great post. I always kind of wondered why people would want to fool with fish tanks and such, but you’re right. Watching them is fascinating and sabbath-y. I, too, have enjoyed seeing your brilliant and tech savvy hubby savor moments with his fish.

    1. MaryAnn McKibben Dana Post author

      He did it in such a Robert way—getting the water absolutely perfect before introducing any fish into it. It took weeks to get the chemistry right. I guess some people put fish in the tank before it’s right and they survive OK, but not great.

      It’s a testament to his skills (and his choice of hardy fish) that not only have we only lost one (and his fin was damaged before we got him, then got infected) but those catfish keep breeding and breeding! Apparently that’s the sign of a healthy tank.

  5. amy

    I love how you remind us it isn’t about the length of time – but the doing it – And that you don’t know (nor care) whether it was 10 seconds or 10 minutes, but that he did it – And what a great reminder to every one of us that the time is there for the taking, if we remember and are intentional. This from someone whose husband built 3 fish ponds in our very small backyard – Plus the two turtle tanks that are set up every winter by the kitchen table to shelter the 2 snappers and 2 red-eared sliders – which we watch during dinner. Ahhhhhhhh.

  6. Pingback: When Life Is Stressful… Or, When a Chair is Not a Chair | Sabbath in the Suburbs… and Beyond

  7. Sarah Erickson

    Enjoying this image. My backyard view is it for me (see FB post re the doves from this morning). Stop and see what’s before my very eyes. And holding you and yours in the Light during these transitions.


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