Once a mudskipper got bogged down. This challenge to its usual jaunty approach to life was hardly noticeable at first, hardly more than a slight heaviness within or another momentary slowdown in what might already look like a directionless tour of the tidal flats that the mudskipper paddled around day in and day out. But it was indeed slowing down. Each time the mudskipper drew a leg-fin from the ooze, a slightly louder sucking sound pulled at its sides. The viscous mud, so inviting as a rule, had begun to weigh upon it. Moment by moment, even the beating of its heart seemed to lag, reducing the mudskipper’s sense of progress to a labored plowing forward at best. What was happening? Why the change? The mudskipper had thrived in the sun-warmed flats until now. This was the life, not a care in the world. A mudskipper’s paradise. If it was hungry, the mud offered up a hundred tasty morsels to sate its appetite. If a breeze sent a chill down the mudskipper’s back, soon it had been forgotten in the comfort of a warm, reassuring wallow. The moist, rich touch of the earth upon its skin brought pleasures not to be described. And on those occasions when the mudskipper launched itself into the air with sudden ebullience, as if lifted by a force that was baffling in one so patently unsuited for flight, the soft landing wherever it came down was like the welcoming home of an old voyager. For at the height of these brief vaults, carrying just enough of life’s heat in the mud that clung to its sides, the skipper could survey its world through eyes bulging wide to take in all before it. What might strike others as nothing more than featureless muck revealed itself instead to be an endless array of invitations to discovery. From thoughts of towering peaks in faraway lands to the deepest ocean trench, the imagined compass of all existence invited one to explore its reaches to the full. Even if one never left this narrow, muddy shore. In short, life as a mudskipper had been good. Granted, it might not be an existence to every creature’s liking, but where else could a mudskipper feel truly whole if not here between tides of wonder, every moment full of eager anticipation or else fulfillment? This consummate good cheer might be possible anywhere, but to each heart its own domain. For the mudskipper, no other spot on earth could satisfy its yearnings half as well. Which was why the unaccustomed listlessness now felt by the mudskipper defied comprehension. Its passion for all that a day might bring—a response to each new proof of life’s bounty so compelling as to leave the mudskipper heady with excitement—was fading to indifference and then to a blank apathy. Without warning or explanation, the mudskipper was losing focus, steadily going numb to all it had found so invigorating before, and it could do nothing to halt the change. The mud no longer looked or felt like the source of delight in all experience that it once had seemed: the springboard for invigorating and gravity-defying leaps. Now it was more like a thickening slime that daily covered the mudskipper from head to tail and outside to in, scarcely allowing enough breath for a tortured inching here and there without direction or purpose. The mudskipper felt like it was drowning, choking on what it had long believed was the key to its very being.
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans