Once upon a time there was a charming country house with a large garden. The garden was full of beautiful flowers, bushes and trees. It was very peaceful.
In the midst of the garden lay a round pond with clear, cool water. In the pond lived a red fish. His name was Hubert and he was a rather peculiar fellow.
People of the house noticed right away that there was something unusual about Hubert. They observed that he spent most of his days motionless, right in the middle of the pond.
This was, incidentally, how they came up with a name for him. Someone looking from the balcony of the house commented that the fish looked like a red hub of a black wheel. The person was an engineer, evidently. After that a child's voice uttered "Hubert", and the name stuck.
Over time, however, the people ceased to be so light-hearted. They started to worry about Hubert more and more every day. He was an expensive fish, after all.
"Why does Hubert not swim around? The pond is spacious enough indeed."
"Is he lacking some vitamins, or is he sick?"
They called for a test of the water quality and temperature, they consulted with garden fish experts on improvements to Hubert's feed. They even trimmed the bush of roses that showered its petals on the water just in case that was bothering him. But nothing helped.
To put it simply, Hubert was a melancholic fish. He felt there was more to life, and he longed for it painfully.
He kind of appreciated his pond but, in spite of his proverbially short-term memory, he knew it far too well. As a matter of fact — if you spoke fish — he would have been able to give you a guided tour of every pint of water in the pond. Hubert also sensed beauty outside the pond. The colours, the play of light and shadows, and the muffled sounds were marvellous, but their inaccessibility was making him a little more sad every day.
Hubert finally concluded that there was nowhere for him to go, nothing left to discover, that his life was void of any purpose. To top it all off, he could not even commiserate with anybody. In despair, he decided to take refuge in the one place that was the farthest from everything else.
But the centre of the pond only accentuated Hubert's gloom. He started to believe it was his fate to be sad and alone. He began to revel in his loneliness. He felt he was in the nave of the world, in the sweetest spot. As close to nirvana as one could be. Just one step from nothingness.
Eventually, Hubert stopped eating. He was just hanging there, motionless in the middle of his pond.
The people of the house could see that Hubert was diminishing. They feared Hubert might die soon. But they had no idea what more they could do.
In the house there lived big people and a little girl. The child loved the fish a lot. One Sunday, at breakfast, the girl proclaimed: "I think that Hubert is sad because he's in the middle of the pond!" The big people smiled the way big people smile when a cute little child says something obvious, and they continued eating their boiled eggs and toasts. Only when it came to coffee, one of them pensively realized there might actually be something to the idea. "Just imagine the pond had no centre — could the fish then go and sulk there?"
The people of the house consulted a gardening firm and a week later Hubert noticed a huge shadow hanging right above his head. There was something big there in the outer space, it was looming ever closer, and that frightened him a lot. With a jerk of his weary fins Hubert escaped from the centre of the pond and hid in the water plants at the perimeter. Then there was a booming noise and a lot of waves, and the water became opaque due to mud.
The people of the house thanked the workers and were relieved to see the heavy crane leaving their manicured lawn.
The task had been accomplished. The water was punctured by a sizeable rock where the nave used to be. It was a kind of an island, really.
Long after the last ripple died down and the mud sedimented, Hubert hesitantly came out of hiding and decided to head right back to the middle of the pond. Only this time he could not find it. He expected it right behind a corner but it was not there, so he swam and swam, along endless shores. When he got tired, he ate some, and then he searched further.
Today Hubert is still on his journey, swimming eagerly in the sincere hope that one day he will get to that most fulfilling of places, the nave of the world, the sweetest spot, the end.
And the people of the house are happy to see Hubert swimming a lot again. He has a good appetite and looks very healthy.
I first heard this little fable from Tony Judge at the time we worked together at the Union of International Associations in Brussels. He told it as a short amusing story with a touch of philosophy. I only reworked it into a longer piece.
As often with jokes, the story has surprising depths. Basically it tackles the very question of the meaning of life. Perhaps there is only so much one can ever explore, and even then, what's the point... One way out from such gloom is to create an illusion of a journey to something greater.
May we all be lucky enough to encounter rock placed so strategically to make us hope there is so much more to this world, to feel we are travelling again the vast expanses of the unknown towards something wonderful.
fish pond loneliness philosophy illusion travel meaning dream hope destination hub nave centre rock search journey fable