ichthyic adj. fishlike
I was recently in Lisbon, Portugal which is by all accounts the world capital of the sardine. Every souvenir shop I happened upon peddled hoards of fish emblazoned tchotchkes. Most every menu at every restaurant prominently featured many fish dishes and there were art exhibits entirely devoted to celebrating fin-kind. When I found this word, it made me think about how the fish is an archaic, yet very modern symbol and how I have experienced it in my life.
An ichthys is the actual “Jesus fish” symbol which is much bastardized on car bumpers the world over. The word itself actually means “Jesus Christ, Savior.” It’s a symbol I see quite frequently, mostly in the form of bumper adornment. It is rarely in its pure, innocent, religiously proud form. Most of the time it has small feet and the word DARWIN scrawled within its body. Other times it has devil horns and a tail. Rarely, I see one that is tagged GEFILTE – although I believe the popularity of this particular one is increasing. Sometimes people stencil their own sayings next to the DARWIN variety (I live in a very liberal town…). I find it surprising how passionate people get about this symbol. They get so worked up they have to defile it on the back of something they drive around. There aren’t many differentiating features when it comes to cars, so the stickers and marks you choose to put on your own make it your mobile statement to the world…and so many choose this particular symbol as one of their “pieces of flair.”
I just don’t know why it’s important that I know your stance on creationism while I’m on my way to the Whole Foods. If I met that person would they immediately engage me in a deep debate about evolution while we squeeze avocados in the produce aisle? Yet sometimes it’s the one thing they choose to differentiate themselves amongst the other Hondas and Volkswagons on the road. I can’t talk to other people driving while on the road so the only thing I will know about the green minivan in front of me is that the driver is Jewish (GEFILTE), has a wife, a cat and 2 kids (back window sticker family), vacations / has been to the Outer Banks (OBX in an oval), attended Keane State (obvious back window sticker decal), and has a country club membership (parking decals on the side window). The ichthys seems a bit out of place, no? Or maybe not, now that I think about it…
Ichthyic also makes me think about swimming and my personal relationship with the water. Back when I was in college, it was a life dream of mine to go all Baywatch and become a lifeguard. There was just something so cool about having the ability to be so comfortable and free in the water that you could save another human being at the spur of a moment.( Plus, the work study gigs at college paid really well.) At the time, an opportunity arose for me to become a lifeguard through the summer camp that I worked at – so I jumped at the chance – not entirely realizing that I wasn’t a swimming natural. When I was a kid, my parent’s idea of swim lessons was letting me try to teach myself in the shallow end of my grandmother’s built in pool. I eventually succeeded, but had no technique and knew nothing about breathing or stroke. Over the years I got better, but I wasn’t prepared to rub elbows with Australian Bronze Medallion lifeguards – whom I trained with for a week at Red Cross Certification. For a week of my life, I pushed myself to feats of aquatic agony until finally I had passed everything but the final coup de gras – the deep water rescue. I remember sobbing on the phone to my mother on the very last day before this final certification exercise – sure of my impending and miserable failure . I am a floater. I don’t sink…so surface diving to the 18 foot bottom of a pool is difficult…and my rescue subject also weighed about 250. Somehow, as I look back on this important life event, the moment I remember is being under water after mastering a splashless jump from the diving board. At about 10 feet down with 8 feet to go…looking down at that 250 pound Speedo spandex- wrapped- sunk- like- a- rock body thinking, you’re through – you’re going to fail this….and just not accepting it. Somehow, I got down a few more feet and managed to wrap my hands around the spandex Speedo X strap on that wide swatch of freckled fat and sling- shotted all 250 pounds of that glorious flesh up into my arms and scissor kicked to surface next to my rescue tube. When I broke the water, it was one of the proudest moments of my life. I could tell that the instructor that I saved, Barb, couldn’t believe it either. In that moment of deciding to break through the failure and accomplish something that I probably wasn’t meant to do – an average swimmer saving a 250 pound woman in 18 feet of water – I was at my most ichthyic.