A long, long time ago, there lived a sea anemone. He was a gorgeous creature of brilliant violet. His pedal disc was attached to an impressive rock in the Great Barrier Reef and though he had everything a sea anemone could desire (warmth, light, abundant food), he knew he was missing something.
His job, as he learned at a young age, was to stay adhered to his rock, and to remain in vigilant wait for a fish to pass close enough. Then, when it was within striking distance, he was to lash out and sting it with his tentacles, paralyze it with his poison, then draw the fish to its mouth and devour it.
When he wasn't on the hunt, he was to remain vigilant about being eaten himself. If a threat was near, he was to shrink back into himself, pulling his tentacles inside his mouth, and draw together like a pouch. While his poison was lethal, it was his only defense. With no teeth, no claws and no speed, he was vulnerable, so his parents kept reminding him. Lay low. Stay vigilant.
He longed to dance with the dazzling fish that swam in the light just out of reach. From time to time, he would wave his tentacles in time to the music made by the dancing fish, but his parents would scold him for being recklessly showy.
He was lonely. He hated killing. He hated living in fear. He hated this vigilance as much as he hated his vulnerability.
He longed for freedom. He longed for connection with another being. There must be another way, he thought.
No. He was told by his parents. THIS is the anemone way. You are vulnerable. Remain vigilant. Eat or be eaten.
The other sea anemones laughed when they heard him talk about the beauty and grace of the fish.
One day, he decided it was time to leave the rock. While his parents were busy devouring a pair of shrimp that had swam too close, he pulled his pedal disc off the rock he knew too well, and with a great flexing motion started to float away. He was afraid, he felt unsafe and he felt more alive than he had ever felt.
On the other side of the rock lived a clown fish. Small and slight, he was rebuffed by the other clown fish. While they played in the light and chased each other, he watched from the opening of the cavern that was his home, yearning for connection.
You are small and vulnerable, his parents told him. Lay low. Don't draw attention to yourself. Do not stray from the cavern or you will be eaten by an anemone who will outwit you or by a larger fish who will outswim you. Don't you dare think of dancing with the other fish. Remain vigilant in the cavern and we will bring you food. It's the only way.
Instinctively, he knew there was another way. A life to be lived.
One day, he decided to find it by leaving the cavern.
Once the sea anemone could no longer see the rock that was his home, he rested his weary body on some kelp. Not used to being on top of a moving object, he was delighted to be swayed back and forth by his new host. Relaxing into the rhythm, he allowed his tentacles to unfurl and sway to music that he was starting to hear, he had never enjoyed such freedom. Such a LACK of vigilance.
At that same moment, the clown fish was swimming at full speed towards a field of kelp that he had heard of. Head down, eyes closed, he barreled through the water, his heart pounding with equal measure of delight and fear.
He looked up just in time to see the expanse of green kelp and in his excitement, he shot up in a jubilant swoop.
Only to be face to face with the unsuspecting sea anemone.
Oh LORD. My parents were right. I let my vigilance down and here I am, vulnerable and about to get eaten , the anemone and clown fish both thought in that very moment.
They sat there, resigned to their death for but a moment.
Then they asked simultaneously: Aren't you going to eat me?
To which they simultaneously answered, No!
With uncertainty in their minds, but hope in their hearts, they sat side by side for a moment. Then, they proceeded to share their stories. The sea anemone revealed his abhorrence for killing other creatures and how he wished he wasn't filled with poison and the clown fish shared how he wanted to take care of himself. They both wanted to dance and they both wanted to be free.
The clown fish realized there was only one way to make sure this friendship could work…so on a hunch, he demanded that the sea anemone sting him. Fearful of killing his first and only friend, the sea anemone reluctantly did as he was asked.
To his surprise, the clown fish was unaffected by poisonous ether. The mucus that covered him rendered him unharmed.
Jubilant, the clown fish and the sea anemone danced out their joy. They decided in that moment to spend their days together, in symbiotic connection. The clown fish would live within the tentacles of the sea anemone, safe and sound and unaffected by its predators who feared the anemones sting. In turn, the clown fish would keep the anemone clean and would bring back food for his friend.
Turns out, there WAS another way.