Of Fish and Men

By Mark Lepper

Mark Lepper

Mark Lepper

In my house here at L’Arche Heartland we have a Beta fish who lives in a little tank in our dining room. Depending on which person you ask, his name is either Louie or Willy.

The other day during dinner we happened to look over and see that his water was starting to get pretty murky, and it looked like his tank could use a good cleaning.

So after we finished eating I took Louie’s tank into the kitchen and started to remove the items from his tank. George, one of our core members, was standing by and keeping a close eye on the proceedings. When it came time to remove Louie from the tank, I fished him out and put him in a small cup on the kitchen counter. I picked up the tank and carried it over to the sink to clean. When I turned around, I noticed that George had pulled a chair over to the kitchen counter and was talking in soft tones to Louie.

“I’m just going to keep Willy company while he waits,” George said to me.

George Utter keeps Louie/Willy company while Mark Lepper cleans the fish tank. Photo by Mark Lepper

George Utter keeps Louie/Willy company while Mark Lepper cleans the fish tank. Photo by Mark Lepper

As I rinsed and scrubbed the tank, I could hear George talking to Louie. “It’s going to be ok,” he said. “Mark is getting your tank nice and clean. You’re going to like it!” The next thing I knew, George had gotten a CD player and put it on the counter next to Louie to play some music.

“He likes it when I play him my music,” George assured me.

When I got the tank cleaned and the water was ready for Louie to return, George watched as I slowly poured Louie back inside. George stood by for a while, making sure that Louie was comfortable in his freshly cleaned tank and telling him how good it looked.

The next morning, as George came downstairs to eat breakfast before work he walked up to me in the dimly lit kitchen and asked, “Can I get a big hug?”As we hugged he said to me, “Mark, you’re alright.”

For me, moments like these have been one of the great joys of life in L’Arche. Most people would see just a fish and not give it a second thought as they cleaned the tank. But my friend George saw something that needed to be cared for and looked after, and he did it in the way that he knows how. That’s what he was doing in the kitchen the next morning, too, when he offered me one of his big hugs. He saw someone who needs to be cared for and looked after and he did that in the way he knows how.

Housemates Mark Lepper and George Utter care for their Beta fish - and each other - with tenderness. Photo by Mark Lepper

Housemates Mark Lepper and George Utter care for their Beta fish – and each other – with tenderness. Photo by Mark Lepper

I’m thankful that I live with George, for all of the ways that he looks after and cares for the people (and fish) that he lives with. And I’m thankful for L’Arche because it brought us together to share life with, and look after, one another.

George Utter has lived in L’Arche Heartland (Overland Park, Kansas) for 21 years. He is an acclaimed artist, a NASCAR aficionado, lover of all things technological, and an avid wearer of fanny packs. Mark Lepper has lived in L’Arche Heartland for 4 years. When not cleaning fish tanks he can often be found baking, playing the ukulele, eating donuts, or dancing. Together, George and Mark make a pretty epic team on the Rock Band video game.

 

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