Reciprocity

By April Thanhauser

We’re fishing mackerel from the deck of my friend’s lobster boat. No lobstering now, because Nova Scotia has strictly bounded seasons. Usually, the mackerel are swimming in schools, so if you catch one, soon others will follow. They’ve been known to come up two to a hook. This summer they’re mostly too small, and we throw them back—or hopefully we slip them carefully back into the waves, so they survive the trip. We’re happy when one of us hooks a fat one—imagining them crisp-grilled over an open fire, with garlic and lemon. 

My son catches the biggest one yet, but after unhooking it, instead of putting it in the cooler, he hands it to his godmother, my friend, the captain’s mate. She blows a blessing on its head and passes it back into the water—Sentient Being, go on living.

She’s a Buddhist by calling and long training, my son is Buddhist by inclination and emulation. They have an understanding.

Up on the North end of Cape Breton the monastic Buddhist community has a ceremony for the lobster. One day during the season they go to the nearby fishing village, buy an entire day’s catch and release the lobsters back into the sea. I’ve never witnessed this, but often imagined it. A tide of lobsters marching down the beach into the surf. Probably not. Maybe lobster-filled plastic fish trays hauled by two bare-legged practitioners out into the icy shallows.   Or maybe there’s a boat involved, so the lobsters can be poured into deeper waters and go way down to safety at the seaweedy, rocky bottom. In any event, it’s a day when everyone wins. The hard-working lobstermen are paid, the lobsters live to creep along the sea bottom for at least another day, and the Buddhists get to participate in a wonderful ceremony. 

At the end of the summer each year, my friend, the lobsterman’s Buddhist wife makes a ceremony to honor all the animals killed. Not only the fish and the many lobsters, but also the deer in the freezer, the mice and voles killed by the cats, the slugs drowned, the flies swatted, the mosquitos smooshed on the skin.  All sentient beings. Honored, thanked, and blessed. 

If we can give back anything to the Ocean which mothered us and nourishes us always, we can at the very least give thanks and recognition that all her creatures are sentient beings.  Ones we love like the whales and sea-turtles, or those we may fear like sharks and jellyfish—they are all our kin.  They are generous enough to feed us, being part, as they are, of Ocean’s immense generosity. 

We can find ways to enact ceremonies of thanksgiving and reciprocity.  Perhaps we scatter white flowers on the waves in devotion to the sea goddess Yemanja. Or we bless sweet water with our prayers and our breath and pour it into the salt waters. Or we make little(decomosable) gifts with our clever hands and set them adrift on the currents. Or sing love songs to the whales. One way or another, we can invoke our creativity, we can step into the waters of reciprocity, and let our gratitude be heard— and for sure our hearts will be filled.