A year ago today, I finally made it to the St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station. I had finished the rest of my 2022 calendar. Just a few quick photos of the fishies, and I’d be good to go.
It was sort of a big deal, not just because it was my first trip to the aquarium, but because it was my first trip anywhere in one year’s time. I was newly vaccinated, and I was ready to see the world that I’d been missing.
I feel the need to insert here that I never viewed the vaccine as a political issue. I just knew it was right for me. I hated fear and anxiety. It only made sense to me to minimize those feelings in any way I could. So I got my shots. And I headed to Union Station. I was fearless.
Funny, though. I discovered that I was also green. Curious. Wide-eyed. It was impossible to curb my childlike wonder, because the world outside my doors had grown much larger while I was away.
I tend to be a little that way, anyway. The world always looks big to me. My curiosity is stirred daily by things I see. But this was different. My visit to the aquarium tapped all my senses at once and brought up every emotion I knew. It wasn’t the fish. It was the people. Being around others was new again. Their universal message seemed to be “Welcome Back.”
There were, of course, still lots of restrictions in February of 2021 – stickers placed every six feet on the floor, areas cordoned off, hand sanitizer everywhere you looked – reminders of just how dangerous human beings could be. But, even with a six-foot barrier, I couldn’t believe how much I loved seeing them!
There was a family in front of me with little kids. And I quickly learned that the only thing more fun than seeing the fish at the aquarium was seeing little kids seeing the fish at the aquarium. They were nervous when the sharks swam right up to them, mesmerized by the diver cleaning the tank in the lobby clock, uncertain about sticking their hands into a school of doctor fish. It didn’t help when an aquarium employee said, “Don’t worry. The doctor fish won’t hurt you! They just want to eat your dead skin!”
And then it dawned on me. The kids had reason to be nervous. In their short lifetimes, outings had become a rarity, supplanted for months at a time by Facetime, Netflix, and birthday car processions, as their parents worked tirelessly to foster happy memories. These children had spent most of their lives under the sea, where they could only see part of the picture. But today, they had emerged at last, like the little fish they were, poking their heads above the surface and having a look around. When did the world get so big?
Revisiting this memory one year later, the question still bubbles up. When did the world get so big? I hope, like all the world’s children, I never stop asking.
The St. Louis Aquarium is the February feature in my 2022 A YEAR IN THE CITY calendar. It is also available as an archival print and – later this month – as a smaller litho print. For more information, see ayearinthecity.com.