On Shrimp & Mystery


For the hordes of shrimp clustered around the mid ocean ridge's hydrothermal vents, the only way to stay alive is a routine head-first dash into scalding water (770 degrees Fahrenheit) spewing from the Earth’s core. The only form of sustenance available to shrimp in the impossible deep of the ocean floor are colonies of bacteria living inside their mouths, who feed off nutrients dissolved in that burning water. So these shrimp, in order to survive, must perpetually risk being boiled alive (as we most prefer them) and swim through what is almost literally hellfire from the underworld, mouths ajar, like children skipping through sprinklers for the water they might catch as they pass through.

This is a fact, durable and real, for you to dispose of or assimilate as you please. The world is strewn with such things, pennies scattered and hidden beneath junk and debris, small curiosities stark and glimmering.

I am not sure what to make of the shrimp, and I do not know what to make of suffering. But I keep the shrimp situation in mind, alongside untidy heaps of other bizarre, inscrutable things. I hoard these curiosities as a hedge against my tendency to feel I’ve made sense of things; against my human tendency to exist inside a coherent cocoon through which no mystery passes. And what is mystery but an invitation to step beyond ourselves, however briefly?

I’m not sure what Irish poet John O’Donohue meant when he said:

“It is strange to be here. The mystery never leaves you alone.”

Or, rather, I envy him. The mystery eludes me for hours, days, weeks, sometimes months at a time. I am the protagonist in a movie employing dramatic irony; it seems everybody knows what’s going on but me. I walk around oblivious to the mystery of why shrimp must live this way. Why cruelty is not a relic of history, on display in a museum somewhere. What lies beyond the edge of what we arbitrarily call ‘the observable Universe’? What other possible organizations are there for conscious experience? Where is this all going? The Universe, I mean, and are we really just an insignificant blip?

But sometimes I emerge from my cocoon to these wonders. I surface and gasp for breath, after such time spent in feigned comprehension - oblivion. In these moments, mystery is chilled oxygen coursing through my veins. I follow its movement and feel revitalization tip-toe its way through my nervous system, my sense of being alive reopening to impossible horizons.

I will return to oblivion, whether because this bobbing up and down from oblivion into ecstasy is the human condition, or just my lot. And the deep sea shrimp, too, will carry out its sentence, passing through blistering water to allow the bacteria living in its mouth tiny slurps of melted nutrients. These pennies are found along the border of knowing & unknowing, a porous border enclosing a terrain expanding like the Universe. I write to raise these pennies to the sun, angling them so the light bounces off & shoots upward like a flare set off in the night beyond the black silhouette of a distant mountain. These are invitations to the edge of knowing, set off in hopes some other sojourner may catch a glimpse in their peripherals, wander over to the edge, inspect the strange fate of the deep sea shrimp, and through the lens of such oddities, perhaps our own.