It is the holiday time again, and for many of us it means special celebrations with our dearest loved ones that are mostly easy and enjoyable. And also, for some, it means being with members of our extended or immediate family with whom we still have some issues. Things happened—odd and strange things—that were painful to us. We may still be making sense of what happened, or didn’t happen. We are still healing. And those old hurts come back again, sometimes, when we gather. Ouch. The thought of it reminds me of a true and sad story.

One day, just a few years ago, a huge female shark named Jesse attacked a small white finned reef shark at the Underwater World Aquarium at the Mall of America in the Twin Cities. Jesse is named after Jesse Ventura, the former wrestler who became governor of Minnesota, and you’d have to see Jesse the shark to get the right feeling for what happened. Jesse has dozens of razor sharp teeth sticking out of her mouth at odd and frightening angles. She was my son Eli’s favorite shark when he was seven.

Photo by Jonathan Rados on Unsplash

So Jesse got hungry one day and chose another shark as her lunch. She had Fish #54 in her mouth and it looked like it was curtains for the much-smaller shark. But the staff of Underwater World made a valiant effort and somehow actually pulled the Fish #54 out of the jaws of death. The smaller shark had many puncture wounds, but none fatal, poor little fella. They put him in a separate tank and gave him antibiotics and eventually nursed him back to health. Then they put him back into the tank with Jesse and all the other fish, including several other large sharks. They re-named him Fishstick. Ouch.

When I went with my son Eli and his little friend to see the aquarium in April we saw a bunch of fish—seven of them—in a small corner space about 3’ wide by 6’ high. I asked one of the staff what fish those were and why they were hiding back there. They were all sharks between 30-50 lbs, crowded together in that small corner. She said “Oh, that one there is Fishstick, the one Jesse attacked. All the others who are white tipped reef sharks also joined Fishstick in hiding back there.” How long have they been there? I asked. “Oh, about 3 months.” When will they come out? “Not for a long, long time…if ever.”

Be aware of attacking others with biting words, or even unconscious messages, they may go into hiding in a corner of your family or organization for a long time. If someone is making you mad at work or home please process your feelings with someone else first. If someone else triggers you with an email that pours salt into an old wound proceed with caution. Go ahead and write a reply, but do not send it for at least 2 days. Better yet, especially if you are currently “swimming with sharks” catch your own signs of being angry earlier and do something proactive. Find out how you are both the one who gets attacked and the one who (not me) attacks. Don’t wait until you are biting mad. The results can be dramatic, either way.