He turned up everywhere – on my new beach bags, on a bracelet from a friend, on a spiral notebook given to me, in a pile of decorations for writing journals at a summer institute.
This sudden proliferation was odd, too odd to be random. Loving symbolism, interpretation, and looking things up in general, I researched seahorses, curious about what mysterious meaning or significant message they portend for my life at the moment.
I already knew, of course, that the males bear the young, which is the reason I am mostly using the pronoun he, in honor of the seahorse dads. I really couldn’t make much of a connection to this appealing characteristic, however. I am the only female in a household of males (including three dogs and two guinea pigs), none of whom are about to become a gestational vehicle.
In the metaphorical realm, seahorses apparently represent a great number of things: patience, persistence, inventiveness, creativity, whimsy – all enchanting. I celebrate and welcome all of these things.
I learned that the scientific name for the seahorse, hippocampus, is the same word for the part of the human brain thought to be the center of emotion and memory.
Speaking as a writer – utterly fascinating.
Seahorses can also symbolize stubbornness (my father’s word was “hardheaded”). Speaking as a human – ouch. Ahem. I prefer to call it “determination” or “perseverance,” but we’ll keep moving along here.
The thing that strikes me most about the seahorse is that it’s a poor swimmer – one species being the slowest-recorded swimmer in the animal kingdom – and that its tail is invaluable to its survival. National Geographic puts it this way: Seahorses are rather inept swimmers and can easily die of exhaustion when caught in storm-roiled seas . . . they anchor themselves with their prehensile tails to sea grasses and corals.
Ah. A ray of light shines here in the murky depths of symbolism.
The seahorse began appearing, and appeared most often, in things connected with my work as an educator – on a tote bag with a book order, on my notebook and journal.
Education today – might that be the storm-roiled sea, full of conflicting ideologies and solutions that sometimes beget more problems, just for starters? It’s not that educators are inept (“poor swimmers”) but that the ever-changing currents in our ecosystem are vast and powerful, so to shrink one’s spirit and drain one’s energy just trying to keep up, to stay afloat.
Seahorses can die of exhaustion if they aren’t anchored.
I think about how often the word anchor appears in the educational realm – anchor text, anchor standard – signifying the foundation of something upon which other things will be built, or that subsequent learning will connect back to.
But I don’t think that’s why the little seahorse loomed so large of late. In my mind I see him, small and shadowy against a backdrop of coral and waving sea grass, anchored by his tail, swaying peacefully despite the surging sea. I think of teachers and the demands they face. I think of students, who, above all, are too easily caught in a virtual riptide.
What’s the anchor here?
We anchor one another. Teacher to teacher. Whatever’s raging around us, we support each other, we help each other along. Ultimately, we form the solid thing, the reef, where students can anchor themselves, where their best interests are tantamount to our own, where they are sheltered, nurtured, and given outlets for inventiveness, creativity, whimsy, even in the most uncertain, troublous times.
Hang on, hang together, and believe.
Says the seahorse not just to the educational world – but to humanity.