Lisa A. Kramer

Author, Speaker, Theater Artist, Creativity Facilitator

Life as an Afterthought: A Fable

Once upon a time, in the kingdom under the sea, there was a dolphin named Delbin who lived life as an afterthought.

It all started, she supposed, when she was born. Her parents were important dolphins in the dolphin community. Her father was head of the dolphin school, educating young dolphins. Her mother organized the support and care of orphaned dolphins, which happened often in the violent world of the kingdom under the sea.

Delbin's older sister was born first, and as often happens with first children, the parents gloried over the newness of creating life. Her life was recorded and documented in endless ways: pictures preserved in dolphin bubbles; baby books made of seashells that marked every accomplishment; giant clam shells that contained all the awards and accolades she ever received . . .

The second child might have been an afterthought except he was born a male. The excitement over this birth nearly matched that of the first-born, because of all the potential in that little male body. His life was documented as well, and his accomplishments were marked with "oohs!" and "ahs!" and announced all around the kingdom.

Several years passed before her parents realized that their children didn't need them as much anymore. They were growing up and exploring the ocean, going on more and more adventures and making names for themselves. Mother dolphin said, "I miss having a little one come to me for help." Father dolphin said, "I miss teaching things to a growing dolphin."

So they decided to have another dolphin, and Delbin was born.

Meanwhile, big sister dolphin and big brother dolphin continued living lives in large and magnificent ways. Big sister dolphin won all kinds of awards; fastest swimmer, most graceful acrobat, most creative coral sculptor . . . She had suitors swimming around her on a regular basis hoping to win her flipper forever. Big brother dolphin was also making his mark on the world. With his brilliant mind he became a leader in the dolphin community, negotiated peace with sharks, and even began communicating with the strange beings that lived "out there" in the air beyond the water.

Delbin grew up in the normal dolphin way. Her parents helped her, nurtured her, taught her, and encouraged her but they didn't feel the same excitement as they had with her older siblings. Life was too busy to document every moment of her life. Pictures usually happened at important moments in the lives of her older siblings, but the cameras were often forgotten when Delbin learned to leap for the first time or sang her first dolphin tune. Even though she too won her share of awards and accolades, they had already been achieved by her elder siblings, so they didn't garner as much attention.

The young dolphin didn't mind it at all. She loved and admired her older dolphin siblings and aspired to be just like them. She followed in their wake, learning as much from them as she could; trying to live up to their example. She also learned all she could from her parents and tried to ease tensions that often occur in a family full of creative, intelligent, outspoken dolphin.

She became the sounding board for everyone else.

Eventually, Delbin grew up and began to make her own life in the dolphin world. She loved to learn, to sing dolphin songs, to create. She started working with younger dolphins to put on elaborate dolphin performances and collaborated with other creatures to create a more peaceful world through ocean arts. She traveled through oceans near and far to do her work.

Despite her family's busy lives, they were always supportive. They told her they loved what she did and admired her for her work. Sometimes they sent algae and seaweed bouquets or seashell cards as events neared, if they thought of it. On rare occasions they came to see her performances and talks. Everyone was just too busy in their own lives. Often her siblings had other events going on at the same time which her parents felt took priority. She came to expect any number of explanations:
  • "If we don't support your brother during this dolphin symposium, he might not win the next election."
  • "Your sister has a coral reef showing and it is a huge deal, with lots of publicity. We have to make an appearance, it's so important."
  • "Your sister just had a bad breakup with the dolphin prince, she needs us to be near her right now."
  • "Your brother is going through a tough time at the moment, we can't travel far."
  • "It's not a good time, but I'm sure you'll do great things."
Whenever she could, Delbin would try to change her plans to support her siblings for these important moments in their lives. She was always available in an emergency: giving pearls if someone ran into difficulty; lending an ear when someone wanted to chat over the shellophone; keeping secrets; mending hurt feelings.

Life continued, and Delbin met a dolphin and fell in love. Together they decided to have a baby. As expected, everyone's life shifted toward this one precious gift, especially when it looked she might be the only dolphin child in the family. It seemed natural that the entire family should celebrate this miracle, and our heroine loved watching her daughter grow with into a strong, confident young dolphin. While Delbin continued working, she had to cut back on her travel and some of her projects in order to support the needs and interests of her daughter.

She loved being a Mom, but missed some aspects of her old life.

There came a day, when Delbin realized that her life had somehow become less important than everyone else's. Or maybe she just began to recognize that her life was often an afterthought. Her parents were getting older, which meant new challenges for everyone. Delbin did her best to help, as did her siblings. Her siblings also faced huge and exciting changes in their lives. Her older sister got an important job in management and had finally found a new dolphin prince. Her older brother was hired to use his brains in a fish tank which was intended to solve all the problems of the kingdom under the sea. It meant that he would be travelling the world over, learning about issues and finding new solutions.

Delbin took care of her family, wrote dolphin tale's, inspired her husband, tried to support her parents, and encouraged her brother and sister.

Delbin's daughter, Daphne, loved her grandparents and her aunt and uncle. She also worshiped her father, and would follow him around as he built things throughout the community to make dolphin life more comfortable. "I want to be just like them," Daphne said and planned to somehow follow all of their wakes and become famous for everything.

She never said, "I want to be just like you," to Delbin. Instead they had the usual mother daughter spats that Delbin had often read about. She didn't remember having these spats with her mother growing up, but Daphne seemed to love to push Delbin's buttons.

Life was not bad. Life was not great. Life was simply life. Delbin missed the friends and connections she had made as she traveled and created. She felt bad that Daphne saw her as nothing more than a mother. She didn't want to be just an afterthought in her own daughter's life, but at the same time she felt guilty whenever she couldn't be there for her family whenever they needed her.

What's an afterthought to do?

One day Delbin decided to go to her mother for advice. Her mother had always managed to balance everything and live life on her own terms. Delbin wanted to be able to do that.

"You expect too much," her mother said.

"I don't expect anything," Delbin replied.

"You expect too much and worry too much. Life is what it is. Just keep swimming.  Come visit when you are in a better mood."  Delbin's mother turned and swam away.

Delbin couldn't accept that, so that day she decided to show her daughter that there can and should be more to life. She called Daphne and her husband to her.

"I need more," she said. "I love you both but I need a little adventure. Will you be okay if I go explore the world for a while?"

Her husband, every supportive, said "Of course. Do what you need to do."

Daphne wasn't so sure. "But Mom, who will take me to dolphin dance? Who is going to check my homework? How long will you be gone?"

The questions were endless, but Delbin knew that Daphne didn't really need her for all those things. Daphne had been getting to dolphin dance on her own for a while, and did well in school without help. The questions came more from the fact that Daphne didn't understand Delbin's need to do something with her life, than anything else.

"You will be fine," Delbin said. "I'll be back soon and call you every day on the shellophone."

"Where are you going?" Daphne asked.

"I'll let you know when I get there."

That night, Delbin said goodbye to her family and called her siblings. Early the next morning she began to swim. Up, up, up she went until suddenly she found herself no longer in the ocean but floating through something she had never seen before.

She suddenly turned back and in the distance saw her home.

Dolphin meets the pale blue dot

That's when it hit her her. We are all afterthoughts, she realized. What matters is the journey and the story of our lives, the choices we make. Daphne will remember me as long as I live those choices with pride.

With that she turned and began to swim home.