Mall of America, Sea Life Aquarium: The Awed Perspective of One Canadian

After getting a family caricature done at a booth in  Nickelodeon Universe (that story to come), we made our way to the Sea Life Aquarium, an aquatic zoo beneath the mall’s lower level. 

We rounded the entryway corner to a dark blue room with a large shallow pool where stingrays flapped their flowing fins (wings?) and glided smoothly through the clear water. It was interesting for about a minute. How soon we can become bored, even with amazing things...

We quickly moved on, following winding paths through dark rooms and tunnels that showed watery windows of razor fish and a tank where apparently a squid lived, but where we couldn’t find it. No one could. It didn’t help that the tank was contoured, distorting the appearance of whatever was inside, I thought. I discovered that anemones, those inside-out mushroom looking things with red streamers that wiggle in the water, were not just plants but apparently living creatures. I wasn’t sure I believed it, but the staff had said so. 

Just as I was beginning to question whether the admission had been worth it, we rounded a corner to a deep dark room filled with floor to ceiling tubes. The water-filled tubes pulsed gently with colored lights, showcasing the living creatures inside. Jellyfish glowed inside each tube, changing colors with the lights. It felt as though we had walked onto a spaceship or the set of some science fiction movie where people were kept alive in glass tubes.
I was so mesmerized I didn't think to take a photo!
This stock photo from Pexels is strikingly similar though.

My daughter Abby and I walked up to a tube and stood in front of it and watched a tiny jellyfish half the size of a ping pong ball.

“You will be mine,” I said, “I will call you squishy.” I pressed a finger against the glass near the little fish. “My squishy.”

Abby giggled and echoed the Finding Nemo movie quote, pressing her finger against the glass too. “My squishy.” Then she left to look at the other tubes of fish with her dad and brother.

I stood transfixed, not moving my eyes from a larger jellyfish that now wafted in front of me. Its translucent body throbbed inexplicably, pulsing its way to who knows where. It had no eyes, so how could it know where it was headed? Anyway, there was nothing in the tank but jellyfish and water, so what did it matter where it went? There was no stone or reef or cave or even strand of grass to set as a destination. Did it eat? Or see? Or think? What was the point of such a creature? Why, God, did you make such a thing? 

The jellyfish, turning yellow now with the lights, and apparently unperturbed by such thoughts, pulsed peacefully, dragging its wiggly long strands beneath it. The tiniest threads lined its mushroom top (head?) like tassels, and would straighten with the upward thrust of the pulse, then in the downward part of the pulse that expanded the mushroom top as it gathered water under it, the tassels would curl with the movement of water. Then the thing would pulse upward again and the tassels would straighten. 

I stared, mesmerized, watching each movement of every transparent part. The fish became purple in the change of lights, and I drew a breath. Whether I was struck by its beauty or frightened by its strangeness, I didn’t know. I only knew I was moved and couldn’t stop watching. My chest swelled with awe and I found myself wondering again how God could possibly create so much detail, knowing its every thread, and yet invite us to look at such intimate creation. I’d been invited to behold a secret. One that had been carefully crafted and then hidden in the ocean for hundreds or thousands of years. The limitless of his imagination and creativity, and the invitation to witness it stunned me. My eyes moistened and I swallowed at the knot that had formed in my throat.

The jellyfish turned on its side, pointing its top to me. The top of the mushroom had four white circular outlines that were thicker than all the other white veins that ran all through its body. All the other jellyfish swam with their tops up, but this one pulsed on its side right there against the glass, pointing its circles at me. Was it looking at me?

My husband, Mark, arrived at my side. “So?” he asked.

“I can’t stop staring.” I said without moving my eyes, “I’m mesmerized. Hey. Is this thing looking at me?”

He chuckled. “I don’t know. Maybe.” After a beat, “Ready to go soon?”

My chest swelled again. I didn’t know how long I’d been standing there. All I knew was that I wanted to stand there longer. “Yeah, I guess we can go. The kids are done, right?”



Can you see the crocodile?
We left the jellyfish room behind, which made me ache a little, and made our way up, down, and around other pathways past poisonous dart frogs and a small crocodile that stood in the water near the glass so we could see its whole body. All of its body was underwater except for its eyes which peeked just above the surface. We could bend and see its whole body beneath the surface, perched on the rocky lake bottom, with his arms out like he was balancing, trying to keep from falling. He kept that pose, holding it like he’d been glued that way.

The path led through an underwater tunnel where sharks and tortoises swam beside and above us. The saw-nose fish wriggled right in front of us, its three foot long chainsaw of a nose just inches away from us.

Sharks swam above us revealing their silly looking underbellies. Their mangled rows of crooked teeth looked fierce enough, but their underbellies looked like white playdoh happy faces that had been made by a toddler and flattened with a baking pan. What was God thinking there? They made me laugh, anyway.

We exited through the gift shop, as all good touristy places seemed to do, and the children darted from shelf to shelf looking for a memento. I wandered aimlessly, glancing at gadgets while I waited for them to finish. Until I remembered the jellyfish and how they’d moved me. My chest brimmed with feelings even at the thought. I needed a jellyfish memento. Yes I did. I scanned the shelves for something. Key chains, no. Stuffy, no. Sparkly necklace, no. They were all of other apparently more interesting creatures anyway. Not too many jellyfish to be seen.

Then I saw it – a jellyfish encased in an oblong glass, frozen in mid-swirl and captured with bubbles. It might have been a paperweight, but to me it was a sculpture. As I stood at the glass case, eyeing the jellyfish from behind the locked glass door, my chest swelled again. What was wrong with me? Why was I getting all emotional over jellyfish paperweights?

I wanted it so badly, which frightened me. I’d never been one to become too attached to things. Things can be taken away, and had been, so I’d learned not to need them. This sudden attachment to a jellyfish paperweight alarmed me slightly. Still, I decided I’d get it.  It would be a tasteful reminder of the awe jellyfish had inspired, and of the God who makes amazing things. 

The moment I decided it, I filled with a strange, yet somewhat familiar feeling of guilt-edged glee.
“Mark,” I said as he approached, “I’d like to get this.” We didn’t generally ask permission of each other for such things. Our policy was, you want it, you buy it. It wasn’t a smart policy necessarily, but it was how we rolled.

“Then do it,” he smiled, “You don’t have to check with me.”

“I know… I just…”

I felt ten years old, conflicted about how to spend my allowance. My chest welled up with such strong feelings I thought I might cry. Who ever heard of someone crying over a jellyfish paperweight souvenir? Suddenly I was a little girl standing in front of a sticker rack at Henry Armstrong’s, a stationary and office supply store in our local mall. I held a one dollar bill in my hand, the whole week’s allowance, and wrestled with how to spend it. Every week I’d dash straight to the candy store with that dollar and spend every bit of it on gummy candies, powdered candies, and candies that sizzled on my tongue. That day, I would break the mold, deciding to buy stickers instead. Seventy-nine cents. It would take up my whole allowance. There wouldn’t even be enough for one five cent candy after tax. I stood there rolling the weighty decision over and over in my mind, feeling anticipation and dread swirl together.

I stared at the jellyfish sculpture, perplexed by feeling that same swirl of emotions. I swallowed, holding back moisture from my eyes. “I don’t know. I - I want it. So… yeah. I’ll get it.”  

“Good,” Mark said. Unaware of my turmoil, he sauntered away to check on the kids.

I hailed a clerk who tenderly wrapped the sculpture in bubble wrap. I smiled warmly as we left the store, feeling satisfied that I’d found a special piece of Minnesota – of heaven, really - to take home with me. 
Initially, I had thought the caricature would be my memento of this place. It was, too. 

Until a jellyfish looked me in the eye and changed my mind.

Have you ever been to Minneapolis?
What's one of your favorite memories? 


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