By TERRANCE BRADFORD-MUHAMMAD, student in the Transformative Studies online PhD program. He is a student affairs professional whose research interests include the transformation of the U.S. higher education system, student retention, communication ethics, and progressive Islam.
I would describe myself as a moderately experienced reef tank enthusiast. For many years I have tried to perfect the art of building a reef, and for many years and with thousands of dollars I have learned the importance of keeping a tank clean. Arguably one of the best ways to do this is through the use of a protein skimmer. It is designed to remove organic compounds from the water before they break down into nitrogenous waste. This waste harms the reef and, if not removed, can ultimately kill it.
One year I decided to “go natural," heeding the advice of a master saltwater enthusiast who blogged that "protein skimming rids the water of vital minerals and nutrients the fish need in order to be healthy.” I took (what became) his useless advice, and just as soon as I removed the skimmer from the tank, my two beautiful (and mated) clown fish became sick and died. They were the first of many others: my live rock turned from the beautiful purple I once knew to a horrendous brown and white, several sensitive invertebrates shriveled up and were “lost at sea,” and I eventually began to fight "the war on algae" all over the tank—on the glass, on the rock, in the filter, and on my snails.
I was devastated. I had followed the directions as listed, and yet, my reef was destroyed. Not only had my creation been destroyed, my MONEY was lost and, as someone who purposefully makes sure the gas pump is empty before replacing it (by turning it upside down for the last few drops), the loss of this money was a financial crisis to me. I think I cried; no, I am sure I did. That hurt. A lot. I went through the five stages of grief like Sally Fields' character in "Steel Magnolias" after her daughter Shelby died. Sadly, there was no Ouiser Boudreaux to hit. I never understood what I did wrong.
Just last week I arrived home from the Transformative Inquiry Department’s mandatory residential intensive for online students. We meet twice a year for new semester orientation, mentorship, teaching and learning and community building.
Before I left the retreat I decided to go to the beach for prayer and reflection. As I stood and watched the waves crash and roar, I noticed the shore being covered with tiny bubbles carried by the waves. These bubbles looked similar to those produced by the protein skimmer I used in my tank. (I even smelled the fishy scented vapors produced by the protein skimmer, which were the catalyst for the purchase of a Glade scented oil fan in my living room.) Almost instantly, I made a connection: “the ocean is skimming itself!” I also realized that the ocean was continuously repeating this transforming cycle with the water in order to maintain an open biological system. This process I believe is called “upwelling.” According to the National Ocean Service, winds blow across the surface of the ocean and pushes water away. Water then rises up from beneath the surface to replace the water being pushed away. The water that rises to the surface as a result of upwelling is rich in nutrients that “fertilize” surface waters. The ocean transitions in order to maintain life.
Dr. Nancy Schlossberg, an educational theorist, developed the theory of transition. In this theory she basically states that students are always in a state of transition. They are either “moving in,” “moving through,” or “moving out,” which is similar to the ocean’s upwelling process.
I learned a lesson. As we begin the semester and wrack our nerves about “what will happen,” “why did they change books,” or about any other new event that occurs in life, realize that it's simply a process of skimming—or transition. The old, and dead, must cycle out of life to let the new water flow and bring new nutrients. Trust me—I know about the process. My fish know (well, they knew). If you happen to come across a “master” saltwater enthusiast preaching “go natural,” please send him this way. I would love for him to read this blog!