The Absence of Hamish

I suppose that I had simply taken it for granted that there would always be a Hamish. It was a deeply ingrained and unconscious belief that I had probably inherited from my parents – kind people who trusted in the goodness of everything.

On some dim level I must have assumed that even if my local Hamish disappeared, there would still be – somewhere in Scotland – a stalwart Hamish carrying on valiantly in the grand tradition.

I don’t have to describe to you the shock – you know it well – of waking up in the middle of the night three weeks ago to something that felt like a silent and yet world-shaking sonic boom. Though none of us knew it at the moment, it turned out to be the sudden thundering absence of Hamish.

I was most devastated, as you can imagine, by the loss of my own personal Hamish. I had known him since he was but a wee Hamish, you see. In fact, there is some question as to whether I had met him long ago by some chance encounter or had simply invented him out of necessity.

Perhaps my obsession with my personal loss was a defense mechanism protecting me from the global absence of Hamish. In any case I busied myself adjusting to my now greatly diminished life. I renamed my pet white rat Hamish and I assure you that despite what some have said I did this with utmost respect. The rat had not been responding well to “Alistair” anyway. It seemed to like “Hamish” and when I called it, it would stand up on its back legs and – this may sound unlikely – smile.

Eventually I could no longer hold at bay the overwhelming realization that we had all lost all of our Hamishes forever. My heart ached almost beyond endurance. My only consolation was to notice that we were all in this together.

This was particularly clear walking down the crowded streets of the commercial district. We took comfort in each other’s presence, almost forgetting what had happened. From time to time someone would stop dead still, staring around confused, searching the streets, the alleys, the sky above and finally asking some kind stranger “What was that terrible sound?”

The answer was usually accompanied by a hand on the victim’s shoulder. “It was the absence of Hamish. You’ll remember by and by.” This was most often followed by tears on the part of both and then a tender hug – truck driver and old lady, police officer and teenager, homeless person and lawyer.

No one knows why the Hamishes disappeared. Some say it was pesticides, just as with the bees. The pesticide manufacturers contend, of course, that they have proof that this is nonsense. Others say that the Hamishes could no longer bear to live in a world in which the environment was suffering so badly and in which the human heart had become angry, bitter, cruel, and defensive.

But who knows? According to the president of the United States and CEO of Exxon/Mobil, the world is in great shape thanks to oiliness. Sounds legit, as my paperboy says.

To a person in mourning, the reason isn’t important. What’s important is that the loss of Hamishes had softened our hearts. Was that their intention?

And so we have carried on valiantly in the grand tradition.

Last Monday the media reported that spaceships had landed around the world. Pouring forth from the ships were millions of white rats dressed in Star Trek-like uniforms and kilts.

So far they have been friendly. They like to lick people’s fingers – which they do quite gently. They are helpful as well. They’ve solved world hunger by providing families with a machine from which we can get any food we want simply by pressing a lever. True, there is an occasional mild shock but it’s easily ignored.

There is another small but significant service they provide. If someone begins speaking harshly to another person, or begins to act belligerently, they are very likely to experience a sudden tiny but effective nip on the ankle.

Talking now to my own little rat, I speculate that the thundering absence of Hamish may well have been heard throughout the universe and been answered by some benevolent civilization. Perhaps the Hamishes sacrificed themselves for us. He is standing on his hind legs and smiling broadly. He’s holding his arms out. I think he wants a hug.


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