A dear friend of mine was recently showered with both ire and adoration by the residents of our predominantly conservative mid-sized city. Following our mayor’s defiant and illegal inclusion of a Christian prayer at City Council inauguration, he had decided to formally dissent in the form of an open letter. This articulate and well-reasoned statement led to subsequent interviews with local media, and ultimately a frontpage news article. Publicly, he was cast in the role of local professor passionately advocating for the separation of church and state, in the face of an overwhelmingly popular theocrat mayor. Given that my humble friend is not one to seek the limelight and had never publicly stoked the flames of controversy before, he soon found himself navigating an unfamiliar and uncomfortable social terrain.
Yes, there were some intelligent fellow-citizens who came out of the woodwork and defended the inclusive and secular stance of the young and unassuming academic, but unsurprisingly, he was largely vilified as an overly sensitive militant atheist. It appeared as if many of the people whom my friend had lived amongst for many years either didn’t agree that a modern pluralistic democracy should be guided by secular and humanistic values, or simply were too cowardly to publicly voice their opposition to the powerful mayor. Whatever the case, in due time, the short attention span of the populace moved on to being outraged about something else.
For having steadfastly stood by his decision to inject Christian faith into a governmental function, in spite of all reason and the rule of law, the mayor had been rewarded with historically high popularity ratings and an emboldened political mandate. Dejected, my friend soon found himself retreating back into the uncomplicated shadows of civilian life. Although he wished his brave actions had led to a more progressive outcome for the community, he was content to no longer be in the civic spotlight.
Several weeks after the frontpage story had been published, the professor found himself in comfortable and familiar circumstances once more, releasing a rat from a live trap into a wooded area on the outskirts of the city. Unfortunately, this was something he’d grown quite accustomed to, ever since an abandoned structure had been demolished in his neighborhood, and the displaced rodent population had found themselves tempted by his feeder contraption which nourished a small flock of egg-bearing backyard hens. Sensitive to the wellbeing of the sentient rats, but not wanting them in his yard, the professor had decided the most compassionate and ethical course of action was to catch and covertly release the bedeviling creatures into the nearby wilderness.
As he’s since recounted to me, just prior to opening the trap, my friend had noticed, through a small gap in the trees, a balding middle-aged man on a riding mower tending to a well-manicured lawn which sloped down a gentle hill and terminated at the forest’s edge. Unclear as to the legality of the act in which he was engaged, the young professor had remained motionless and refrained from releasing the rat for a few moments. It hadn’t taken long for him to realize that the man straddling the John Deer mower a hundred yards yonder was the city’s beloved mayor. Evidently, he lived on the affluent cul-de-sac which backed onto the woods where my friend had released dozens of rats over the past twelve months.
Armed with this new information, my dear friend had been filled with the sense of justice he’d longed for three weeks earlier when he’d first raised his intelligent secular voice. He had then been stricken with the realization that the mayor had only begun to publicly speak about his Christian faith a year ago. This coincided with the release of the first rodents. Oddly enough, this also was around the same time that the local press had begun chronicling the mayor’s battle with a rare and particularly fatal form of cancer.
With a tense expression revealing inner turmoil, my dear friend has since repeatedly assured me that in that moment it would have been unduly cruel to the confined and impatient rat caged at his feet to waste time contemplating whether there was a causal connection between these seemingly disparate events. As such, on that day, he had promptly released the captive rodent and quietly exited the forest. He has since maintained this posture, frequently insisting that some stones remain best left unturned.
Ever since hearing of this occurrence, for reasons which only years of psychoanalysis can likely unearth, I have felt slightly fearful of my friend and hopelessly resigned to the fact that I will soon be stricken with cancer.
About Scott Harvey
SCOTT G. HARVEY teaches psychology at SUNY Buffalo State and resides in the Niagara Region of Ontario with an ever-changing mixture of humans, cats, dogs, and chickens. His novella Savagely Noble will be released on October 6th in print and digital formats.