Elasticity of Empathy

Dear Sir,

I understand the predicament we’re both in and that a decision needs to be made. Let me state my case as plainly as possible, for it is quite a unique situation I found myself in and once you hear the details, I’m sure our encounter yesterday will make more sense and seem less “crazy”.

On Tuesday I was turned into a squirrel.

Tuesdays are the days the gardener puts the rubbish bins on the curb. I was walking past the bins on my way to the corner to buy a cup of coffee from the new coffee shop that opened just last week. You see, the owners bought out a gas station and turned the pumps into coffee dispensers. Everybody was going and raving about the cleverness of this marketing scheme, although opinion was close to unanimous that the coffee tasted like a bit of gasoline was still flowing through the spigots. Lines wound down the block like the queen herself was passing out croissants. I needed to see for myself what everybody was talking about so I wouldn’t feel out of the loop or uninformed, basically uncool. For being cool is an important commodity in today’s world. As an employee, it’s valuable to the company that I possess this commodity; so you see, I was thinking of the company at the time I was headed to this new coffee shop.

The garbage had some Indian food emanating from it and there were flies swirling in large clouds because some miscreant had left the lid opened and dumped some of the trash out onto the street. I had to hold my nose as I walked past and that’s when a van drove by with the words “Resist to Exist” spray painted on the sides. Or was it “Exist to Resist”? Either way, I thought to myself: is that some neo-punk syllogism, or the name of some new tribal/dance/prog mash-up band? Before I finished my internal discourse the door slid open with a clatter and a man in a sharp blue pinstriped shirt pulled out a giant gun, more like a grenade launcher, actually, and fired it at me. There was a screaming splitting of air and I was hit by a large wattage of invisible atoms. How do I know they were atoms? Because I could feel the debate between electron and proton raging in my body as it shrunk into rodent form and my skin grew fur.

Now, being a squirrel isn’t the worst thing in the world. I’m not saying that. I’m not one of those pro-human types who distinguishes between us and the rest of the lifeforms populating this planet. I’m just not used to being a squirrel so the sudden transformation caught me off guard. Can you imagine looking forward to getting a cup of coffee and then having to switch your attention to procuring acorns for the winter? No, this is not something one can easily adapt to, no matter the open-mindedness of the individual encountering this situation. Hell, I didn’t even know how to climb a tree properly, although when I set out to do it I found that the claws I now possessed made the job quite easy, and when I did fall the one time, my body took the impact with a clumsy, yet supple, grace.

I know you may be wondering why, but I don’t know why that man shot me with a squirrel gun. Maybe it was some art project, or a protest against overpopulation. I don’t know. At this point I was a squirrel and such thoughts were no longer my concern. I was busy looking out for hawks and the garbage trucks that come by on Tuesdays. I now found myself aware of this concept in a different way, though. As a human, I knew garbage trucks came by on Tuesdays because it was a fact I knew empirically. As a squirrel, I realized they came by that day, with no idea what “Tuesday” meant, because of the smell coming from the garbage, not an idea lodged in my brain, but an association with an olfactory sense. And it was no longer the revolting stench I experienced as a human, but a piquant wafting of edible delights. First thing I did as a squirrel, matter of fact, was jump into one of those bins and rummage happily.

I’m not telling you all of this so you feel sorry for me. As a squirrel I didn’t know any self-pity. I was too nervous and hungry for that emotion. I did feel fear, however, and that was what motivated me as a squirrel. Constant fear of being squashed, or eaten, or starving. I now understand why they’re so skittish and quick to dart out into the street and then back onto the curb and up and down trees all day.

I guess my point is that when I missed work on Tuesday and Wednesday and finally showed up late on Thursday, having finally transformed back into human form, and you waved your arms and yelled at me for my tardiness and my insolvency to the company, you understand that I bit your hand because, I suppose, some squirrel DNA was still lingering in my being, and not out of defiance to the employee/employer relationship. I know, and understand, how these rules exist to protect the both of us. For society is a pact we must abide by or what? Chaos.

I will pay off my debt to the company and be in on time, not just some of the time, but every time. Such a unique situation couldn’t possibly happen again! I will be on the lookout for any questionable vans with gibberish written on their sides. And if you think about it, if I am fired, how will I make good on this debt? I am sure you understand the complexity of the situation. In a funny way, we’re beholden to each other.

In light of what I just informed you, I hope you can make a special exception for my ordeal the last few days, culminating in that awful incident of my biting your hand, which I am deeply regretful for. Having to get stitches is not how I like to spend my afternoon either. Oh, how sorry I am for my reaction to your very-sensible scolding. I guess I was just still suffering from the harrowing experience of being a squirrel — not that being a human is a walk in the park, but for a squirrel, it’s a terrifying scramble! Hahaha. You see I haven’t lost my sense of humor, another, if I may point out, asset to the company.

To close, I would hate to lose this job, and have what little funds are still swirling in my account removed, and be forced out into the street, to dig through rubbish bins like I were a squirrel all over again. In addition, my disappointment in being unable to pay back the company would be great — nay, epic — and I’ve yet to get a cup of that coffee that isn’t very good but is cleverly poured from old gasoline spigots. A lot is riding on the elasticity of your empathy, sir.

Sincerely, your faithful employee.

s

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