Looking forward to Christmas Eve 1968, I hastened to finish up the bits and pieces office work at my of ce before beginning my long holiday. On the ride home, I anxiously anticipated the commencement of festivities that evening, with an eggnog-accompanied tree-trimming party in the company of family and close friends. My reverie was suddenly disturbed when I noticed it had begun to snow. Just as quickly remembering that I would not have to contend with further commutes for the duration of my recess, my spirit lifted with the recognition that the blowing akes did, in fact, lend a truly authentic feel to the special evening.
Arriving home, I briskly headed up the walk with feelings of elation and pleasant expectations. Instead, I was met at the door by my children’s pleas and cries of distress, all describing at once the dire condition of the beloved household pet, Tobey. The inert hamster lay lifelessly in his cage, seemingly about to depart this world. Tobey had been acquired earlier in the year as a retired participant in my youngest daughter’s school science project, designed to expose students to the wonders and responsibilities of caring for a small creature. All of my children, along with my wife, pleaded with me to seek immediate medical attention for him. Failing to convince them of the difficulty of dealing with this problem late on a snowy Christmas Eve, I finally relented and, grabbing the Yellow Pages, undertook the task of locating a veterinarian who wouldn’t dismiss me outright as a complete lunatic. Racing the clock, I eventually discovered a single animal hospital which, miraculously, remained open at that late hour. The doctor on duty hastened to remind me that I would have to pay the holiday rate for his services, and I desperately agreed. Loading the caged Tobey, and one of our guests who had offered his assistance, into the family car, we headed off into the cold, winter night.
Once at the hospital, we were ushered into an examination room. The veterinarian carefully lifted Tobey from his cage and, as he proceeded with a rectal exam, Tobey, in his endangered and disoriented state, proceeded to sink his tiny but sharp little teeth deeply into the vet’s finger. The next sound we heard was that of Tobey hitting the oor and, in a split second, he was gone, having sped away to the nearest hiding place. The scene was straight out of a Hollywood comedy – three grown men, on all fours, furiously searching for a tiny ball of fur. Having moved all the furniture in the room, we nally spotted him, secreted behind a bookcase. The vet quickly recaptured him and nished his examination which yielded the diagnosis of a vitamin deficiency. Two injections followed — a supplement for the hamster, a jolt of tetanus vaccine for the vet.
With our revitalized rodent in hand, we piled back into the car for the trip home. As we reached our destination, we were greeted with wild screams of gleeful appreciation. Tobey, now fully energized, immediately jumped on his treadwheel and was spinning away, heedless of the immense commotion he had caused. Suddenly the house came alive with joy, and amid the feelings of gratitude all around, we completed our decorating, as well as the eggnog, and bade our guests goodnight as they departed. After our children were tucked into bed, my wife and I returned to the living room to recount the evening’s events. I commented that God acts in mysterious ways when he reveals to us the virtues of a thankful existence.
Just the other day I happened to be watching a TED Talk, featuring interfaith scholar Brother David Steindl-Rast, who advised his audience that, “Those of us who regularly practice gratitude are the ones who are truly happy.” I smiled when I heard that, and remembered a tiny hamster and one Christmas Eve long ago.