By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published October 2, 2015
I was sitting on the back deck the other night when I heard a chipmunk calling for a mate. The rhythmic clucks could be mistaken for birdsong, but a few years ago I witnessed one of these furry fellows emitting these distinctive sounds—so I can attest that there is no bird involved.
The next evening I didn’t hear the clucks, so I hoped the chipmunk’s earnest pleas had been answered—and he had found someone to his liking. In fact, I envisioned the twosome diligently decking out an underground hollow with a fine pantry in anticipation of chilly weather.
When I was a child, I became enamored of a chipmunk—named “Chippie,” of course—who resided on the grounds of my aunt and uncle’s lovely home in Yonkers, which we city dwellers from Queens, New York, called the “country.”
My parents, sister and I would visit often on weekends and exclaim over the lush and thriving garden where my aunt and uncle grew greens, tomatoes, squash and beans. This rustic setting became even more magical when I discovered that my uncle had befriended a wild animal—in this case, a chipmunk.
I watched in awe as the wily creature skittered down the tree when my uncle called his name—and then plucked a peanut from my uncle’s hand. Of course, I was eager to join the fun, so before long, I was standing at the foot of the tree, waiting for Chippie to heed my call and take the peanut—which he did, over and over.
On our visits, I couldn’t wait to race from the car to be reunited with the chipmunk I had come to dearly love. But then one day my uncle took me aside and informed me, ever so gently, that Chippie had been run over by a car.
I wept so much that night that I ran out of tears—and was inconsolable for a long time afterward. I don’t think my parents ever realized how deeply I mourned that tiny animal, whom I loved with every inch of that tender heart children alone possess.
Only God in his infinite wisdom could have known that decades later I would befriend another chipmunk, also named (of course) Chippie. Earlier this summer, I gained this striped fellow’s trust by placing sunflower seeds on our front steps and then calling his name.
Before long, he associated my voice with treats—and would scamper to the porch whenever I beckoned. After a few weeks, I took the next step, which was crouching down and extending a hand with a peanut in it.
It took him a few attempts to conquer his initial fear, but then he grabbed the prize and rushed triumphantly away.
Now each morning at breakfast I look out the window and see him perched pensively on the porch steps as if to declare, “Hurry up! I’m hungry!” Like clockwork, I obediently get a peanut and go outside—and I’d be hard pressed to say which one of us gets a bigger thrill out of the routine.
Even in the midst of my grieving, I look forward to Chippie’s morning visits. On the days when he doesn’t show up, I worry a bit, but then realize he’s probably busy serenading lady chipmunks in the backyard.
To me one of life’s great agonies is our inability to see the big picture like God does. Our vision is so limited, and we tend to think that whatever our current suffering is, it will never end.
True, the psalmist assures us God’s mercy endures forever, but we may still feel at times like a little child sobbing in bed, completely forgotten.
I consider the chipmunk’s friendship a rare gift—and a glimmer of light in a mighty dark world. He is such a humble creature, like the sparrow in the Gospels, but still important in the eyes of God who seems to favor the weak and the small.
Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” These words, I trust, are meant for everyone who suffers, since the one who sees the sparrow fall, and hears the chipmunk call, surely heeds the prayers of those who weep at night.
Artwork by Jef Murray. Lorraine’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.