Exit the Rat

brush sketch of a rat on gold background
What’s not to love?

The new lunar year is almost upon us, and the doughty Ox is about to take over. But what of the year that was? I happen to be a Rat, and the year that is ebbing was supposed to be ours. I hesitate to attempt a word to describe this past year, but one I would not be inclined to select is ‘auspicious’. So how should we rats feel about our birthday year being the one to bring calamity on so many? Should we feel grateful that this particular plague had nothing to do with rats, specifically? Or do we have the right to lament, “who moved our cheese?”

The glory of the Rat was to win the race to the heavenly gate, and we congratulate ourselves on our noted ability to think outside the Ox. However, the story to reach for this time around feels less like the victory of a leap to solid ground ahead of the other animals, and more like something to do with sinking ships or Pied Pipers. In any case, we are certainly the ones who are being chased out of the dry comfort of a ship’s hold or men’s Sunday hat and into a large body of turbulent water.

Living side by side with humans of all nations and eras, the rat’s presence in literature, folklore and art is secure. Cast out like a low-rent version of the scapegoat, the rat can never be expelled forever. Not while it still has lessons to teach. Please watch this exquisite animation of Robert Browning’s Pied Piper of Hamelin poem, because there could not be a better point in history to revisit a fable designed to make us confront the question of what we value, and the imperative to commit ourselves to offering what they are worth to those who help us keep those things. Look how useful the rats were for ensuring the villagers did that.

Fellow rats, what kind of rat were you this year? Winner against all odds and likelihood? Plague? Ship? Riverbank? Or Piped to an ignominious yet oddly festive doom? Rats are survivors, and perhaps our virtues will become apparent over the course of our next cycle. As we watch the tail of the rat disappear, please be kind, and dwell more on tenacity than pestilence.

2 thoughts on “Exit the Rat

    • Much appreciated. No fretting about jinxing here, we all need to keep it simple and wish the best for everyone whenever the opportunity arises.

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