In total, two rats have met their maker long before they hoped or imagined inside my home at the hands of Troy Livesay, semi-pro rat slayer. Both of the aforementioned rats were the unconscionable and truly despicable variety that dare to come all the way upstairs in a people house. <Gah!>
On one occasion my husband chased a large rat around our bathroom with a shovel. He struggled valiantly. He swung and missed. He swung and missed again. He brought the Mastiff in from outside to help. The rat changed directions with agility and dexterity no human can match. Troy was determined to crush the life out of this nasty varmint that had somehow made it to our second floor bathroom.
I think we can all agree, a rat entering a home and hanging out on the ground-floor level or checking out the options for snack time in the kitchen is one thing – but a rat that will come up the stairs (two flights no less!) to the bedrooms, where the people sleep, that kind of rat is an entirely different and bold beast.
Each time I use our bathroom shower, I smirk when I see the broken piece of tile in the corner. One of Troy’s swings at the rat landed on the wall of the shower and took out a chunk of shiny peach colored ceramic tile. Our landlord will likely shrug and laugh it off. If we ever tell him, that is.
That broken tile is a reminder to me.
It reminds me that rats happen. We don’t invite rats. Rats happen on occasion, despite our best efforts to keep them out.
Several years ago, long before the bold bathroom rat, a woman wrote me to tell me that she found it disgusting that we would choose to raise our children in Haiti. She said that raising them in a place with rodents and tropical illness and so much poverty was irresponsible and even reprehensible. She said that it was our selfishness driving us to do what we wanted without thinking about what it would do to our children. She took an even more personal shot and told me that my older daughter (she was referring to my second born) would grow up to resent me for where we had chosen to raise her.
At the time I received that message, it hurt – it hurt a lot, actually. We had just gone through a round of illnesses and the attack felt way too specific and personal, although it was written by a complete stranger. I carried her words around with me for a while. I gave them a lot of thought. I worried maybe it was true in some way. After some time had passed, I allowed those words to slip from the front of my memory.
Recently an acquaintance shared the horror of walking into her home, in the well manicured upper-class suburban area she lives, to find that while she was gone on vacation a disrespectful gang of rats had some sort of inappropriate birthing party in her kitchen. The irrefutable evidence was there before her on her kitchen floor and countertops.
…In Haiti and Suburbia it turns out.
That story made me think about the cruel message from way back when.
The things (both large and consequential and small and insignificant) that happen in our lives that are not comfortable and fun or cushy, crisp, and clean are not some sort of sign that we are doing something wrong. The crap that goes totally haywire and way outside of the plans we carefully laid do not indicate failure or lack of personal character.
Those things are a sign of something else. They are a sign that we are living — like, really living.
Money and prestige, power and location, lifestyle and approach … Even they cannot guarantee a single one of us a rat-free life.
The longer I live in Haiti and work with the materially poor, the more I learn about dealing faithfully, courageously, and graciously with the rats of life. My friends and neighbors teach that over and over again without knowing they are teachers.
And while our chosen location may very well mean more struggle (rats) and less insulation from it, there is nowhere I’d rather be.