To graduate from the university I attended, one had to demonstrate a reading knowledge of a foreign language. Although normally I was a good student, I had already failed the French proficiency twice. I was finishing an extra two-hour course designed for duds like me, and I hated it. I was determined to pass this third test so I could forget French as rapidly as possible.
The morning of the exam, I went over to the campus early to do some last minute reviewing. I went to a basement lounge that was so unpleasant I knew no one would likely to be there to distract me. It was a musty place with small windows at the very top of the ceiling. Cheap wicker furniture provided the theme for the decor which was dreary. Drop lights from the ceiling were in keeping with the rest of the atmosphere. I threw the raincoat I had worn on a sort of cot-couch, got out my vocabulary list, and settled down to study, angry at the necessity.
Hearing a noise, I looked over in the corner and saw a bright-eyed little chipmunk trying to disappear from my view. "Oh," I thought, "he'll never be able to get out of this place! He must have fallen from one of those high windows!"
The chipmunks on the campus were very dear creatures to me. The center section had been left in lovely beech wood forestry with trails leading through to various areas of buildings. The chipmunks populated this area profusely, and I had spent many absorbed hours sitting under a tree watching them scurry about in work and play. When I saw this poor fellow caught in that dingy basement lounge, I had to try to help.
Putting my books aside, I chased him from one corner to another. The more frightened he became, the more desperately I pursued. My fear was that when I did catch him, I might hurt his tender body if I squeezed enough to hold him in his terror. Cornering him at last, I lunged and grabbed his tail. I got it all right but, much to my horror, it came off right in my hand!
What a gone feeling I had as I stood there in the gloom with the chipmunk's tail in my hand! The poor creature had retired to another corner and shivered there quivering while I stood stunned at what I had done. I had to help him now! This time I was more crafty. I dropped the tail, grabbed my raincoat, and threw it over him. Then I gathered him in the bundle of my coat and put the whole thing out the window, standing on a rickety folding chair to make the reach.
He soon scuttled from under the raincoat back to the forest, and I went back to my books, realizing as I opened them that it was time to go up and take my test. As I sat in the test guessing the meaning of the foreign words, I was wondering what happened to my chipmunk. What would his fellow creatures think about a munk without a tail? Would he be better off dead? Had I helped him, or ruined him for life?
Years later I learned that this tail losing propensity is a protective device common to all chipmunks. No doubt he found others in his underground runways with the same lack. I doubt also if differences matter as much to chipmunks as they do to people.
My involvement in the needs of others continues to be a problem, not only to me but to others as well. A friend of mine once characterized me as a catalyst. I had to look the term up in the dictionary before I could decide whether or not this was a compliment. I'm still not sure. In my concern about the world, its people, and its problems, I constantly agitate situations, and not always for the good of those concerned. I did pass my French examination, and I also rescued the chipmunk even though he was somewhat the worse for wear; but a wiser soul might have left the lounge door open so the chipmunk could find his own escape.