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ShallowDeep > Parables > Hamster

‘The Hamster’

He woke with a start. Despite the cosiness of his shredded paper bed he’d felt an odd sensation, as if he were falling.  It had been a restless dream haunted by worries that could not be solved. But it was now already dark within his rigid plastic house. He had overslept and was late for work. He nestled back into his bed for just a second. It would be lovely to just stay in there and let the world take care of itself. He yawned the widest yawn, revealing his surprisingly long and pointy teeth, and then got up anyway, only pausing to check that he had enough food in the house – Yes, there were plenty of seeds gathered around his bed. He liked to sleep with his food. That way he knew exactly where it was.
The Hamster hurried out of his door, quickly covering the six inches of sawdust to his office. He climbed straight into his wheel and, immediately, he heard the reassuring squeaking noise that meant he was doing something. It was a relief to know, that now, no one could accuse him of laziness. He felt refreshed and strong and the first hour of the night-shift seemed to fly past, his little legs a blur of running. After the second hour he was starting to flag.
         “Maybe another ten minutes,” he thought, “and I’ll give myself a break …and a snack.”
So he did just that. He tumble off his wheel, ambled wearily back to his little yellow house, with the sloping red roof and settled back into his bed. This time it wasn’t to sleep, but to munch on his store of food.
Just as he was snapping through the shell of his third sunflower seed there came the unexpected sound of his cage opening, quickly followed by a flood of bright light as the roof of his house was lifted off. It was his owner. Her hand gently scooped him up and he burned with shame. He had been caught red handed, slacking when he should have been working. An uncomfortable guilt had been building in his chest ever since he’d climbed off his wheel. No, actually, it had started when he’d first thought about taking a break. He felt bad that he hadn’t done enough, and now he had been found out. Although his owner was smiling and talking gently to him he knew what she must be thinking – What he really deserved was a good telling off.
He wanted to wriggle free of all this touching and stroking, because he didn’t deserve it. He needed to get back on his wheel and prove he could do better. So, although he would otherwise have enjoyed the attention, he made a show of hanging off the edge of his owner’s grip, as if trying to jump, as she passed him from hand to hand.
But she produced his food and he eagerly took the seeds, nuts and cheese. (Oh, the cheese!) Taking each piece in his teeth, he turned it over in his tiny hands and tucked it into his cheek. Even though they were delicious morsels, he didn’t pause to taste any of them, he just wanted to hoard all he could. His constant fear was that he would run out. Even though his owner had always fed him, and had never given any suggestion that she might withhold food, he had a gnawing anxiety that food might become scarce.
In a short time his cheeks were bulging with supplies. His owner stroked his cheek feeling the shape of each nut hidden there and spoke softly and kindly to him. Not that he heard any of the words; his own internal voice drowned them out:
         “Will she try and get these back off me? I need to store them safely in my house. And I must get back to my wheel. She might lose patience with me. She can’t really love me. I’m just not loveable.”
It wasn’t true of course; none of it, but the Hamster didn’t know this.
His owner put him back into his cage and flipped off the light switch as she left the room. The Hamster scrambled back into his house having to twist his head to get through the door, so wide were his cheeks now. The chink, chink, chink noise of the seeds falling onto the plastic floor inside came to the ears of another creature who was nearby…

In the gloom a grey mouse appeared, close to the skirting board, his beady black eyes glinting and his whiskers twitching and sniffing the dark air. There were so many smells: Old cloth, dust, hamster droppings … and cheese. Was that cheese? Dry hard cheese, but definitely cheese. The Mouse followed the smell to the edge of the hamster’s cage. He arrived just as the Hamster was making the short journey from house to wheel. The Mouse looked at the Hamster quizzically. The Hamster saw him, but continued to climb on the wheel and start trundling.
         “Is that cheese I can smell?” asked the Mouse.
         “Yes, but it’s my cheese,” replied the Hamster emphatically.
         “You have cheese that you haven’t eaten?” The Mouse was part-surprised, part-hopeful.
         “I’m saving it,” replied the Hamster firmly, not sure it was anyone’s business but his own.
         “Why would you have a tasty bit of cheese and not eat it right away?”
         “I need to have some food in reserve, in case I run out.”
         “Food is for eating not for saving. I’m the one who doesn’t know where the next meal is coming from, whereas you are a tame rodent. You have an owner to feed you.”
         “That may be so, but it’s by no mean’s certain. I need to be careful, prepared for the worst.”
         “You can’t spend your life worrying about tomorrow. Food is for the stomach,” said the Mouse, still hoping to get his teeth into some of the Hamster’s cheese. “Let’s share the cheese together and enjoy it while it’s at its best!”
The Hamster chose to ignore this last comment as it made him feel uncomfortable. For those who are anxious about such things find it very hard to be generous.
         “At least you’ve got someone who feeds you every day,” the Mouse scoffed as he turned to go. “You should be more grateful.” (For even the Mouse knew that gratitude always leads to generosity.) As for the Mouse, he would have to find his meal wherever he could.

The next day and throughout the following night something happened in the world of humans. There was no light, no heat and ice formed on the inside of all the windows. It was so cold that it caused the Hamster to shiver. His ancestors had come from a very hot country, and he was used to it being nice and warm in his cage, so the cold came as a tremendous shock. He huddled up in his little house, where he could stay the warmest, and the strangest thing happened to him there. He fell into a deep, deep sleep. His heart slowed almost to a standstill and he became as cold as death itself. He made no movement for many hours.
When the power came back on, his owner came to the Hamster’s cage to change his water and feed. Initially, when she found him, she was filled with sadness at the death of the pet she loved so much. She held his still little body up to her face, saw how perfectly delicate his whiskers were and she decided in her heart that this death would not endure. This would be no death at all, but instead a hibernation. She filled a hot water bottle with gently warm water, placed him upon it, covered him with her own woolly scarf and breathed gently on him.
After about ten minutes those ever so fine whiskers started to twitch. After half an hour he was fully awake. It was as if a miracle had happened and his owner was overjoyed to see him alive again. But he was not the same. He was very weak and when he tried to move he limped with his head tilted to one side. There would be no running on his wheel now and no hoarding of food.
His owner took great care of him, giving him drops of water on the tip of her finger and feeding him seeds that she had already cracked open for him. The Hamster was helpless now; he could do no work in return for his feed.
He spoke to himself again, “I can’t accept any of this. There is no way I can pay her back.” But he had no choice; he had to receive her kindness, he was unable to turn it away.

This went on for several days. And, as the time passed, the Hamster became more accepting of his state and of the care he was being given. The sound of his own internal voice, that had driven him and scolded him for as long as he could remember, was quieting now with each mouthful of food and each drop of water. And as his mind stilled, for the first time, he heard the voice of his owner, really heard her, and the words she was speaking:
         “You are such a beautiful boy… I love you so… I just want you to get better.”
Although her words went against everything he believed about himself and about the way he thought life should work, he took them into his heart and dared to believe they might be true. And, as he did, he felt a peace wash over him like he had never felt before. Gone were the worries about tomorrow’s food and where it would come from. Gone was the fear that he hadn’t done enough to earn her approval. He was able to simply be, and be loved in the now of his small life. He now understood that he need do nothing to deserve his owner’s love nor to it pay back and, since he was unable to, he could accept it was true.
Once the Hamster had found peace in his mind, his body began to heal as well. He started to move freely again and his head straightened. All the effects of his early awakening from hibernation had reversed. His owner no longer needed to feed him by hand and he was able to return to sleep in his house.

Although it seemed that the Hamster was back to normal now, and it looked like nothing had changed, in truth, everything had changed. He had realised once and for all that all his work on his wheel had actually been achieving nothing. He had just been keeping busy to smother his feeling of guilt, his false guilt. Now, knowing the true love of his owner, that sense of owing her something was gone. Instead he could receive her love freely and freely he would love her back. His sense of debt was replaced by a sense of gratitude.
From that point on the Hamster did less sleeping during the day, so that he could be awake for his owner if she came to visit him. Whenever he heard her voice he would come out of his house and reach up to be picked up. He no longer tried to get away, instead he lay on his back, in her hand, allowing her to tickle his tummy and would just enjoyed being loved. When she fed him his food, he would eat sitting in the palm of her hand, no longer stuffing the seeds into his cheeks. He would eat until he was satisfied and no more. No longer did he worry about what he would eat the next day. He knew he could trust his owner to take care of that.

A few nights later the Mouse returned again to the Owner’s house to pay the Hamster another visit. He found him in his cage as usual.
         “Hello friend, are you still pounding on that wheel? Haven’t you got there yet?” he mocked.
         This time the Hamster stopped running and rocked gently back and forth on his wheel, looking at the face on the other side of the bars. “I haven’t seen you for a while. Where have you been?”
The Mouse was surprised by the reception as the Hamster hadn’t taken any interest in him before.
         “I’ve been roaming around the neighbourhood looking for food. It’s in short supply you know.”
         “Not here, I have plenty. My owner wonderful, she feeds me every day.”
The wily Mouse thought the Hamster foolish to mention food not yet eaten because, as every rodent knows, theft is second nature to a wild mouse. The Mouse thought it worth trying his luck.
         “You have some you haven’t eaten then?” he enquired.
         “Yes, would you like some?”
The Mouse was really taken aback now. He had been ready to try and sweet-talk the Hamster out of his savoury supplies, but felt too easy. Was there a catch? The Hamster didn’t wait for a reply and started to pick the nuts out of his bowl and push them through the bars with his tiny hands.
         “What’s wrong with these?” asked the Mouse suspiciously.
         “It’s all good,” enthused the Hamster. “It doesn’t matter if I get a little hungry tonight, more will arrive for me in the morning.”
With food in his hands now, the Mouse was wise enough not to ask any more questions. The attitude of this hamster had changed considerably. The Hamster could see this in himself too. No longer was he anxious. Now he trusted his owner to meet all his needs. It wasn’t that she hadn’t done so before, but now he could trust fully in her love for him knowing that it wasn’t dependent on what he did, or didn’t, do. Her love had been proved to him.
The Mouse munched his way through all the unexpected goodies, his eyes still scanning all around – he was always on his guard. This was when he noticed something unusual.
         “Look!” he exclaimed, “you’ve got a chance to escape.”
The Hamster froze, his whiskers trembling in the darkness as he saw through the gloom what the Mouse had seen. His cage door, that was normally always shut, had been left open. He didn’t know it, but his owner had left it open and not by accident.
         “Come on,” the Mouse encouraged him, “This is your chance to be free.”
         The Hamster hesitated. “But my owner, she would miss me.”
         “You can’t pass by this opportunity. It’s every animal’s right to be free,” insisted the Mouse.
         “… and I would miss her.” The Hamster was conflicted.
         “Don’t worry. I’ll show you the ropes. Come with me.”
         “But it would be nice to know what it feels like, to be free,” reasoned the Hamster. And with that thought climbed through the open door.
Like a rat up a drainpipe the Mouse darted away into the darkness and the Hamster scurried along behind him. Hugging close to the skirting board as he ran, the Hamster felt a surge of exhilaration. It was as if all his running on the wheel had been training for this moment. He ran and ran, around corners, under furniture, past doors until he arrived back at his cage again.
         The Mouse called from a gap in the corner, “Over here. This is the way to the outside world.” And with that he disappeared from sight.
The Hamster looked at his cage. He realised that he was free now, truly free, free to choose. He could go anywhere he wanted. But what he wanted, he decided, was to be with his owner. So he climbed back into his cage, but now less of a cage and more fully a home.

The Hamster may now look just as he did before, but what he knows has changed his entire world. The lies he used to believe as true, the lies that spoke so loudly in his mind, have been silenced. Now he hears every word his owner speaks to him clearly and he believes them all. His owner’s words can be trusted even more than his own thoughts. And all her words are kindness.
He doesn’t hoard food now, and his worries are few. He still runs on his wheel every day, but not because he feels compelled to; he runs simply for the joy of running. He runs because he is full of energy and strength and because that is just what hamsters do. But he is now as content in his running as he is in his resting. He doesn’t need to be busy to be OK, because he knows what it is to be truly loved. His cage door stays open now and whenever he takes himself for a run around the room, the choice to leave is always ever present. He passes the hole where the Mouse disappeared every time. But he always chooses to stay, because he loves his owner, just as she loves him.

© M Day 30-Nov-2022

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The issues of workaholism, scarcity, performing for acceptance and internal dialog.


You can read the whole of the ‘The Hamster’ parable here.


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The Hamster lives his life on a treadmill, working to assuage his feeling of guilt. He mistrusts his owner on the basis of his own misconceptions and fears of scarcity. But then, falling ill and unable to earn his keep, he discovers that he is loved for himself and not for what he does. This realisation is transformative and he gains trust, peace and a generosity that his previous fears would never have allowed.


Download 'The Wasp' in pdf format ‘The Hamster’ in pdf format (on request only)

Download 'Questions for Reflection' in pdf format Questions for Reflection
This is a resource to help you think through the issue raised in each of the other stories. You can use the questions for group discussion or to reflect on by yourself.


Word count : 2,863
Est. read aloud time: 19 mins 30 secs