Humans are so like these tiny subterranean creatures that find haven under our log piles. Movies have been produced about them, feed stores promise ways to eradicate them. They are, as the Greeks have named them, Tamias, translated as “treasurer,” “steward” or” housekeeper.” Meet the mighty chipmunk.
We share some of the same qualities as they do. These verbs also explain why our lives are so crazy. These multi-talented, striped fur balls move at high speeds but are very different in one way than us humans: they sleep an average of fifteen hours per day, perhaps something we could learn from. Chasing chipmunks made me think of how harried our lives are and how, in the chase, we miss the reason for the journey.
As I observed my dog Maggie chasing chipmunks all summer long, I was amazed at how her entire existence was spent chasing these prolific fur balls. She would inhale their scents and become even more frenzied when she believed that she was close to capturing one. While these “striped squirrels” taunted Maggie with their intrusive presence, the property owners were dealing with chipmunk issues of their own. They were devising ways to reduce their population since they were such a menace, but unfortunately their attempts only led to several broken chipmunk legs and one accidental drowning. In despair at their failed efforts to reduce the numbers of these creatures they gave up, and the rascals were free once again to terrorize my dog and the property owners. I even imagined them laughing at us as they sat perched on rocks just two feet away while we discussed their annoyances. How could something so cute be so menacing?
What do chipmunks have to do with the American way and why are we so reminiscent of them? Aren’t we scurrying about daily collecting all that we can for survival, trying to be good stewards of what we were blessed with and, of course, continually dealing with housekeeping issues of all kinds. Unlike a very goal-directed chipmunk, we, however, chase things for very different reasons. It is the American way to pursue our dreams, the career, the money, the best things in life, but I contend that we are running away from something(s), never quite capturing it, as my tired pup finally realized. When we busy ourselves with a million other things that were not intended for us, we miss what was set aside for us as our purpose.
According to Matthew Kelly in his book “Perfectly Yourself,” “we use activity to distract us from the real questions, from the real work of our lives, from restlessness and conflicts that are raging within us.” Or we do things out of feelings of guilt or obligation because we think we “should.” Thou shalt not should thyself! We move so fast, going from one task to another with barely a breath in between, to fill the void in our lives we pretend isn’t there. Matthew Kelly also reminds us that “for the most part, we are too busy doing just about everything, that means just about nothing, to just about nobody, just about anywhere … and will mean even less to anyone a hundred years from now.”
Experts, and indeed our Savior, have said that we need to go to a quiet place and get some rest (Mark 6:31). Often, what is going on inside of us is only a reflection of what is going on around us. The more clarity we can experience internally, the more we will thrive externally. Our “timber tiger,” the eastern chipmunk, is unaware that he excels in this area of clarity. They focus on gathering food, procreating and then rest for a coveted amount of time. Instead of allowing the chipmunks in our lives to taunt us with hopes of a better life, we could take lessons from them. They are fulfilling their purpose and not chasing dreams or activities that distract them.
It is a fundamental prerequisite and the American way to chase your dreams. I believe that this process becomes something like chasing chipmunks… always getting close but never actually quite catching one and missing so much along the way. We all should desire and hopefully achieve our dreams, but it requires clarity, rest and perhaps more capturing than chasing.
Roman Betty Schaaf is a volunteer, a writer, a sojourner and a self-described wellness addict.