An Ode to the Rats of Harvard
It creates a certain amount of cognitive dissonance when we find ourselves, at a hallowed institution, co-existing with vermin. They shit, for one thing, and we do not want to live in buildings where shit is not swiftly flushed into some larger body of water. This is fair. Additionally, their mere existence inspires in us a fear predating the Black Plague, and we cannot be blamed for our human instincts.
But we must admit that rats, in a Kondo-ian sense, are necessary. For some, they spark joy. During the Head of the Charles, I was walking on Mt. Auburn St. trying to avoid tourists, when one lady who managed to cross my path noticed me dodging a sizable rat.
“Was that a giant rat?!” The question sounded like an existential plea; she was incredulous that we would tolerate such a thing.
“Yep,” I said, making quick, proud eye contact before scampering to my dorm. I couldn’t help but feel pride that my psyche was impervious to something so disturbing to her. “A rat is no big deal,” I thought. “I see them every day.”
And indeed I do, especially as it gets darker earlier. We live in a city, after all. It’s comforting to watch a rat frolic through a decrepit stone wall as I take a quieter alley from Mass Ave to Mount Auburn. Their unwarranted hurry makes mine feel more worthwhile. Even the tiny creatures of Harvard get things done. Like our men in suits, even our rats have their clubs — I often see them outside our beloved 14 Plympton St.
Why, after all, do we hate rats but love squirrels? A squirrel is a rat wearing a Canada Goose jacket. Cantabrigian rats probably far outnumber Cantabrigian squirrels, and yet tourists take photos of one and shriek at the other. Have they not the same illnesses, the same temperaments, the same size? Just because only one species has a propensity for climbing trees does not mean that they are inherently better than the other.
I feel solidarity with the rats. They walk the same streets we do. They live in the same buildings. They eat the same food, as we have seen in many of our dhalls. Rats fight each other, they have turf, they ostensibly copulate. I bet rats have imposter syndrome too.
In the old ideal of Harvard, rats were conspicuously absent. But today, rats are here. They have clawed their way to the Ivy League in a way not so dissimilar from our own aspiring academics.
In a way, are we not all the rats of Harvard?