Softening The Heart With A Rat

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I have a soft toy rat who sits, most of the time, on my bedroom window sill looking out. He’s a good subject to draw and I like using him as a model.

I bought him two Christmases ago at IKEA and he’s remained nameless – I’m not that sentimental – though I can’t help noticing that I think of him as him rather than it. I pick him up at least twice a day whenever I raise or lower the window blinds and without fail, every time I handle him, my heart softens and I find myself caressing him a little, holding his round little body against my chest and stroking his soft fleecy back. I’ve been known to whisper in his ear.

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David Bennett just published a lovely image on his photography blog that had my heart softening in just the same way; he says

Here they are – three soft toys in a window.Though I saw them from across the road as I was passing and they were three small blobs in an upstairs window, I felt my heart soften – funny creatures that we humans are.

Funny creatures that we humans are. It’s true, we are. What is it about a soft rat or a teddy bear that has this effect on us?

We’re not responding to them as if they were the animals they represent (I don’t dislike rats but I wouldn’t feel quite the same sensation of love if I picked up a real one). As a child I didn’t have many soft toys (I do still have the small button-eyed bear I had from my earliest years, perhaps more of him in another post); growing up we weren’t short of real animals to stroke and play with, so perhaps the need for something cuddly wasn’t so noticeable – but really it’s not about that. There’s a friendship and a kind of love that can spring up between a human and a teddy bear, or a rat, or a soft-whatever, even though we know that in truth it’s a one-sided affair. These are creatures that are undemanding and reliable, but also vulnerable; they depend on us for everything – they can’t even move about on their own and for this at least, they need us.

We need to love, and these soft things melt our hearts.
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