“But have you noticed how we don’t want to change when things change?” The moment I read this question on the first page, I knew this book’s message would far surpass its lighthearted title. It instantly made me think of one of the wisest and most important lessons my grandmother has taught me thus far – change is the only constant in life. When we feel like we are stuck in a box, we crave change. When change occurs, we crave being stuck back in the box. This concept resonated with me during my senior year of college, as I eagerly researched new cities with a strong desire to escape my narrow world in Mississippi. Little did I know, I would soon find out that I was unexpectedly pregnant. This would force me to move back to my small hometown with the people that have made me the happiest, yet somehow had resented and taken for granted. Change can be devastating if it is misaligned with our expectations. After all, expectations tend to be the secret cause of our own unhappiness. As I read further, I began to discover a pattern of themes that described the very lessons I have learned over the past three years.
In summary, two Littlepeople in the story, “Hem” and “Haw”, and two mice, “Sniff” and “Scurry”, were all in search to find cheese that would make them happy. “Hem” and “Haw” had more complex brains and behaviors, using trial and error and problem solving to navigate the maze, while “Sniff” and “Scurry” were simple and instinctual, simply sniffing out and not analyzing things to navigate the maze. In the end, all four characters found cheese at Cheese Station C, but as all four of them ate the cheese, the supply slowly began to get low over time. “Hem” and “Haw” woke up every morning and would walk to the cheese station out of habit, not once doubting the supply would be gone or noticing the supply lowering. “Sniff” and “Scurry”, running solely on instincts, would wake up hungry and run as fast as they could to the cheese station, but they noticed the supply getting low and began to prepare to find a new cheese station. When the supply was finally gone, the Littlepeople were shocked and devastated, searching for it everywhere for days in a row and finally angrily convincing
themselves that someone else had done this to them unfairly. The mice were already on their way back into the maze to find the next cheese supply, not concerned with blaming or waiting around to continue the search in the same station. Ultimately, “Hem” became fed up with searching and complaining, deciding to face the music and wander back into the maze to find more. “Haw”, on the other hand, refused to acknowledge the reality of the situation, and stayed behind to pout and continue searching because the maze was too dangerous.
Who would have thought mice characters in a simple book would describe me so accurately? But as I sat in bed with this story in my lap, I discovered I am the following: currently a “Hem”, who used to be a “Haw” but needs to become a “Sniff”. While “Hem” searched for cheese to attain materialistic aspects and success, “Haw” was searching for cheese to feel secure and build a future. This is one aspect of “Haw” I related with instantly, as I thought back to my desperation when I realized my plans to apply to Occupational Therapy school soon might have been shattered by my pregnancy. Not only does my pregnancy and future career have symbolism in this context, but also my role as a single mother. As I stepped back into the maze, or was rather forced back into it, I was able to find one aspect of my cheese in my acceptance to school with support of my parents. In contrast, one of the most important aspects of my correlation with “Hem” is how he responded when he discovered that the cheese was gone. Ranting and raving, feeling like it was unfair, analyzing the situation over and over, questioning who had done this to him and why – this is how I have continuously responded to broken expectations, blind and unwelcome change, and feeling like I don’t know where to go next in life. My entrance back into the maze was only the beginning of the lessons, and quite possibly the most critical and difficult lessons I will experience in my life. But the maze would still lead me to places that were disappointing in my romantic and personal relationships.
I had become a “Hem”, wondering skeptically back out into the maze of life, devastated that I had lost my cheese. I began to shift into the mindset that I was unfulfilled as a single mother, and I desired someone to love me and my daughter enough to complete our lives and our family. When reading the part of the story when “Hem” finally stumbles upon a grand new cheese station that looks like it will be filled with cheese, I was very moved. I could feel the relief and excitement of the character, who was hungry and tired of searching, as I pictured myself meeting someone who I believed would be the person I may marry. As “Hem” walking into the new station to find it empty and already depleted by others who had been there before him, I could picture the emotional experience of discovering that the person I had met was too hurt from his past relationships to step into a new one and move forward with commitment. I felt as though someone was playing a cruel joke on me, teasing me with something so good and leading me so close to what I desired, simply to leave me disappointed and even more tired of searching than before.
“Hem” was deeply lonely and wondered whether he should go back home to “Haw” to fill void, even if it meant he would still be hungry. In that moment, he realized that he could not go back, nor could he try to convince “Haw” to join him in the maze. He had to keep moving with his head up and accept that he had already done everything he could to convince him to leave. Although it hurt, he decided he had to allow “Haw” to learn for himself in his own time. After feeling like my life wasn’t fair after a life-altering unexpected pregnancy, a forceful move back to a life stuck in my hometown, and now a devastating breakup with someone I thought was my future, I was unsure how to cope. I could attempt to convince this person that they were making a mistake and lose my self-respect by not accepting that they chose to let me go, or I go push forward and go back out into the maze alone again.
Not only did I find one empty cheese station that looked promising on the outside, but I was also met again with another captivating relationship that left me empty and as if I was doing something wrong. Just as “Haw” did in the story, I began to self-reflect on the patterns and behaviors that were leading me to empty cheese stations. I began to wander down new corridors and started enjoying the freedom that the maze of life had given me. I became more and more confident in my ability to be a single mother and decided to shift my mindset away from thinking that cheese could ever fulfill me. Cheese could not truly fulfill me. What fulfills me is the maze. While I am hungry and tired at times, still searching for something great to come into my life, I am no longer consumed by the idea that I will be unhappy without cheese. I have begun to look back proudly at how far I have traveled in the maze.
The story ends as “Hem” finally finds a new cheese station, this time not empty, but filled with more cheese than Cheese Station C ever had. And just like “Haw”, I never realized that the whole time, my daughter has been that very same cheese station. Although the maze didn’t look promising, the moment I became her mother and as I have watched her learn and grow into a toddler, I am astounded at how much more of a blessing she in in my life than I had ever imagined. And just like “Hem”, I know I will find an even better relationship, looking back with gratitude as I remember I would still be blindly stuck at an empty cheese station.