There was a department head once who was neither better nor worse than he ought to be, but who was kind and generous for all of that. A tithe of his every paycheck went to charity, and he always gave a dollar or two to homeless people who asked him politely. He didn’t like his job very much, but he’d done it for long enough that he did it well. Sometimes at his desk he would look out the window at where the endless gray clouds thinned slightly and think about going up through them in an airplane. Above the clouds, he knew, was a white meadow and bright sunshine.
When he left for work one morning, he accidentally backed his car over a squirrel. Because he had a tender heart, the department head stopped the car and got out to check on the squirrel. He had broken its back, but it was still alive.
“I’m sorry,” he told the squirrel, and meant it. “I didn’t mean to kill you.” He took the hammer out of the toolbox in his trunk, and raised it above his head.
The squirrel screamed a tiny squirrel scream. “Ahhhh,” it said. “What have you done! Kill me, and you won’t be unrewarded.”
The department head hesitated. “I don’t want anything,” he said. “Not for killing you.” The squirrel just screamed again. Down came the hammer – whoosh! — and that was that. The department head cried as he wiped the blood off his hands, for he had a tender heart, despite everything. Each tear that fell was a tiny, perfect diamond he didn’t bother to pick up.