My dog, Gracie has quite a few jobs on our 10 acre parcel of land on Orcas Island. One, in particular, is to chase the rabbits away and keep them from eating all the flowers and plants around the property. Sometimes this also means that she digs into nests and pulls out little baby rabbits and kills them. This certainly keeps the bunny population down. And, it causes me incredible grief to see dead baby rabbits strewn across the yard. I’ve come to justify this as our – mine and Gracie’s contribution to the circle of life. I take the lifeless bunnies down the road to the field where eagles, owls, hawks and vultures can find them and have an easy meal. It’s just what happens when living in the country.
This past weekend, Gracie proudly brought home a one week old bunny that was barely alive. It was so helpless and innocent, my heart instantly wrenched in, as I took in its sweet presence, while at the same time feeling the agony that would erupt with the impending moment of its death; most likely within the next day or two. I didn’t need nor want to be emotionally pummeled by the presence of such a beast as this week old bunny; but there is was. God: Give me peace!
My three year old friend, Zoe, who was visiting for the weekend, of course was delighted by the presence of this tiny little creature. For Zoe’s sake, her mom found a box and some soft towels and made a little nest for the little guy. We assumed the bunny wouldn’t last more than a few hours.
I didn’t really want any part of this little bunny’s life, as I somehow knew that inevitably I’d be responsible for it when it died. As fate would have it, it didn’t die over the weekend, and Zoe, her mom and dad packed up their belongings and left for the ferry leaving the rabbit for me to deal with. They didn’t want to traumatize Zoe.
Having done a google search on how to care for a wild orphaned bunny, the information left me with a dilemma. The bunny had a very low chance of survival in captivity, especially with Gracie so close by. To place it back in the wild, where its mother could possibly find it (and so could Gracie) – well, what would the chances be for its survival, cold, alone with no nourishment. I had to choose. If only it had died!
I chose not to keep the bunny. Choosing not to keep the bunny meant that I had to take it up the hill to the rabbit warren and do something with it. My hope was that the nest would be easily visible, especially since Gracie had dug it out. No such luck. I could have wandered for hours and never come across anything that looked like a rabbit’s nest.
I began to cry. And then I sobbed; and while still holding the bunny carefully in my cupped hands, I wailed in anguish and despair. There was no hope. Well, let me put it another way; It would be silly to hope that this rabbit would be rescued by its mother or some other bighearted bunny. It would also be silly to hope that this little guy would survive on its own. I felt an enormous amount of guilt for bringing about the end of this innocent being’s life. I was beside myself with grief.
One aspect of living in a rural setting that I so appreciate, most of the time, is being much more connected with nature. It’s impossible to ignore my place in the food chain and the consequences of my choices. I get mice in the trailer and I have to choose to kill them with a trap, then feed them to the birds; poison them, which means they’ll suffer, die and then potentially get eaten by Gracie; or to ask them not to come into the trailer where they can find food and warm. I’ve tried them all!
I planted some beautiful hosta’s in my little garden. Well the slugs love hostas, so if I want hostas I have to poison the slugs. Though my friend Ron thinks I’m silly, I don’t think I want to kill slugs – the big Banana Slugs – like the one’s in California. I’d rather not grow hostas. There are plenty of other plants I can grow, which doesn’t require the killing of God’s earthly creatures.
And, now, the bunny. Generation after generation of people have had to kill animals they didn’t want to kill. I have no doubt that quite often, they too felt deep grief and guilt for having done what needed to be done.
But, I think this story goes deeper than that – though I’m not quite sure yet where this is leading. As I explore all the many facets of being human, I’ve found the bottom of the barrel in regard to the inside of grief. Sadness, anger, numbness, depression … how far down the rabbit hole are you willing to go (No pun intended)? Powerless, helpless, undeniably excruciating emotional and physical pain – deeper and deeper, raw and almost unbearable. Something presses on me to move forward through the ever darkening and unknowable depths of my human being.
I found myself in despair in the presence of hopelessness and in anguish in the presence of no hope – somehow, in my investigation there is a difference between these two that feel different. Despair happens when I’m holding onto hope when there is none. Anguish occurs in the presence of no hope. I realize, too, that hope does not exist within a state of enlightenment. That was interesting to experience for one fragment of a moment.
I’m wrung out. There’s nothing left of me. There’s nothing left of my arrogant righteousness. I’m completely humbled by an experience that happens in nature millions of times within one moment, every moment, all over the planet. Death happens.
My choices cannot always bring about a sense of “I did the right thing and boy, don’t I feel good about it.” I’ll never forget the rawness of that moment when I laid the little bunny down just inside a small opening in the Earth. Perhaps he’d find safety there, but my grief could not allow any imagining further than that. I had to let go of the idea that my hope would have any impact here, or that it would be a salve for my bruised sense of self – as if it would somehow give me a sense of control over the outcome and make me feel better. In that moment there was nothing.
I could have avoided this whole messy business by sneaking the box with rabbit in the car with Zoe and her mom and dad; or toughed it out by attempting to nurse the little guy into maturity. Avoiding what was mine to do – well, I’ve lived too much of my life that way.
The choices I’ve made throughout my life have led to a great deal of messiness, much of which has gone ungrieved. The simple presence of something like the innocence of a baby rabbit unleashed the deepest, most raw and despairing moments in my life. Urban dwellers along with rural dwellers cannot escape their humanity – those places where the ego-self is annihilated. Living with death of any kind, always obliterates pride, vanity, and leaves one humbled in one rapturous heap of humanity. It really can’t be any other way.