Fight, Flight or Snuggle? Welcome to the year of the Bunny

One afternoon when I was about nine years old I came walking up to my house to see a neighbor’s huge cat, Duff, perched menacingly in the ivy.

Duff was one badass cat, with a luxuriant grey coat sheathing bulk and power, yellow eyes that fixed you in your tracks and sent trembles spiraling down your sapling spine.

The ivy itself was a place of mystery, huddled low and tangled around a birch tree—an easily overlooked world where I’d once found a polyphemus moth—a micro-jungle where I was sure that other treasures were to be found.

And alas Duff had found one:  a rabbit’s nest.  I moved closer as Duff looked warily between me and his prey that he had been toying with, at his sweet leisure, as I made my way home from school.

I glimpsed a lone baby bunny through parted leaves, cowering alone in an otherwise empty nest.  I had seen rabbits run about the lawn, cutting wild turns and disappearing into bushes, but I never knew where they lived.  Now I pictured the parents running for their lives while grieving the child they could not rescue.  It was now up to me—a bunny’s last hope.

Duff made a posture of menace toward me, but I was already making a posture of menace toward him:  drawing my foot back so that I could kick his ruthless intention out of the way.  And so I did, my P.F. Flier finding contact with Duff’s left flank, lifting him above the ivy and depositing him few feet farther into the tangled web of leaves—and with a snarl of contempt Duff took his leave, one sidelong glance back at me as if to say, “it’s not over yet.”

I knelt to the bunny and scooped him out of his hollow of fur and twigs.  It was skinny and tiny and shaking in my hand as I felt a cacophony of compassion and “animals carry germs and diseases” war within my head.  I got a shoebox and made it soft with rags but the bunny hunkered down, hardly moving but for a slight shiver.  I found an eyedropper and cupped the bunny in my hands once again, nursing it as it lay on its back in the hollow of my own small palm.

It drank tentatively, and then eagerly for a shining moment, then stopped.  Perhaps it realized this was not mother’s milk, at least not bunny mother’s milk.  Or perhaps it was gravely injured, for I knew not what dastardly deeds Duff had perpetrated before I had happened upon the scene.

I was obsessed with saving this bunny, and all through the afternoon I attended to it.  But alas, the life drained out of the poor waif and I was heart-broken.  Horrified to be the ward of a dead bunny, I took it outside and buried it in the dirt beside my parents’ house.

Staring at the earth to which the bunny had returned, I thought I saw the soil move.  In a panic I dug the bunny back up, imagining there was still life in it.  Its eye was slightly open, and to my child-mind, this meant I had buried the bunny alive:  I had killed it!

Having read neither Romeo and Juliet nor Oedipus Rex, it did not occur to me to put my own eyes out, or drink from the poison cup or take dagger to heart and throw myself on the bunny’s grave… but I sort of felt like that—horror, loss, sadness, guilt, shame and profound loneliness enveloped me.

It’s funny how certain things from childhood can stay with us, so deeply marked into our souls that we wouldn’t be who we are without them.  Even though this particular afternoon is more than forty years ago, it came leaping and kicking and hovering before me when I found myself wishing to welcome my readers to the Chinese New Year, the year of the rabbit—and to link this furry welcome to my general theme of striving to cultivate calm and safety in my readers—in whoever is up to only connect.

Thus the demise of the bunny is as good a symbol as any for feelings of preverbal infant dread, of lizard brain and the sinking annihilation when we fear that even our love might somehow hurt those we love (for if mom is scared when we are tiny, our message can become:  we are scary)… or when, like T.S. Eliot, we feel that we too should have been a pair of ragged claws, scuttling across the floor of silent seas.

So, whether it comes in like a lamb or a lion, the bunny is upon us as of tomorrow, February 3rd.  While people born in the year of the rabbit are said to have certain traits, such as being gentle, loving and calm, perhaps the year itself may bring those traits to us, or at least support us to cultivate this ethic between us.  Rabbits are said to be good listeners and trusted friends, and again let’s hope for such a year—a year to which we can tell our fears and heal into deepening connections.  Rabbits are peacemakers, and so we may hope for such a year—a bunny-balm on the lizard trail of our dread and discontent.

And although my wish is to cultivate calm and safety, I must admit that my stomach literally hurts as I write about this, about Duff and the bunny… and thus I dedicate my own journey through fear to linking with you, connecting in the very pit of fear so that we might arrive together in a place of connection.  Then, perhaps, our shared experiences become a pebble rippling upon a pond, no longer acting upon each other, scaring and being scared, so much as awakening to our unity—a unity across fear, love and culture—a unity in a consciousness that exists between us all the way love and thoughts and feelings exist in the magical connections between ourselves and others—whether we are conscious of it or not, the way the forest exists in the space between trees.

So, my offering to you on this collective bunny-birthday is to invite you to offer up your own fear, rather than reject or try to kill it, offer it to the earth like a sad dead bunny… to the sky like a carcass for the other animals, the birds of spirit and the cats of the night—for in an archetypal sense our child self (or at least our identification with the child) has to die in order for the grown-up to be born—an eternal child that, like the Easter Bunny, symbolizes treasure and renewal.

I guess some bunnies die so that cats may live, and perhaps it would have been better for Duff to have had a snack than for me to have dared to intervene in the flow of nature, yet if I accept my karma then I must accept the lesson in the ivy, in the cat, in my intervention and its ultimate futility; accept the tenderness of cupping a newborn bunny in my child hand and nursing it with an eye-dropper, accept the sorrow of its death—and the horror of the notion that I had killed it; and also I must accept that once upon a time I projected my own ruthless cruelty onto Duff, a noble regal beast true to nothing but its nature.

I then am sorry that I kicked the cat, sorry that I buried the bunny, sorry too that I lost faith in the bunny and could not stand to be with the dead, much less the dying.  Whatever it all means, on this day as I write, my bunny tummy scurrying like mad around my abdomen with no way out, no way but up into a consciousness born of connection and compassion, of non-judgment and respect, of cupping hands and feline claws and teeth, with no place to go but to look straight at some virtual camera—a darkened chamber of the heart letting in the glimmering light between us, a shared heart like a wizening rabbit eternally hunted by Elmer Fudd but with greater and greater affection for our own sometimes dumb, sometimes scared, human beast of a self, and to then proclaim together, in the service of our collective children:  What’s up doc?

Namaste, BD

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10 Responses to “Fight, Flight or Snuggle? Welcome to the year of the Bunny”

  1. Alexis Says:

    Namaste, Bruce. My own inner child-rabbit story understands this story deeply and nods in recognition.

    (I was going to write out my own story and then realized it got too long for a comment and is better off as a post on it’s own. Thank you for the prompt.)

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Hi Alexis—Thank you for this nodding namaste of connecting recognition, as the dark place can be a lonely place (or at least we can think so until we learn better).

      All Good Wishes—and I’ll look for your rabbit post.

  2. Wolf Pascoe Says:

    My turtle died when I was six. I was pretty sure I had killed him. I cried for a week. Don’t remind me of the time I stepped on the parakeet. My three year old son had a goldfish for a week, which died. It was his first experience of death. He was disconsolate. How deep these griefs reach! Where does it come from?

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Hi Wolf, Thanks for resonating with me on this melancholy and dark note, one that seems to touch on fear (that we are killers), envy (that we can’t fly like the birds, or hide in our shells like the turtle, or sleep with the fishes and live… and never have to go to school or pay a bill or even think about mortality and loss)… no matter what, as we make our way up to connecting, even in our dark places, perhaps the animal that we also are will be safe, happy and more fully realized.

      Namaste either way

  3. Laurie Says:

    I had a hamster and I put it’s cage too close to my clothes hanging in the closet. My morning my groovy crocheted vest had a huge hole and my hamster was dead with a very large belly full of groovy vest. I used a little box that my mom’s checks came in and gave it the best burial any hamster could ask for. My niece and I wailed. Subsequent hamsters, guinea pigs and turtles all benefitted from that hamsters service. Happy New Year to you Bruce. My bunny son is excited.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Happy New Year to you too, Laurie—together, and with vested interest and checks ultimately balanced, honoring the spirits of the animals who have died so that, perhaps, we may truly live, live our animals as well as our spirits. All Good Wishes

  4. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    Beautifully written! I was riveted to this story and was so sad when your little bunny lost the good fight. I loved your description of Duff the cat–that meanie!

  5. Beth K Says:

    Thanks for verbalizing these unpleasant feelings. The bunny story was poignant and, I think, a metaphor for fears of unintentionally causing emotional harm to those humans we love now and those we have loved in the past.

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