I taught my thirteen-year-old son to use a lawn mower yesterday. We are staying with my parents for the summer and my father is ill. He is having back surgery on Friday for a bulging disk and a fracture. There is a lot to do around here to help out and pick up the slack.
It was a beautiful day. My son and I set to work. I trimmed the hedges and he motored through the front yard doing a great job. He rounded the corner and was working on the side of the house when I heard him shouting, “Mom! Mom! Come here!” I dropped the trimmers and ran to him. “It’s the bunny. It’s dying. I didn’t run him over. He was just laying there.” I saw the wild brown cottontail bunny that lives in my parents’ yard lying still under the beautiful white Amish archway we bought my parents two years ago when they reached the awe-inspiring milestone of fifty years of marriage. The little rabbit was still alive, barely, with a large puncture wound in his side. “What do we do? Is he going to die?” my son asked. “I don’t know,” I said. I went inside and found my mother and got a big cardboard box from her. “I’m not good with these things,” she said. She wasn’t. “We’ll take him to the animal shelter down the street,” I said. I scooped the twitching bunny up into the box and we raced to the car.
“Do you think he’s going to die, Mom?”
“I don’t know, honey.”
“He’s still breathing. It’s shallow.”
“We’re doing all we can for him,” I said. “Let’s call him Xavier.”
“Xavier. X - avier. I really like that mom. That’s a perfect name for him. If the gets better can I like, keep him?”
“We’ll see,” I said and then berated myself for the rest of the ride questioning why or how I could have raised my son’s hopes and named the rabbit! I named it! God!
We rang the doorbell of an old manor-like building. The door swung open and the pungent scent of skunk assaulted us. It was old New England inside with bay windows and lots of rooms, not the sort of place you would associate with medicine but rather an afternoon tea. We filled out forms and they took Xavier in the back. I gave them a donation, more than I could afford, and we waited for a brief minute while they looked him over. They sent us away with a case number and said we could call in the morning to check on his recovery. “It doesn’t look good,” they warned us as we were leaving. “Thank you for bringing him in.”
On the ride back to the house my son took control of the radio as teenagers do and he found an old song from the 70s and we sang it together as I adjusted my sunglasses to cover my watery eyes.
It's late morning and I just called the Wildlife Center. My son is sleeping late - as teenagers do. I was hoping to have good news to share with him when he woke up but Xavier didn’t make it. “The rabbit needed to be euthanised. He wasn’t strong enough,” the voice on the other line said.
“Sorry to tell you that, but I hope you have a nice day.”
My parents moved into this house four years ago after they sold their home north of Boston after forty plus years. Xavier's been hopping around, nameless, in this yard all that time. He was so small at first. An adorable little brown bundle of fur. He grew, nourishing himself on the products of my mother’s green thumb. And after a while he grew bold, trusting. He would wander so close to us, not afraid, knowing we were no threat, knowing we would not harm him. So, was that his undoing? Trusting? He should have protected himself more! He would still be here if he had, right? Poor stupid bunny. It’s dangerous out there in the world. You have to be alert. You have to keep your eyes open. You have to know who your friends are and you have to know who or what can do you harm. And now, after our attempt at rescuing this little rabbit from the clutches of the natural order of things - is this the take away? Why is life so fucking sad and unfair?! What do I tell my son?!
I look out the window and I collect myself. I focus on the breath going in and out of my body.
I change my thinking.
When my son wakes up I will tell him instead of being very sad, to focus on this dear, sweet wild animal who brought us a little bit of joy and squeals of laughter and delight especially from his now almost four-year-old sister when she spotted him hopping around in the yard. We are all here, species after species, on this planet, for a minute or so… right? Life is so fragile and we are all connected and we all matter and we all have an effect on each other no matter how small. Poor Xavier. I loved that rabbit as much as you can love a creature you’ve never touched and don’t totally know and see only seasonally… Love. I will tell my son that I don’t believe that there are degrees of love. We are here to love wholly and be kind and help. And sometimes we need more love than others and sometimes it’s harder to love those around us, especially the ones who mean us harm. So in a few minutes when I tell my son about Xavier and in spite of what I'm saying he feels sad, I will tell him how the bad guys didn’t win. They will never win. I’ll tell him about how wonderful and big and important his giant heart is and how his love and compassion is awe-inspiring and that we tried, he tried to help, and that is what being here is truly all about. And the world really needs that love and kindness. The world really needs him. Because after all, “Love is love is love is love is love is love….”