The Story of the Bunny

“There are no coincidences,” said my instructor, Israeli master coach Sara Arbel, in class one day. Sara often makes pronouncements like these, mysterious and grave in her heavily accented English.

This one resonated – and it made my heart sink. If this was true, I had some thinking to do.

The story starts a week prior, when I found two small bunnies lying motionless in the path from the garden. I was on my way to the house after a morning of weeding, my hands full of tools. Both bunnies were stunned, fur damp and bloodied, tiny chests heaving.

In a few minutes I’d brought both of them into stone entryway of our house and shut the door. In the silence of the stairwell, I watched their labored breaths. The first rabbit I’d found was clearly fading fast. I reached out slowly and ran a finger over his gray-brown fur; it was unimaginably airy and soft. The other rabbit hid in the corner.

I was mystified and upset. I had let the dogs out when I left the house a few hours earlier, but I’d not seen or heard them hunting. Lucky, the puppy, had been lying in the shade next to the garden most of the morning. Mini, his mother – a beagle/fox-terrier mix – was the more likely suspect. She loved to hunt and had immediately disappeared. Still, finding these two rabbits was so strange. Neither dog had ever brought anything more than a dead mouse or small snake.

The first rabbit died within a few minutes. It gave a few violent kicks and then grew still. The peace I’d felt from a morning in the garden had vanished. I was stricken to see this small animal die in front of me.

I had felt fragile that week, after reading an Esquire article about how climatologists are developing PTSD-like symptoms from their scientific findings (When the End of Human Civilization Is Your Day Job). The article had described a tragic and uncertain new world. It had evoked that darkest of human feelings for me: “What is the point, when all that is beautiful, and all that we love, is so easily taken from us?’

This is a feeling I have felt walking around New York City in the days after 9/11, in the tent camps of Port-au-Prince after the 2010 earthquake, in Syrian refugee camps on the Jordan border. I felt it again, with this beautiful creature lying dead at my feet.

I turned to his brother, who had at least kicked when I carried him into the house. We would see if he lived.

None of us thought that the bunny would survive more than a few days. Surely he’d sustained many internal injuries. But he was still alive on Sunday. And on Monday.

I tended to my new friend cautiously at first, afraid every time I looked in on him that he would have died. In many years past, my husband’s family had kept rabbits on the farm, and the remaining hutches are directly across from our front door, under the roof where my husband parks his truck. I’d made the bunny a comfortable home in one of the hutches, with plenty of fresh hay and water. Given his central location, the bunny was easy for me to check on: morning, noon, and night. And with some instruction from my father-in-law, I quickly learned all the edible plants on the farm that the bunny would relish. Watching him eat made me feel more peaceful than I had felt in a long time. 

When he lived past a few days, I named him Chester.

Every morning I would wake, immediately put on my farm clothes – old jeans and t-shirt, rubber boots – and go foraging for Chester. On a summer farm, there was so much for him to eat. From the garden: lettuce, chard, escarole, arugula, parsley, basil. From the field: dandelions, grasses, weeds, clover, hay and alfalfa.

He was curiously tame, though he had the appearance of a wild rabbit. He let me pet him and would rear up on his hind feet when I approached with a meal.

My delight in caring for Chester was a discovery of a long-lost part of myself. As a kid I’d craved having animals to care for: dogs, cats, a goat, a parakeet, koi, tropical fish, a horse. My suburban home and my parents didn’t allow me the menagerie of my heart’s desire though, and eventually this part of me had faded away.

By the end of the week, I felt it was safe to say that Chester was a new part of our family. I posted his photo on Instagram. This was a public announcement: I have a new pet.  

A day later, I noticed that a small red sore was growing over Chester’s right eye. By the next morning it had doubled in size and was looking infected. I snapped a photo and texted it to my husband’s cousin, who kept rabbits on her farm. Do you know what this is, and how to treat it? I asked.

It looks like myxomatosis, she wrote back. I did an internet search and got this return: “A highly infectious and usually fatal viral disease of rabbits.”

I searched more. I highly recommend that you never look up this disease. The pictures of the advanced stages are gruesome. It was nearly certain that my rabbit would die within two weeks.

The next morning I was on the case. I had my husband call the farm vet to ask what we could do. The vet’s prognosis was not optimistic. Yet he offered a wisp of hope in a vaccine. I rushed to the farm store to buy it.

Once there, I had to explain again in Spanish my rabbit’s plight to yet another farm vet. He said a vaccine would likely do no good. “The best thing you can do is treat the symptoms,” he told me, “and see if the rabbit can fight the virus himself.” He gave me the name of some antibiotic eye-drops I could buy at the pharmacy, and off I went again.

I dutifully gave Chester his eyedrops twice a day for a week, each time having to acknowledge my dwindling hope. He was getting worse. More sores were starting to appear on his ears and nose.

I started to think about how I would put him down.

It was then, during class that my teacher Sara Arbel said, “There are no coincidences. When you meet someone, there is a reason for that meeting.”

She asked us to reflect on what that meant in our lives. My thoughts immediately went to Chester. If there are no coincidences, I thought, what the heck was this all about? What kind of meaning was I supposed to take from a bunny that miraculously survives, brings me so much joy, and then swiftly dies of a fatal disease? What was the Universe saying with this one?

After a few sad days, I started to accept that Chester was going to die. I stopped giving him his eyedrops as they didn’t seem to help. I thought about what lesson I could possibly take from him.

In the end, the only thing that remained was that I loved taking good care of him and I would take the best care of him I could. Everyday, I still woke up and put on my farm boots and tromped around, finding him the best treats. I brought lavish bouquets of field greens.

The question of where the rabbits had originally come from had remained a mystery until one evening after a storm when I accompanied my husband down to the pig farm. While I was waiting for him to finish working, I saw a rabbit jump from one patch of grass to another. The rabbit looked just like Chester.

I decided that if Chester only had a few weeks to go, it would be better if I let him free. I now knew where he’d likely come from, and he could have at least a few days of freedom, to nibble what he liked.

The next week’s class with Sara Arbel was prophetic. She talked about how the only way to soften the blow of the world today is by tapping into a higher power. The only control we have over our lives is in the here and now, she insisted. Yet, she reassured us: “What’s for you, won’t pass by you.” She paused and then added, “What may fly away from your hands … it’s because it’s not for you. What comes is blessed. What goes is blessed.”

I woke up early the next morning and put on my farm boots. I carried Chester down to the fields below the farm, and let him go.