We don’t live with animals in the hope that they’ll do our bidding. We live with them so that they surprise us, and lick us, and worry us, and pee in our beds, and snuggle on the couch with us and pose just barely long enough to take a picture for the gram for us. We love animals because we can never control them or make them stay. Like us, they have their own agendas and their own fickle bodies. To love an animal, like a person, is to learn how to grasp tightly with an open hand.
Small animals are especially hard. The cruelest part of loving such a ‘wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie’ is that the ones most dependent on our care and attention are the ones with the bleakest expectations for life on earth. The ones who live most in fear, the ones that are hardest to befriend and the ones whose trust is most elusive.
Last year I befriended and eulogized a spider. Today I do the same for a rabbit.
Rabbit life is short and delicate and every moment is in defiance of nature which has always seen in rabbit kind the lowest, most expendable rung of the food chain, the cheapest of mammalian life. Theirs have always been lives of panic and flight and want. Even insofar as they’ve shared an existence with humanity, they have been livestock, a source of fur and meat and rarely companionship.
So it was a lucky rabbit, then, that lived inside, in warmth and softness and love and pellets and even a reluctant vaccination or two, while never suffering the expectation to love me back, provide for me or even survive for my sake.
It may tempt us to avoid finding a friend in such a delicate thing. The ones that need the most care and attention leave us first. I could have looked for a creature longer lived, more capable of accepting my affection and returning it to me. To find a better return on my emotional investment.
But this is what I signed up for. This is what I wanted. To love for its own sake, without inhibition or expectation, every precious day with flagrant disregard to the pain I knew would one day be mine and almost certainly sooner than I’d ever be ready for. To love immensely for the smallest, most inconsequential things. Some people are dog people. Some are cat people. I think this is why I’ll always be a sentimental rabbit person.
Sasha only lived one year and yet still thrived beyond the expectation of her wild kind. And I’ve been a lucky animal myself to have had the time with her that I got.
Sasha was my rabbit and I’ll miss her.
The hopelessness of loving a brief rabbit is not vastly different from that of loving a brief human being. The differences are only of degrees. We all must learn to love delicate things that cannot last and nevertheless love them fiercely for as long as we have the breath to do so. Friends move away. Family members pass on and lovers tend to their own hearts with or without us. Sasha taught me that impermanence can never excuse us from diving headlong into another adventure. If you want the ultimate, you have to be willing to pay the ultimate price. It could even be the case that the purest love is reserved for the smallest, most fragile things for which heartbreak is certain. That the season is short is all the more reason to plant quickly. For the love of this small creature we have all paid a debt of grief and I’m so grateful for the wonderful friends that I have to bear it with me.
Today we say goodbye to a Middleton, as tender hearted and vegetable-loving as any other that has borne the name. To you, we raise a glass, remember and give thanks for the time you gave us.