In Buddhism a bodhisattva is an enlightened one who stays behind to help others along the path. A few weeks ago a bodhisattva came to me in the form of a dead bunny.
My spouse and I were driving home one night along the dirt road leading up to our house when our headlights caught our neighbor’s cat stalking a cottontail rabbit. The cat started running in full pursuit, the rabbit took of bounding, and the cat was closing the distance. I was torn between getting out of the car and running so as to startle the cat or to tear it from the bunny should he catch him, or getting my spouse to drive the car fast so as to catch up quicker to the chase. I started to yell “gun it, gun it” when I saw the cat catch the bunny and both flip in the air, and my spouse did just that. When the bunny hit the ground, now free from the cat, he came running back towards us right into the wheel of our accelerating car. The bunny died instantly. With my spouse’s head in his hands I gathered up the still, soft bunny and immediately walked back with him cradled in my arms to show our neighbors what their cat had precipitated. Perhaps not the most usual way to meet your neighbors with a dead bunny in you arms, but I had wanted to speak with them for months about their cats hunting birds and mammals on our property.
My neighbor said that these were feral cats that they fed and didn’t allow inside their homes. They had them neutered and vaccinated and were attached to them. I asked her if there was no way they could take them in so they wouldn’t hunt and hurt the other species around, and in our backyard sanctuary. She could not think of any solution.
I cannot think of any solution either. We tried as hard as we could to save the bunny, and it ended up dying because of our choice of gunning the car. If I am to trap the feral cat so it no longer hunts birds and bunnies on our property, what damage might it cause in human relationships and the bond between the neighbors and their feral cats. I have trapped feral cats before, and do not do so lightly, because to do so almost surely means their death as the animal shelters cannot find homes for all these semi-wild felines. So who gets to live? Who gets to die? And who gets to decide? And will our decisions actually do less harm than our lack of decision?
I am greatly humbled with this incident. Even when I think I know the right thing to do, I don’t have all the answers. Life is complex, the answers unfathomable. But the path seems somehow simpler now. The bunny tells me to live the life of compassion, of authenticity, and of heart breaking love that cares for my neighbors, their cats, the birds and bunnies that flourish and fail at our hands, and myself. Somewhere in that engagement a light came to me so that I could more clearly see that though there is suffering all around me, there is also beauty. Out of that clearing of the extraneous, the grace of that bunny’s life and death as I held its soft rabbit feet against my wet cheeks taught me to trust in love and that somehow we’ll find a way to build the beloved community of mixed species. What this means in actual concrete actions I do not know – maybe trapping, maybe more conversations with the neighbors, and most certainly, a watering of the life around me with tears so that love may grow.