BUNSTER’S LAST GIFT

My rabbit Bunster has taught me many lessons.

I took her in on a raging impulse. We’d moved into our new house, our aging cats had moved on, and we had no furry responsibilities. It was freeing. But it was also a little lonely.

I saw a little handbill at our local Agway store–“Free Bunny!”. Hmmm. Well, a rabbit wouldn’t need a litter box, or walks. Surely this would be a low-maintenance pet? I called the number. The nice woman said her daughter had left for college and could no longer care for the rabbit. I went to her house that same day, and brought Bunster home.

The first lesson was not to make assumptions about animals. I thought rabbits were like large hamsters–perfectly happy in a small cage and not needing much from me beyond basic care. Boy, was I wrong. First, the cage I was given was way too small. Bunster was so stir-crazy from being in a cage she could hardly turn around in, she used to grunt and lunge at me when I opened her cage to feed her. She terrified me! Had I acquired a vicious rabbit?! Shades of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Visions of killer rabbits haunted my dreams.

She finally escaped one day into our mud room, and transformed into a totally different beast. Soon she had the run of my studio, too. I was dismayed at the amount of bunny poop I had to deal with. But I did it.

The next thing I learned about her was that rabbits have personalities. Bunster was completely devoted to me. She would doze at my feet as I worked or wrote, nibbling the hem of my jeans if I ignored her too long. (For a decade, all my pants had nibbled hems.)

She would occasionally play with something, too. I heard a jingling one day, and found her grabbing my keys with her teeth and flipping them over her head repeatedly. (Maybe she wanted to learn how to drive. I wouldn’t put it past her.)

She hated to be held, but one day while I was at my computer, she leaped into my lap. We both looked at each other in astonishment. Then she grunted and fled, never to repeat the caper.

She was an ambassador for visitors to my studio, and she took her responsibility seriously. I would keep a bowl of Cheerios handy for guests to feed her. She would grunt and thump her hind foot if they were too slow with the treats.

She was a devastating force in a fiber studio. She chewed through power cables, extension cords, fabric, furniture, rugs and wood furniture. Many people wondered why I put up with it. I honestly don’t know. Maybe I thought she would change. (Hah!) I do know I became better about putting things out of her reach (about 16″) and quickly found someone who could repair chewed cords. And I loved the tiny scraps she made as she demolished my fabric collection. Many of them appeared in my collages.

Her biggest lesson was about fear. I would forget that to a rabbit, everything in the world is dangerous. One day I introduced my new cat Gomez to Bunster. He sniffed her and looked up with me with adoring eyes. Then he slowly reached out and grabbed her by the neck wish his teeth. No, Gomez, I was not bringing you lunch. Fortunately, Bunster was unhurt, though thoroughly miffed.

She was quite the escape artist. Visitors would unwittingly give her an opportunity to dash out the door. I could usually nab her and bring her back inside. But one day, she was just gone.

I searched for two days, despairing of ever seeing her again. While I was hanging posters around our neighborhood, someone came by in a car. Seeing the poster, she told me she’d taken a wounded “wild rabbit” to a local vet the day before. With hope filling my heart, I called, and sure enough, it was Bunster. She had survived over 24 hours outdoors, through a thunderstorm, neighborhood dogs, hawks, coyotes and feral cats. She’d collapsed in a rain puddle, exhausted and frightened. But someone found her and took pity on her. Even a small life is worthy of our help. A miracle indeed.

She didn’t run off again after that.

And of course, there is so much a rabbit can teach you about fear.

Now Bunster is old. Really old. I thought bunnies lived to be 5 or 6. Turns out it’s more like 10 or 12, with good care. Bunster is at least that old, maybe more. Her sight has dimmed, though her hearing seems good–when I bubble “Bun bun bunny bun bun!” at her as I walk by her cage, her ears perk up. She can certainly hear a box of Cheerios being opened. Her appetite is excellent, especially once I decided she doesn’t have to “eat healthy” anymore. She loves Doritos and nuts and crackers. Someone gave her a Cheeto recently, and she scarfed it down.

But her once-beautiful fur is ragged and rough. She is frail, and moves with difficulty. She sleeps a lot, dreaming of large fields of clover (I hope) and sunshine. Every day she is still here is a gift.

Her last gift to me is one of quiet contemplation. She lets me hold her now, something I yearned to do for years and is now so easy. I hold her like a baby, gently, supporting her carefully. If I keep my movements soft and quiet, she relaxes into a dreamy state. Together we sit, and ponder, alone with our thoughts, her feeling my protective hands around her, me feeling the now-so-light weight of her diminishing body.

I’m so grateful for these last few precious months. Or weeks. Or days. I have no idea. One day I think it’s her last. The next, she’s back to her perky, demanding self. More Cheerios! Quite petting me! Where’s my hay! Should I have her put down? She doesn’t seem to be uncomfortable or in pain. I will try to simply follow her needs. Maybe, I hope, I won’t be called upon to decide anything.

As I read the news today, full of cruelty and anger, revenge and strife, of thoughtlessness and sickness and pain, there is solace in this: Holding an elderly bunny.

She is giving me the gift, in the middle of this perfect storm of feeling un-moored, adrift, uncertain, unsettled, the gift of peace, and content, and reflection. I look at this seemingly insignificant little creature who has meant so much to me, and I am astonished. I had no idea, when I brought her home that day, how much she had to teach me.

We are adrift in time, in these soft moments.

She is my hope. My meditation. My prayer.