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Jan 17, 2021
Where’s the hope?
It’s difficult to say these days when life in America and elsewhere seems to get darker by the day. Political discord, rending this country in half, economic ruin, the pandemic with devastating illness and the deaths of loved ones—so many loved ones (including a member of our family)—dying sick and alone. But hope exists—inside each of us. All we can do is the best we can under these trying circumstances. We don’t control the outcome, but we can and should be doing all we can to protect and care for ourselves and those that we love. And we can hope. For a better tomorrow. For a society changed for the better—not a disintegration into chaos, but an elevation of justice, fairness, equity for all, even those who don’t agree with us.
Perhaps a talisman would help.
Defined either as ‘an object held to act as a charm to avert evil and bring good fortune’ or something ‘producing apparently magical or miraculous effects’ I choose my rainbow rabbit as my symbol of hope. Depending on the culture and the era, rabbits are symbolic of many things, including harbingers of hope. I have always loved their softness, strength, and cunning. While it’s possible to ensnare them, I don’t think they are easy to catch on the run. Or at least that’s what I remember as a teenager growing up on the east side of Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the 1960s.
I don’t remember how we came to get my white rabbit—I think I was 12 or 13 at the time. I’m sure it’s something my dad brought home one day. He had a habit of picking up strays. Dogs, cats, parakeets, finches, goldfish, even an African lovebird all ended up passing through our home at various stages of my childhood and beyond. Dad was like that—he had great compassion for anything that had been orphaned. Perhaps because he himself had been orphaned for a time as a boy—loaned out as a ‘cover’ for some local criminals.
His compassion extended to people as well. As an ‘old-school’ psychiatric social worker, he used the system to help people with mental health problems—group homes, psychiatric hospitals, and community centers where he did group and individual therapy. But sometimes there were cases that the system failed. Teenage girls that got kicked out of their homes for being pregnant or stealing. Young boys who were rejected by their families for acts of violence—even arson. Kids who attempted suicide or kept running away. Kids with depression and schizophrenia. You name it. He dealt with it. And when these seemingly hopeless cases had no where to go—he’d call my mom up and tell her set another place at the table. Then he would bring them home to stay, sometimes for days, weeks, even years.
Back to the rabbit.
While of course I remember all the names of the foster kids who lived with us over the years, I can’t recall the name of my pet rabbit. Neither do my sister or brother—in fact they don’t remember the rabbit at all. I guarantee you I did not make her up! She was real. But unfortunately, she didn’t live long. She must have arrived already pregnant because before we knew it, there were several babies, most of whom survived. But the mother herself wasn’t so lucky. She died giving birth. I’ll spare you the details. But they are still vivid in my memory. There was also the little runt of the litter. A perfect little helpless, hairless, and blind baby bunny.
My dad, who had grown up on a farm told me that runts usually die. But I was determined that my love and my prayers could save him. So, I took him upstairs into our attic ‘dorm’ which I shared with my sister and three foster sisters and kept vigil by the cardboard box Mom had set up for me with an old towel and a hot water bottle. I sang to it. I talked to it. I prayed to God to save my bunny, certain that He wouldn’t disappoint me. Eventually I fell asleep and when I woke up, the baby bunny was dead.
I carried his cold little body, still wrapped in the towel downstairs to my mother, weeping unconsolably. Then my dad and I buried it along with its mother in our very small backyard. And I’ve never had a rabbit since.
A few years ago, I decided to make a rabbit collage. It was one of my first collages. At the time I created it, I don’t think I consciously thought I was creating an ode to the mama rabbit and her baby that I lost decades ago. But upon reflection, I realize that I poured all the love I felt for them into this work.
Art and imagination transformed tragedy into peace and acceptance.
Making—and reflecting upon—this collage helped me understand a painful, long ago experience. And I realized that there have been many times throughout my life where I used the lessons taught to me by this baby bunny and her mama—from the loss of a child through miscarriage, to the death of friends and family. Every birth, every death has meaning. Even if it's the death of an unnamed bunny. My dad used to say, "Life is for the living." Having faced years of war and the liberation of Dachau, I trusted him at his word. So while there is sadness in these losses, we must do a better job of living our own lives—for those who can no longer live theirs.
What happened to the other rabbits that survived? They lived happy lives on our grandparents’ farm in Two Harbors, Minnesota. Their descendants may still roam the land. They are symbols that life does go on. They are harbingers of hope.
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