I USED TO HAVE TWO RABBITS, Dolly and Ruby. Sisters. They squabbled, but often as not lay heaped in peaceful harmony. Together, they dug a deep hole next to the rosebush, hard against the fence. In the morning first one cautious nose then the next came out to sniff for breakfast. Birdseed, alfalfa pellets and peanuts. One day Ruby was gone. I don't know what happened, maybe a bird of prey. Dolly was skittish for weeks after, the terrible memory locked within her. Only the mute evidence: something bad happened and my sister is gone.
Intimations of mortality. With the deathif everything in society is in working orderof a great-grandparent, a grandparent, a parent, with each departure, the Grim Reaper lurches one step nearer. The irreversible ratchet clanks down one more notch. We are forced to the understanding that just as there was a world before we were born, so will there be a world after we die. This knowledge makes us what we are.
People became human when they realized the existence of the "other." That the death of one of their own kind implied their own death, soon or late. Your pain is my pain. Human sexual rituals, politics, social structures, an ordinary joke, all these have elaborate, deep antecedents within our speechless, humble ancestors. Bird and beast, fish and bug, we are no more than they, saving this awareness of our own inevitable shuffling off of the mortal coil.
Rabbits do not know what they are, but we do. Awareness of death is awareness of life. We spin our days out, wasting nothing, knowing that this is the only crack at it we get, though we leave something of ourselves behind to carry on. Children, works of our hands, thoughts, we see them mirrored out to infinity, gradually fading into the background noise of humanity, but never really gone.
April 23, 1994
"When we have shuffled off this mortal coil." Shakespeare, Hamlet (1600-1601) III, i, 56.
"Rabbits do not know what they are," is an aphorism by Jack Spicer, printed as a broadside in the Spring of 1982 at the Bieler Press, Los Angeles.
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