In the eyes of my boyhood self, the rabbit made no sense to me. Its fragile, soft existence was destroyed by my brother’s boot, only by accident, and I wasn’t sure to make of it. None of us were.
It was a calm, foggy fall morning when my dad guided our scout troop through a wide open, grassy field. Two-foot long dark green blades bent in every direction from the weight of the dew pulling them downwards. Marching in a straight line towards a nearby forest, our young troop was like a little marine corps platoon crossing a rice patty in Vietnam. Walking single file and spaced ten feet apart, we marched in silence across this Nebraska field, waiting for the ambush we saw in the movies. Boyish enthusiasm for being outdoors wasn’t present that morning.
Lanky and tall, my brother led us through the grassy field with all his goofy compatriots following him. That day, I was the proverbial little brother, only partially present as I watched it all happen in front of me.
When he called out to my dad, my brother’s voice was upset. We’d be walking along in silence, and his fast stop brought all the other guys to cluster around him in a circle. Laying there in the grass pressed apart by his boot was a small bunny, limp but with its eyes open, its little heart thumping and clearly visible. Covered by the wet grass, my brother had stepped on its back and its insides were now exposed to us to stare at. Upset, bitter tears tried to spill out of almost all the boys there. My dad sent the rest of us aside, and after a short talk with my brother, he ended the rabbit’s suffering.
These ribbons of engagement, the ones that bind us so well, they are at work at all times, in all ways. My older brother has grown into a man of compassion. A dedicated father, he serves his family, neighbors, and strangers in countless ways throughout the course of his regular day, always without complaint, always with commitment. Reflecting on his experience with the rabbit teaches me the absolute impact of every single person’s engagement on Earth: We each have the ability to take life and give life, each in equal measure. Children, adults, and elders alike are all capable of bringing life into the world, and removing it from the world. This is true of the mama and her baby, the child and his magnifying glass, the teen hunter with her rifle, and the man with his plow.
Unfurling the blanket of connectivity that comforts all of us, it is our responsibility to see that many of us are flesh-eaters, and all of us are plant-eaters. We routinely consume the life of other living organisms, just as each of us are being consumed as you read this. This is the infinite nature of the principle of engagement: All things everywhere are connected all the time.
My dad says my older brother was deeply affected by his experience with the rabbit. He has gone on and had many experiences giving and taking life throughout his days. The balance to the earlier story might come in another distinct memory lodged in my imagination. About 15 years ago he moved to a desert state in the Southwest after growing up in the Midwest and Canada like I did.
Soon after moving there with his young family, he became determined to grow watermelons. Knowing they required gobs of sun to grow healthily in the Midwest, he figured that with enough water he could grow enormous fruits there. After constructing a make-shift hothouse for his young melons, he watered the seedlings religiously for weeks. When they didn’t grow, he changed tactics and tried again. When the next path didn’t lead to his delicious labors, he tried again. Season after season he tested and retested methods for growing watermelons in the hot desert sun.
I don’t know if he ever actually raised a successful watermelon there. I do know that whenever I asked, he always had another ridiculous method at work in the attempt to grow them.
That is the secret of giving and taking life: For all the world, there is nothing but balance right now. I have won and lost many things, and this is almost impossible to remember sometimes. I have sat in dis-ease and reveled in prosperity, and this is impossible to remember sometimes. The principle of engagement is that all things are connected, always in all ways. That includes life and death.
While Plato taught that, “Only the dead have seen the end of war,” we have the right to know that only the living have known the wonders of life. Engagement is balance, and knowing that is all you need to do.
This piece was written in honor of my dad.