One of my favorite features about our house is the huge floor-to-ceiling picture window that looks out from the living room to the back yard.
Most days, it’s better than television, affording us all kinds of entertainment from the activity in the birdbath, the changing of the seasons and, frankly, the comings and goings of the rich people whose yard abuts ours.
All kinds of animals come through, of course. We have our squirrels, our birds, our neighbors’ cats hunting the squirrels and the birds, and some raccoons and rabbits.
It was, in fact, a rabbit we saw on the Sunday morning before Christmas.
We were sitting in the living room, trying to figure out where to go to Mass. We’d slept too late to get to the 8:00 at our own parish, we didn’t have the spiritual energy for the Attack of the 10:30 MegaMass (Children’s Choir! Adult Choir! Handbells! RCIA! Children’s Liturgy of the Word! Restless 21-month old!) so we were hunting through the diocesan directory, trying to find a 9:00.
My husband looked up from the book into the cold barrenness of the December back yard and saw what he thought was a small log in the middle of it.
It wasn’t. It was a rabbit. A rabbit who, it quickly became apparent, was hurt. His front parts were moving, but his hindquarters lay there behind him, useless.
Michael took a few carrots and a little dish of water out to the bunny. It scrambled a bit, startled, but couldn’t, of course, go anywhere. I was wondering what you do with an injured wild rabbit. Put it in a shoebox and nurse it back to health? Take it to a vet? Heat up the grill?
Turns out, we didn’t need to worry.
We found our 9:30 Mass, took a trip to the grocery story, and slowly made our way home. I walked in the house, already making plans on bunny first aid, and immediately got irritated at the huge bird that was in the yard, pecking, I foolishly thought, at the rabbit’s carrots.
The huge bird, it became clear, was a hawk, and he wasn’t pecking at the carrots. He was pecking at the rabbit, and the rabbit had clearly met its reward.
Who knows how the rabbit got hurt. Initially, I’d assumed it was a cat or one of the rich people’s yelping beagles who’d got it, but perhaps it had been the hawk itself who’d snatched it earlier, and then dropped it to the ground as predators do, in order to seriously hurt the prey and make it easier to eat.
Which it obviously was, now.
Well, nature is great and all, but this wasn’t a sight we cared to watch all afternoon, so my husband took a rake and move the bunny corpse to the back of the yard. It took the hawk a surprisingly long time to find it again, but once he did, he spent a good hour and half back there, enjoying his Sunday dinner.
(And for those of you who might object, suggesting that the rabbit should have been given a decent burial, instead, I just have to ask: What do you think the hawk would have done then? Gone and grabbed a salad?)
The sight of the hawk tearing at the rabbit’s flesh and shaking the fur out of the way was certainly not a pretty one, but it was something more important: it was real, and reality is only partly pretty. The other part is dangerous, difficult, bloody, painful and sad.
We moved the rabbit to a place where the unpleasant sight of its destruction wouldn’t bother us.
When it comes to life in general, most of us are experts and moving the messy realities out of sight, too, aren’t we?
We do it when we buy into language and ways of thinking that dehumanize the unborn, the elderly, prisoners, the abused, the homeless and innocent victims of war, and when we convince ourselves that those problems our not ours and not worth our time, energy and compassion.
We do it when we let family tensions fester and resentments build, when we don’t speak our mind and when we refuse to grapple with the hard stuff of family life, when our prayer is vacant, pleasant and self-serving.
Oh yes, we do it all the time.
Because, you know, seeing all that mess right in front of you – that’s disturbing.
Much better to just move it out of sight and turn on the television.
Don’t you think?
Epilogue: The response to this column was astonishing to me. Although I made it clear that the rabbit was dead when we returned, lots of readers wrote in complaining that it was cruel to allow the hawk to continue eating it. We should have given it a decent burial. I'm speechless, because I sincerely doubt that many - if any - of those outraged letter writers were vegetarians. You'd think they'd mention it if they were, but they didn't.
And I think that reaction proves my point, doesn't it?