When I came downstairs Friday morning things were pretty much as I expected. Faith was working her way steadily through a box of tissue and Patience had her head buried in her arms on the dining room table, crying. What I had feared had come upon me. Now what?
One Wednesday evening last summer my daughters discovered a baby bunny abandoned in our front yard. It was out in the open far from any cover and shivering despite the summer temperature. Charcoal-colored and barely three inches long, with the tiniest ears and paws, it was of course irresistibly cute. The girls raced back into the house with the little lost soul, eager to perform an emergency rescue and to show me the latest addition to our family menagerie.
Despite their enthusiasm (or because of it), however, my heart fell, though I tried to keep it from showing in my face. Not that the girls would have noticed anyway, intent as they were on the bunny which had already been named Alfalfa for the way his fur stood up between his ears. I knew there was virtually no hope for the little guy (we all just seemed to assume it was a male), but I couldn’t think of what to do to avoid the inevitable trauma. By this time there was no alternative that wouldn’t end in tears.
I could play the big meanie and forbid them to bring Alfal-, I mean, the bunny into the house in an effort to prevent a bigger hurt later, but that would mean heartlessly abandoning the bunny to its already delayed fate out in the big yard. The other option was to keep it and hope for a miracle, or that at least a meaningful lesson could be learned without too much suffering. As I pondered these unpleasant alternatives, Faith announced that she was staying home from church in order to nurse the bunny. “So be it, then,” I thought to myself.
The rest of the evening and all through that night she ministered to the little guy, offering water and half and half and trying to keep him warm. No longer shivering, the rabbit instinctively hopped close to her to snuggle. In the morning she was downstairs for breakfast, tired but glowing, Alfalfa comfortably at home in the front pouch pocket of her hoodie. I was somewhat surprised but encouraged that he was still alive. Once I got to work I did an internet search for information on how to take care of a wild baby bunny. Amazingly, there was a ton of information on what to feed it and how to simulate the care its mother would provide. The information also was pretty direct about the slim chances for success. I quickly e-mailed the info home to the girls and they and their mother did their best. Faith pored over the many pages, now getting an in-depth biology lesson as part of her home education. By evening the rabbit was even acting frisky, hopping around and appearing content.
About 2:30 Friday morning, however, Faith appeared in our bedroom. The bunny was struggling. I tried to go back to sleep so I could go to work in the morning, while she and her mother sat with Alfalfa until he expired about 30 minutes later. Of course, I couldn’t go back to sleep. I knew my daughters were going to be devastated and I grieved for them and tried to think of what comfort I could offer.
When I came downstairs Friday morning things were pretty much as I expected. Faith was working her way steadily through a box of tissue and Patience had her head buried in her arms on the dining room table, crying. What I had feared had come upon me. Now what? As Faith approached I folded her in my arms and whispered what was in my heart: I was proud of her, proud of the way she threw herself unreservedly into trying to bring hope in a hopeless situation, for not regarding her own comfort while trying to bring comfort to another. Still, as I drove to work, broken-hearted for my kids’ sake, I asked out loud: “God, what was the point?” (By now maybe you’re asking the same thing about this story).
As the day went on it became clear to me that it was a meaningful lesson – both for my girls and for me.
John Adams wrote, “Duty is ours. Results are God’s.” Supposed lost causes can cross our path at any time, brought about both by injustice or indifference, and brought upon both the innocent and the complicit. When it happens we have the choice to respond with our head or with our heart. Actually, our choice is whether or not to respond to God’s leading, though it is often filtered through our own experience and outlook.
On this day I remembered the times when I had been confronted with someone suffering in fear and in pain as a result of others’ actions or their own decisions. I remembered those times when I had stepped out in faith, despite my own fears and doubts, and risked my own comfort, emotions and reputation to try and make a difference. I remembered the thrill of being used by God and the joy of witnessing miracles and turnarounds.
I also remembered other times when I did the same and when things – at least as far as I can see – have not yet turned out as well. Sadder still, however, I know there are also times when I sidled to the other side of the road rather than get involved. Perhaps I was afraid of being hurt in what appeared to be a hopeless cause, or felt helpless, or maybe I judged people to be deserving of their fate without remembering what it is that I’ve deserved. In these cases, though I might have tried to obscure it with rationalization, my duty was clear even if the outcome wasn’t. The revelation that restores clarity, however, is that it is not faith in myself (or another placing his faith in me) that changes the situation and makes the difference, but faith in God. The results are His, and even a presumed failure may yet serve His ultimate purpose. Our part is merely to do what is in front of us.
We never know when a dire need may appear, and for my daughters this episode was an early experience. No other thought occurred to them but to act with compassion and mercy toward one of God’s creatures, and both say they would do the same again even knowing how things would turn out. In this I can be content that neither they, nor the bunny, failed.