We think we have hold of it’s concept, we understand it intellectually and then, as if to adhere to its own law, we don’t.
We are forever chasing something that is momentary, and then fighting its absence.
Recently I cleaned out one of my sheds and inevitably found a whole lot of baby rats. three nests. Nineteen babies. Despite my dad’s voice in my ear, ‘Kill them, they will either die anyway or grow up to plague you with disease.’ I left them in the cleaned out shed, in desperate hope that their mums would move them and I wouldn’t have to deal with them.
After three days and one death I succumbed to taking them on. All eighteen of them. I had a lot of disgust and shame that I had to deal with. I felt like I had centuries of unquestioned revulsion towards rats in general. When you think rats you think, sewers, filth, darkness, disease. They’re gross right…But are they? I realised without being aware of it I’d taken on my cultures idea/view of rats. Disease carrying, vile, dirty, evil etcetera and when I asked myself how I would have reacted to finding abandoned baby animals of literally almost any other species, I would have been delighted to raise them. I WOULD HAVE INTAGRAMED THE SHIT OUT OF THE PROCESS.
So… I caught my ego out. And I challenged myself. I woke up every morning before work at five am and fed all eighteen of them, then toileted them (baby rats can’t poo or wee by themselves and need to be ‘stimulated’ to go’. I repeated the process at night. At first I was revolted. But after only a week I felt really fond of them, I opened my heart, I let myself get comfortable in my new identity as rat mother. Mind you, I still didn’t tell anyone. I let myself get attached to the idea of telling this story. I let myself get attached to this new identity I’d created. The Mother Theresa of animals. Loving all, mending the sick, raising orphans despite the controversy surrounding whether they should be killed or raised.
And then one and a half weeks later the first one died of phenomena while I was at work. The guilt was extraordinary. I let myself take on the responsibility of the death of an innocent. But there were still seventeen mouths to feed. And I knew the next day I’d be at work and had to go to an event and wouldn’t get home till midnight. I did what I thought was the best thing, I took them to work to avoid them all dying of cold. Except that I had to leave them in the car. And when I finally got to them at lunch time, eleven were dead stiff. Heat exhaustion. Six remained, barely. I fed them and put them in the back of my ute where it wasn’t hot. Again I hated myself. I let the flood of guilt and anger and pain overwhelm me. I took it on like bodysuit borne of duty and shame.
How could I have been so fucking dumb? Self-loathing amputated the rest of my day. Every thought was followed by, ‘You irresponsible dickhead, you can’t do anything right.’ This is why they have those adds about not leaving dogs and kids in the car right? because they DIE. I let the experience filter into the classroom, I took it out on the kids, becoming brutal and mean. I hated myself even more.
The last six I was determined to raise to adulthood. I even told myself this lovely fantasy story about how I’d let them go in the sheds and they would remember me and eat from my hands. I would be the Animal Queen, like in my childhood dreams, where all the animals in the forest came to me with no fear and loved me. I even carried them in my pockets. Except…They did die. Two days later. I didn’t have a reason for their deaths. I just found them dead. And I was enraged. How dare the universe give me a bunch of rats to look after and then let them die? ‘Fuck caring,’ I screamed at no one in particular, ‘Fuck giving a shit about anything,’ I bemoaned, like one of my year nine students. Because it was my fault right? Because I’d failed. All that time wasted for nothing. I should have just left them and let them die on their own and blame their stupid rat mothers. Who did I think I was? Some kind of animal saviour? Nothing I did mattered. And after raging and tantruming for a few days about the futility of the world and the pointlessness of life, I put away all my emotions of powerlessness to be pulled out and examined at another time.
Which brings me to three baby rabbits. My rabbit had them without telling me. I found them squirming in a shoddy looking hole, pink, blind and deaf. I was both terrified and delighted. What if the mother has abandoned them? What if I have to raise them and fuck it up AGAIN?
These babies I did post on Instagram. Alongside posts of baby chicks and ducklings and a new puppy. ‘Oh look at me,’ my ego said, ‘look at this perfect life I live?’ Mind you I actually do feel that my life is perfect, or at least tailored to fit me perfectly. Every day I am filled with gratitude at the life I have created. But the thing is, EVERYTHING IS IMPERMANENT. So without realising it this last week I once again got attached to this image of myself, Animal Mother Theresa. And then yesterday I went to check on baby rabbits and realised one was missing.
I freaked out, emptied the entire burrow, searched the orchard the rabbits live in, searched surrounds. No trace. And I remembered that in the morning the cat had opened the door to the orchard and had his paws in the burrow and I’d kicked him out and yelled at him but didn’t check the nest. So I had to accept that my cat had probably eaten one. And it was my fault and I felt sick again with the responsibility of another death caused by my irresponsible pet ownership. Except this time I questioned it.
There is this thing about having lots of animals where you have to accept that they die. You have to accept that there is no secret to keeping them all alive because death is necessary for life and really my only problem with it is the attachments that I form to the living. We cultivate this idea that death is cruel and something that must be prevented AT ALL COSTS. But it’s just a transition into something else we don’t understand. The dead being is unlikely to be sitting outside of its body saying, ‘oh no! life was so much better than death.’ It’s more than likely that death is just another experience. ‘But,’ said Mia’s ego, ‘I’d already found homes in my head for ALL THREE baby rabbits, they were MINE.’ I’d already created this beautiful story of me handing them over to their new owners like precious jewels.
So this is my lesson: It is only our culture that has taught us to define death as something terrible to prevent. It is an illusion that we CAN prevent it. We have no control over anything or anyone else. Each being comes in when its little soul creates the perfect moment and plans it’s exit. It is not up to me to cling to each and every life that lives with me as if I ‘own’ their life. Because I do not. I own my own life and I can choose whether to live it consciously or not. Living a conscious life means being present with whatever IS, not what WAS or WILL be. I can feel sad and acknowledge my mislead attachment to the life of another, but taking on guilt and responsibility is pointless.
Goodbye rats, goodbye rabbits.