In 1984, I was driving my Pontiac Fiero down the road when I felt a thump-thump under my rear wheel. I looked in my rearview mirror, confused and wondering what that unusual sensation was, and to my horror, I saw a cat flailing in the street.
I immediately pulled over and began calling for help. I was very young in 1984, not at all prepared to deal with a crisis like this. Neighbors came out from their homes. A kind man- I will never know his name but will never forget his face- sat me down on the curb and told me not to look. I wept. And wept. And wept. The non-insect-killing, animal-loving vegetarian took the life of cat. It was not a moment of glory for me. Literally, I was inconsolable for days.
Yesterday, a woman driving ahead of us down our street in Sedona hit a small bunny. The bunny appeared to be fine; that is, she wasn't bleeding. The woman, shaken, stopped and asked if I would help. I immediately got out of the car with a soft towel and slowly approached the bunny. I wrapped her gently and placed her in a small box.
She was breathing, but her placidness meant she was badly injured internally. I took her home and began calling animal clinics. Images of the cat I'd killed 25 years earlier intruded. This was my chance for redemption. I will save the bunny, at any cost.
I called three clinics to no avail. Finally, a vet referred me to a woman who was "very skilled at small, wild animal" care. Hopeful, I dialed her. The bunny sat next to me in the box. Her breathing labored, I stroked the area between her eyes gently. It seemed to calm her.
No answer. I called again. Still, no answer.
I dialed animal control for guidance. They were, let's say, less than helpful. "Let nature take its course," they said, clearly misunderstanding my quest for redemption. I hung up frustrated. Then, in a matter of seconds, right before my eyes, the bunny leaned back in her warm box I'd intended as a place of comfort and recuperation from her injuries. She stretched out her front paws and looked at me as she took her final breath. Helpless, completely and utterly helpless.
"Death is everywhere!" I cried out loud through the house.
I wept, and wept, and wept.
And when I felt as if I'd wept enough, I dug a hole in my meditation garden, under the patina fountain where squirrels drink and birds play.
I wrapped the bunny-I-couldn't-save in velvet, designer shoe bags, and named her "Joy-Chen".
And I whispered to hear, "I'm sorry I couldn't save you."
"Goodbye little Joy." Atonement would not come on this day.
This morning, I woke up to small snow flakes dancing through the wind. The birds were singing, and the squirrels feasting on red berries and juniper.
I was quiet, contemplative, thinking about Joy and the cat and redemption.
And I said, in my mind, to the cat I'd killed so long ago, "I'm so sorry I killed you. I'm so sorry." A single tear ran down my face.
Perhaps, atonement did come that day, ever so subtly, and disguised as something else.
Death is everywhere. So is life.
They are inextricably intertwined.