Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Inlehain died today. He was four years old.
He was Inlehain, which in Lapine means "Song of the Night".
He was Inlehain-Rah; the Chief Rabbit of his little warren. He had a regal air, carrying his posture carefully in what Katherine called "Bunny Yoga", confident of his status.
He was a loyal and loving companion to his mate and sister Hyzenthlay. The two have never been more than three feet apart for more than two hours. They loved each other, as bonded rabbits do; snuggling closely even when there is plenty of room in the cage, gently licking each other's ears, face, and eyes. Now Hyzenthlay is alone in the world.
He was my friend.
This morning, I was about to head out to the gym. There was a strange sound, but I assumed that it was crickets outside chirping. Then I realized that it was coming from the direction of the rabbit cage.
I stuck my head inside to listen closely. It was Inlehain. He was breathing laboriously, as though it took tremendous effort.
I woke up Katherine. A few minutes later, I was on my way to the emergency vet. He died on the way.
We were within perhaps a mile of the clinic when Inlehain, wrapped in a towel in the laundry basket in the passenger seat, went into convulsions.
Rabbits are silent creatures. They lack vocal cords and so do not bark or shout. But I have heard it said that a rabbit makes one sound in its life: the deathscream. I figured that this was folkwisdom; a mere legend.
Inlehain's deathscream was a horrible, horrible sound. He coughed up his last breath in it, and died.
One of my colleagues here at Asbury is a respiratory therapist; a kind of nursing field that trains people with respiratory illnesses how to strengthen their breathing.
She says that the very first time that a baby breathes, it takes in a volume of air which is never exhaled. Lungs are never truly empty; they always have this first breath within them. They carry this same air for the full duration of life, only to be emptied in death.
It is, in the Hebrew, the bara -- the breath of life. God breathed it into Inlehain at his birth. And I saw it -- with my own eyes -- leave his body. He visibly shrunk as the deathscream ended.
I am grateful to Inlehain for the way that he died. I mourn that he died in agony. But he did two things for me. When I decided to get him to the emergency vet, I opened up the cage. Hyzenthlay hopped out immediately and went for their favorite hiding spot. Then, suddenly, Inlehain struggled to get out of the cage. He barely made it out, tripping over himself. I hadn't expected that in his condition, he would try to get out of the cage.
His gait was a bit irregular, but he galloped around the living room in a circle and headed back to the cage. This told me something important. Every rabbit owner had a deep dread in his mind: that he will accidentally break one of his own rabbit's bones. Rabbits are very fragile creatures. But Inlehain's lap around the room informed me that he did not have any broken bones. There would be no need to torture myself with questions of what I did wrong that could have caused this calamity.
The second thing that Inlehain did for me is that he did not die quietly in his cage. I did not have to reach into the cage in the morning to get them food and water and then find, inexplicably, a dead friend. Inlehain let me be present in the moment of his death.
He died well, as the Klingons might say. Or perhaps, to use a better metaphor, as the Efrafans might say. He did not slide into unconsciousness and thence into the forever sleep. He was conscious, fighting for his life, right up until the moment that that horrible sound came out of his shaking body.
That unearthly scream is reverberating in my head. It will likely be there for a long time. But Inlehain died well, and he let me be present when he died.
One chilly, blustery morning in March, I cannot tell exactly how many springs later, Hazel was dozing and waking in his burrow. He had spent a good deal of time there lately, for he felt the cold and could not seem to smell or run so well as in days gone by. He had been dreaming in a confused way -- something about rain and elder bloom -- when he woke to realize that there was a rabbit lying quietly beside him -- no doubt some young buck who had come to ask his advice. The sentry in the run outside should not really have let him in without asking first. Never mind, thought Hazel. He raised his head and said, "Do you want to talk to me?"
"Yes, that's what I've come for," replied the other. "You know me, don't you?"
"Yes, of course," said Hazel, hoping he would be able to remember his name in a moment. Then he saw that in the darkness of the burrow the stranger's ears were shining with a faint silver light. "Yes, my Lord," he said. "Yes, I know you."
"You've been feeling tired," said the stranger, "but I can do something about that. I've come to ask whether you'd care to join my Owsla. We shall be glad to have you and you'll enjoy it. If you're ready, we might go along now."
They went out past the young sentry, who paid the visitor no attention. The sun was shining and in spite of the cold there were a few bucks and does at silflay, keeping out of the wind as they nibbled the shoots of spring grass. It seemed to Hazel that he would not be needing his body any more, so he left it lying on the edge of the ditch, but stopped for a moment to watch his rabbits and to try to get used to the extraordinary feeling that strength and speed were flowing inexhaustibly out of him into their sleek young bodies and healthy senses.
"You needn't worry about them," said his companion. "They'll be all right -- and thousands like them. If you'll come along, I'll show you what I mean."
He reached the top of the bank in a single, powerful leap. Hazel followed; and together they slipped away, running easily down through the wood, where the first primroses were beginning to bloom.
Come, O El-ahrairah, and carry away my beloved Inlehain to where the sun is warm, the grass is sweet, and the elil are slow.