A few days ago, I had the most surreal day I’ve had in a long time.
Things were odd from the moment my three year old awoke and demanded honey toast instead of her usual cup of warm milk. “You haven’t asked for honey toast in months!” I reminded her, “Why today?” She had no answer, but I took it as a sign that things on that particular day may be, somehow, “different”. After the toast, my daughters and I had our usual two hour morning play-time together while my wife caught up on her rest (dreaming, no doubt, about a time when she may get a full night’s sleep without having to wake up and feed our seven month old.) We practiced writing letters, did the ritual potty visits and diaper change and enjoyed a slow walk around the neighbourhood, before returning home to check on the rabbit our friend had given us for a sleep-over the night before.
Our friend at the local vegetable market often keeps a few rabbits under his stall, which my daughter loves to play with whenever we pop in to pick up a few peaches, plumbs or mangoes. On one occasion he let us bring home two of the furry critters overnight ~ which was the source of incredible fun and the beginning of our promises to our daughter that “Once we have our own little house with land, we will have some pets.” So, as we swung by his shop to pick up a couple of bananas a few nights ago, he introduced us to a new, small black-and-white fuzz-ball of a bunny which he quickly boxed up with some limp lettuce and put in the back of our jeep for a one night visit. Back home, my daughter carefully cuddled and smooched the little rabbit out on the terrace before her bedtime, proposing that we get it a blanket as it was “shaking and shivering and must be cold.” We suggested to her that the shakes were perhaps more because it was just a little scared to be in a new place and around new people.
The next morning, following our Dad and Daughter’s walk, I took the baby out of her carrier while my older daughter went to check on her visiting bunny. By the time I caught up with her on the terrace, I noticed the rabbit was limping and that it’s head was sort of cocked oddly to the left. We decided the little creature wasn’t well and needed to rest. We presented it with a small dish of water and tucked it back into it’s box among the lettuce.
Our daughter’s morning tutor/playmate Rubina arrived and they took up their usual place in the solarium with some wooden blocks and toys. My wife dressed for work and I went to my studio to assess my projects for the day. A few minutes later I suddenly heard my oldest daughter scream. Running to the sound, I found her at the doorway of her bedroom ~ her hand outstretched and dripping with a neat little river of blood. I applied pressure with the handkerchief in my pocket (yes, I am one of those dying breed who always carries a white hankie in his pocked at all times.) and after too many kisses of consolation to remember, I discovered that she had left Rubina and gone to her room to decorate her wrists with some of her glass bangles (here, we call them chunia). One of the darn bracelets split as she pushed it over her hand, gouging her a good inch. Thanks to more cuddles, kisses and my daughter’s tough nature, the crying stopped as the cut quickly dried and a band-aid was set in place to keep the wound clean.
Crisis over ~ I went to have my morning shower and debated locking the door of the washroom. Knowing my wife would need to brush her teeth before heading out to work, I just closed the door behind me and began my morning meditation time under running water. I zoned out with a bottle of shampoo, thinking about my friend’s sick rabbit, my daughter’s cut and what I needed to do during my day ahead. Suds-fee, I turned the water off and grabbed a towel, when the door suddenly opened. I didn’t flinch, though I quickly hung my towel across my waist. Without my spectacles, I squinted hard, about to tease my wife for busting in on me while getting out of the shower… only to realize it was not my wife, but Rubina bringing in the baby for a nappy change! We both squeaked in embarrassment and she quickly shut the door. As I dried off, I pondered staying in the bathroom for the rest of my life and also reflected upon the nightmares poor young Rubina would have of my scrawny ribs and dripping beard. I also remembered this blog, and how earlier in the week, I had mused about my frustrations living with my wife’s grandparent’s and how their live-in help would sometimes go about their work in the bedroom while I hid, drying off in the bathroom waiting for the coast to clear.
Eventually, I emerged from my hiding place. After a bit of laughter and blushing, the matter was gone (though I doubt will ever be forgotten) and we left in a rush to get my wife off to work. I ran a few errands, returned home and went directly to check on the rabbit. My gut flipped and my blood ran cold as I opened it’s little box and saw it laying lifelessly ~ more wilted than the lettuce beside it ~ with a colony of ants already gathering to stake claim on his body.
That afternoon, tears and discussions about death flowed, as my daughter stroked her brief house-guest’s fur and whimpered, “Raaabbit….Raaaaabbit…” softly to herself, wondering why it was so still. “Why don’t we move when we’re dead?” she asked. “Will you die?” she wondered. “But I’ll miss you.” she worried.
Later, in the evening, after dropping by the vegetable stall to tell our friend that his rabbit had passed away, we dug a small grave for the creature in our front garden and then, under the stars, my wife and I let our daughter lead us in a little family prayer for her lost friend.
As I changed my daughter out of her play frock and helped her get her pajamas on, our discussions on the rabbit continued.
“You know how snails have a shell on their back where they hid when they get sacred?” I reminded her. (Ug…snails. They are always in my mind these days.) “Well, our bodies are like shells too. When it rains, and your hair and your clothes and your face get wet, do you get wet on the inside?” I asked.
“No.” she confirmed, listening intently.
“Close your eyes.” I instructed. She quickly shut them ~ anxious to find out what sort of experiment I was going teach her. As she lay there on her bed ~ between play-clothes and PJ’s ~ she was innocently buck naked…free, with no shame or fear. In a split second I remembered the day she was born ~ when she was so small, frail, naked and new before me ~ so different from the lanky, limber little girl she’s grown into. How quickly time passes. It hit me just how much I’d miss her if anything were ever to happen to her…how torn I’d be if I ever saw her as life-less as that little rabbit earlier the same day. In a flash, I pictured her one day as an adult, seeing me in such a state. Empty, limp and life-less. I was grateful, in those milliseconds, for everything she and I share, not just as father and daughter…but as friends.
I continued, “Now, even though you can’t see me or anything around you… are you still in there? Behind those eyes?”
“Yes!” She said, and smiled.
“Even though I can see that you are a little Nungoo Baba (naked guy) on the outside… can I see the real you hiding behind your eyes?” I asked. Again, with her eyes shut, she smiled and seemed to understand my point.
“That’s the real you.” I told her, “the one inside. Your body is just a shell. When you cut it, like this morning, it gets hurt, but the you inside stays safe. That real you is your spirit…your soul…your life. When your life goes out of you ~ back to the one who made it ~ your body-shell is just left behind and turns back into soil and flowers and trees.”
As she snuggled contentedly into her bed and fell to sleep, I left the room realizing that, without my spectacles on in the shower that morning, I was blind. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t flinch so drastically when Rubina busted in on me drying off ~ as if, because I couldn’t see the world around me, the dry, real me inside didn’t feel as concerned about the the wet, scrawny shell around it being seen. Hmmmmmm? ….Maybe there is innate wisdom in why children “shut their eyes and hide” from danger.
The real world goes on around us, but real life exists within us.