The Struggle

I shot Bunny the calf this morning. After feeding her bottles of milk twice daily for nearly four months.  Euthanized her – to be more precise and perhaps less honest about something that it took me days to steel myself to do.  She had broken a leg somehow and was wracked by arthritis in the other three.  She could no longer get up without my help. I found the spot on her forehead that would kill her instantly and pulled the trigger. (I never get used to the silence inside the gunshot when your ears ring and the body falls to the ground, and it seems that time stops.  It’s eerie and you want to cry and you are for a little while unclean in every way, a monster to all that look at you.)  

I’m sorry, Bunny, you who came into the world so bereft and fought so long to stay here against all odds.  I know that you were never really well while you were here.  It was only going to get worse and that’s why I did what I did. I know you never stopped trying to live. You had almost four extra months than you would have otherwise, four months to see day turn into night and back again, to be hot and cold, hungry and full.  That was something I think.  It is something to get to live in the light, to feel pain, to have lived no matter how briefly.

I should have killed you long ago*. I should have let you die as you were born, alone.  I should have known that I couldn’t overcome what was broken before I even found you…

What do I know about saving or taking lives?  I have done more of both than most but not enough to know what the significance of either might be.  What traces do life and death leave?  If any. Do we need to leave traces of ourselves – our words, empires, monuments, off-spring, names, gravestones?    Can we not just trust the dark from which we came, as much as the light in which we live? 

Sometimes it seems that we fight too hard with the world, fight against it obsessively, feverishly.  We take everything so personally. Something fearful haunts us and we fight against it wildly – even if we can never quite grasp what it is we fear so deeply.

Not that we shouldn’t struggle because the struggle is the most beautiful part of being alive.  Not that we shouldn’t fight for a place in the sun, for beauty and health and poetry,  for justice and mercy.  But there is a time to accept that there are unmerciful but also un-malicious currents in which we live our lives.  The struggle is noble, but so is acceptance.

I loaded Bunny’s body into the back of the truck and found a  beautiful young ‘ohia tree  to lay her under.  She will feed the tree and the wild pigs and dogs.  She will have done something good, as we all can only hope to do.

(*when I found out that you had been abandoned so young that you did not get a chance to nurse from your mother at all. Without the transfer of that first milk – colostrum – it seems that the symbiotic microbiology that has nurtured cow-bodies these millions of years is not passed on.) 

6 Replies to “The Struggle”

    1. Thank you very much, David. I am going to enjoy checking in on your travels. Love the DH Lawrence quote you posted a couple months ago.

  1. We do what we have to do. You tried way beyond your ability to succeed. Had a close friend that ended up a hospice nurse, treasured by each patient and especially the families, to help them deal with the end of dearly beloved life. But every one of her “cases” died. And periodically she would have to quit and go work in the OB-GYN birthing wing to maintain her sanity, that balance that all of us require. My sister also worked as a nurse and eventually at NIH in a children’s pediatric oncology wing where every single one of her experimental treatment patients died, and she, after giving all she had, eventually broke and had to leave. The struggle was everyday but there was no balance.

    Know you have nurtured many and that you have succeeded with almost all of them. But know too that it doesn’t make it any easier. Don’t stop feeling the depth of it… It is what makes you You

  2. Sorry to hear of this. I agree with Richard – It is what makes you Michelle.

    Not that it makes things any easier, but I wonder whether the cow instinctively knew there was something amiss with this calf – something she could do nothing about. By abandoning the calf early on she would more quickly come back into heat to be bred again. At least in the wild. I recall discussing what should be done with a cow in the herd that abandons her calf (when you first introduced Bunny). And I know far too little about cattle. So my earlier thoughts about culling a cow that abandons its calf may have been wrong.

  3. Michelle,
    I’m so sorry to hear about Bunny! And I’m so proud of you Michelle, both for your willingness to take on her care and feeding, and for your strength to end her life because it was necessary.
    This morning I was thinking about the term “mothering” before I read your heartfelt post. Strange how much your post changed my thought process. I was thinking of mothering as loving and caring for others, especially those who cannot care for themselves. Whether we are male or female does not matter. Whether we care for another human or a non-human does not matter. When we accept responsibility for another we care about them. We love them unconditionally. We open up our heart and bonds connect us one to another. The bonds are what cause us the most pain when we lose loved ones. But the bonds of love are necessary in order to make those painful sacrifices that are always necessary.
    Now I also am thinking of being a mother and being strong enough to end Bunny’s life because that is what she needed. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to have to shoot Bunny. I don’t even want to think of what it would take to steel myself enough to do that even if I knew it was necessary. That took a great deal of courage and strength, Michelle. I wish I could have been with you as you laid her under the tree. I wish I could share a long hug and probably lots of tears, saying goodbye to Bunny. I wish her a good journey. I will be thinking of you.
    Take care my friend,

  4. Thank you, Jody, for your kind words and wishes for that little soul. Yes, we never really stop learning what it means “to mother” someone, do we?


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