Santa brought bunnies to our house this year. I am not sure why I thought that was a good idea seeing as I am already an overwhelmed single mom who has chosen to teach teenagers for a living. But when I went to see a dear friend of mine who lives off the grid outside of Bastrop in a little mini house he built surrounded by chickens, goats, bunnies, horses and god knows what else; his daughter placed a bunny in my hands, and I held her for almost an hour. I can’t explain it. We melded. She cuddled close and warm under my chin, and as I stroked her my heartbeat slowed to a calm whisper. Since I’ve recently pledged to ask my heart for advice rather than my head, she and two of her siblings were under our tree this Christmas.
It’s been a scary transition this move away from always holding my cards so close to my chest: habitually checking for sharp edges, electrical sockets and passing cars. After losing my first baby and fighting for my family’s unity for six out of my 15 years of marriage, clinging to something rather than risking the free fall has always seemed safer. But after watching my marriage slowing dissolve in that death grip of fear, I now realize risking the unknown is the only way to stay alive. We do it every day when we open our eyes. Every inhale and exhale of air out of our lungs, we have to let go of the old to suck in the new. We just don’t always acknowledge this ritual, often choose to numb ourselves out with routine, work, drink or just good ol’ emotional drama.
So as I found myself stepping off that ledge once again, it hit me. That old fear. Bringing new life into our home also meant the risk of loss. Like the heart wrenching cries of my children as we sat holding their dying guinea pig a few years ago. The raw pain in their voices as they begged, “Please, Canela, don’t go!” Or the numbness I felt as I coughed out my still born child alone in a cold hospital room in Oaxaca, Mexico. Or signing the divorce papers that ended the hope of dreams I’d carried inside me from ever being born.
But there’s also fear every time I stand up on this stage and open my mouth to speak. The first time I played “Stand By Me” at One to One after signing up to finally learn to play the guitar in my 40’s or the jitters I got backstage as I was about to be in my first play at Frontera Fest a few weeks ago. Amazingly, it was my daughter who looked me in the eyes and said, “You got this, Mami!” And I do! Because I’ve finally started to realize, it’s not about avoiding pain. It’s about opening myself up to life! With all its risks, humiliations and disappointments, there’s also cute little bunnies curled up on your chest as you sit watching Merlin with your kids on a school night.
You see, when I took off my wedding ring for the last time, I took off more than a marriage. I discarded the safety that comes with any label. I no longer want anything wrapped around me that might keep me from changing and growing no matter how comfortable it may be. I need a skin that grows with me.
So we have bunnies! Recently, my kids and I each had our bunnies clutched to our chests as we binge watched “Stranger Things,” our new favorite TV show. And I found myself slowing down my breathing to calm the bunny from the frenetic pace of the plot but then realized I couldn’t tell who was calming whom. I smiled as I watched my daughter lovingly cover her bunny’s ears during scary scenes and thought how we sometimes let our emotions play us like instruments. The body follows their lead. Yet we can also work it backwards, calming our body to remind our emotions it’s just a show we chose to watch!
Agency. I’ve come to find it always comes back to that. The other day the bunny scratched my daughter pretty bad while she was trying to pick her up. I sat at a distance as she started to cry, but I didn’t jump up to save her. As I saw the tears burst from behind her lashes, I merely asked, “What do you need?” It’s so simple. Reminding each other of our own strength. A tall New Yorker friend reminded me recently, “You got this!” And another gym buddy gave me a bracelet with those very words engraved in silver. And I’ve watched my Toltec shaman teacher do something very similar countless times as people break into devastating tears when they confront the terrible pain of their life. No fear in her voice. No rush to comfort. She just holds space until the woman can own her journey and continue calmly down its path. It’s amazing the difference it makes when someone believes in you.
So I’m learning to walk through life with eyes and heart wide open. Courage isn’t about not being afraid but about being afraid and doing it anyway. And love isn’t about knowing the answers, papers signed and life insurance filed away. It isn’t owning someone like property “til death do us part.”
So now when I wake up in the middle of the night or my heart races as I hit my alarm in the morning and feel the familiar tug of anxiety in my gut, mind sprinting through the endless list of things to check off for the day, suddenly fearful of all the ways things could go wrong. When I feel that familiar empty hole pulsing out from the center of my gut – that fear of losing love or worse, of never finding it… I remind myself that that is not love. And if I accomplish nothing else on this earth, let me love. So I place one hand on my heart and the other on my belly and start with me. Then I send it to my children, my mom, my friends who walk through fire with me, and then to even those who don’t… Because I want to move from a place of connection, not rejection. I want to sink my teeth into each moment, like a lover’s nibble, tongue searching the moist insides of NOW. Melt into my senses: what it feels like, sounds like, tastes like to be me, fully inhabiting my own story, looking out of these eyes.
Because anything else is just shadows on a wall, passive-aggressively manipulating people to prove that they love us. And I’ve had enough of that in my life. So I keep stripping, peeling layer after layer. Inching out on that ledge and calming my bunny instincts that rush like hot blood in my veins telling me to run to safety, curl up, blend into the background, and close my mouth. But here I am still standing, adjusting to the tingling sensation in my fingertips, a heightened sensitivity and the inherent risk it requires. Rewiring myself...
And here I am now with 3 rabbits and 8 new baby bunnies who are slowly taking over our house. The babies have learned to pop through the bars of their cage so we have to be careful for the fluffy bundles sniffing at our feet. The other mama bunny lost her first 4 babies, and we buried them solemnly in the back yard. We’ve had candid talks about sex, and my kids now casually check the babies to see if they are a girl or a boy. The first time Tabbers, the boy bunny, tried to mount the mama bunny, she ran away and my kids scolded him, “Tabbers, she’s not ready!” And when she didn’t run but let him mount her, my daughter asked, “Mami, she’s grunting. Do you think that means she likes it?” And one time my son exclaimed concerned, “Mami, he’s doing it on her face!” And I blurted out, “Well, at least that means they won’t have any more babies!” My favorite was when we were discussing getting the boy bunny neutered after the first litter, and my son cut me off when I said we’d get him “fixed.” “Mami, there’s nothing wrong with him!” And I promised to wipe that terminology from my vocabulary in the future.
Thank you, bunnies, for grounding us!
For throwing us into the chaos that it means to be alive.
No answers and no guarantees.
Just alive for the moment,
and savoring every single drop of it!