Today I came across a dying rabbit while out walking. It had a deep wound at the back of it’s neck, presumably from where it had been bitten. My guess is that my approach had scared off whatever predator made the kill. It was just lying there, chest rising and falling as it breathed in and out, gazing up helplessly. I assume it was paralyzed. I’ve come across a fair number of animal corpses before, and live ones are everywhere this time of year, but I don’t think I’ve ever been that close to something that large while it was actually dying.
What struck me was the pathetic, pitiful state of the thing. It wasn’t writhing around in pain, or crying out (do rabbits even have a call?) But it didn’t look peaceful either. It looked like a creature that had had it’s entire world swept from under it’s feet in an instant, and on some level knew that it was finished. Not wanting to let go of life, but too far gone to have any hope of it going on. It had passed from the point of struggling to survive to being something else’s dinner, while still being conscious and aware of the process.
And I couldn’t help identifying with it in that moment. The truth is that I have no idea what it’s like to be in that tiny rabbit brain. Maybe it was so flooded with endorphins that it wasn’t even really suffering at that point. Maybe it was in shock. Maybe it’s desire to survive bears no resemblance to our own fear of death. I don’t know. But there’s some kind of mammalian resemblance there, that I saw in it’s face. The recognition of something that wanted not to die, but now lay helplessly experiencing it. Perhaps that’s just me anthropomorphizing it.
I couldn’t take the thought of just leaving it there in that state, possibly for hours. I felt like I should probably end it’s suffering, but I didn’t have it in me to bash it with a rock or snap it’s neck. My instinct was to want to comfort it somehow, but I figured touching it would only distress it more. Eventually I decided to walk the 5 minutes to my house, and we went back with the car, with the thought of running it over to try and finish it off. Thankfully in the intervening time it had finally passed away.
But it forced me to acknowledge the reality of death on a level that’s never really hit me before. That I happened to stumble across that one creature in it’s final moments is insignificant in comparison to the billions of other animals that go through the same every day. That lie there helpless while experiencing something else tearing their body apart. Nature is truly red in tooth and claw. And of course I’ve known it was happening, intellectually. I’ve watched wildlife documentaries and felt the pang of sympathy as the antelope falls to the lion. But being that close forced me to really recognize it. Death waits just around the corner, for all of us. My aging dog, whose body is already breaking down. My aging parents, likewise. Me. We’re all just a car accident away from that point of helpless desperation, when we’re finally forced to give up the struggle to survive, and are overpowered by something beyond our control. Millions of people, every day, having life ripped from them, unable to deny it anymore.
I really struggle to see the good in this world. All that hopeless suffering, desperation, pain and fear. The will to survive, ultimately failing. And I’m part of of the process. I eat fish and dairy, which requires the death of even larger creatures. We feed our dog meat on a daily basis (including rabbit!). I swat mosquitoes without a second thought. Our cars frequently grind the corpses of other unlucky creatures into the dust. I am a bringer of death and suffering to others.
Can it be worth it – all that suffering, all that struggle? For the sake of reproducing your genes, perpetuating the cycle. The moments of satisfaction, happiness, peace, beauty. It it worth it? Is it good that this world exists? That life exists? That this cycle goes on? I struggle to see it. I want to believe on some level that it’s justified – that the blood price that we all face for existence is worth paying. But I doubt. If you put all those moments of fear, pain, and helpless hopeless suffering against those moments of joy, beauty and satisfaction, do you come out with something positive? Does the positive justify the negative? Or would it be a mercy if the whole cycle just came to an end?
I don’t know how to stop thinking about this. The fact that I have no power to change things doesn’t seem to make a difference to that. I have this need to believe that life is a good thing. And my mind keeps fixating on disturbing evidence to the contrary. I don’t think it’s the fact of death in the abstract that disturbs. It’s the way that life is torn from most creatures with no choice but to helplessly cling to it. It’s pitiful.