Sunday, May 2, 2010

Bunny Suicides

The image (centre) is of Garuda, mythical bird in Buddhist and Hindu lore, mentioned below. NOT A BUNNY.

I can't quite work out how this fluffy bunny (see picture opposite) managed to depress the lever -from inside the toaster - after inserting himself (or herself) into the toasting slot. Can this be a case of assisted suicide or bunny euthanasia?

The technology-assisted self-destruction shown in the picture (below, at the bottom) shows a level of ingenuity, and a capacity for meticulous pre-planning, I wouldn't have associated with bunnies. But the older I get the more I realise how I may always have taken the sensibilities of animals for granted, and underestimated their intelligence.

Several years ago my daughter gave me the Book of Bunny Suicides for Christmas, and I was impressed with Andy Riley's finely-observed compilation of several dozen cartoons, each depicting the self-executed demise of a "little fluffy bunny who just doesn't want to live any more". Whatever one thinks of the incidence, causes and morbidity of depression in bunnies (and I haven't previously given it much thought at all), this book illuminates the issue vividly, and I read it at a single sitting.

To say I read it gives a false impression, as there is hardly any text at all, it's all pictures, there's a laugh on every page, and not many pages overall. On several pages I laughed out loud, and on quite a few I laughed helplessly. These cartoons are wickedly funny, consistently, inventively morbid, timeless and also de nos jours. Some bunny-suicides as illustrated take a bit of working out: for example, one bunny - presumably having tried unsuccessfully to die at his own paw using other methods - succeeds in fixing himself to the front of an Underground train (super-glue, velcro, blue-tack?) from which position - suspended above the tracks - he urinates directly and precisely onto the third 'live' rail, with the result that a violent electric charge passes up his urine-stream, with the intended result: he sizzles.

You have to see it to be swept away with admiration at his determination and his ingenuity. How did he manage to fix himself on to the front of the train without attracting the driver's attention? How much did he have to drink to be sure that he could maintain a steady urine-stream for long enough to hold the circuit and produce death? Did he have to practice this method by 'dummy runs'? All this is fascinating conjecture, without even going into what caused bunny to be depressed in the first place, even if he were depressed, which is itself debatable (there are other motives for suicide than depression).

Shortly after I got the Book of Bunny Suicides I passed it on to someone I visited in hospital, dying of an inoperable brain tumour. I did this on an impulse, and it turned out to be a helpful one. The person to whom I gave it found it a real tonic, and got many laughs out of it during his final illness. It's a book you can keep around and turn to in those moments of rather ponderous solemnity and self-concern we're all subject to now and then.

I bought a dozen of these Bunny Suicide books, one for myself, and the rest to give away when the circumstances seemed right, especially around terminal illness: I don't think offering this book as a gift to someone dying is a matter of very fine judgement, in fact I think that bringing very fine judgement to bear on dying and death can be a fearful business. Attending on the dying and death of others - and our own - calls, perhaps, for the qualities of that mythical and fearless Buddhist bird, Garuda.

Garuda is a do-anything, go-anywhere bird, and he can fly as soon as he is hatched. He crawls out of his shell on to the narrow shelf overlooking a vertiginous precipice and - finding no where to perch - falls into the void spreading his wings and flying at once, looking fearlessly for evil adversaries to slay: doubt, prevarication, hesitation, self-consciousness. It's said that Garuda sat on the Lord Buddha's throne as a protector until - during the Buddha's delivery of the Heart Sutra - a bat farted. Garuda promptly killed the bat for its insolence, whereupon he was banished for breaking the First Precept.

I do think (by the account given in the story) the Lord Buddha seemed very hard-hearted, but perhaps he didn't issue the order that banished Garuda, perhaps it was a pompous minion acting ultra vires. If the Lord Buddha lacked a sense of humour, or a sense of proportion, and had never himself farted in public (doubtful indeed), he would probably have had me banished - like that flatulent bat -for distributing Bunny Suicide books to dying friends. Which is why I've always taken stories about the life of the Buddha with a pinch of salt, or with a whiff of bat-fart.

As far as I can recollect, Garuda was eventually re-instated, and is now available to me - when the occasion presents itself - to deliver the remaining two Bunny Suicide books I've got left to give away.

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