Sunday, June 6, 2010

teaching bunnies to fly

I had this student once — I wonder how many tales start that way — and it was a very long time ago. When I was obsessed with being a boxer. Yah. I wanted to box. And nobody would teach me. And I wanted it bad. Just to see what it felt like, to hit and be hit (in some kind of controlled environment). Once. Just once. Let me say right at the outset, that I lost interest in even the idea of boxing pretty quickly after the bunnies...

I was teaching this class at the time called Cultures and Conflict, or maybe it was Cultures in Conflict, I don't really remember anymore. And discovered one afternoon in class that I was a fraud. With a show of hands, every person in the room had had a fight, at least one, physical fight in his or her life — except me. And three quarters had guns, even the nun in the front row. And I was teaching this class?

What I knew was theory. Theories of conflict. I don't actually do conflict itself all that well. Better, I always say, just to run. Just keep running. Passport in hand. After all, we've been doing it for centuries. Millennia, really. It's worked out moderately well, hasn't it?

But this time, I wanted to learn how to fight.

So. At the end of the semester, this student, he told me he wanted to give me a graduation present. That's what he called it. It was, after all, his graduation, and he thought it would be fun. He came up to the City and decided to teach me to fight. Not boxing. Martial arts. My student became my teacher. But that's not what this tale is really about — it's just how it started.

Eventually, he invited us down to his ranch. Me and my kids. He taught my kids to ride the horses his family bred. What I remember most about the ranch were the guns everywhere, leaning against things. Stuck in mattresses, just in case. I watched my kids reach out; little private school urban Jewish children, reaching out ... He offered to teach them to shoot. He was a born teacher.

Mostly though, my kids were drawn to the bunnies. And the bunnies won out over the guns. And at some point, I overheard him telling my kids that his mom taught bunnies to fly.

Driving back, my kids were all about flying bunnies, and they didn't let the subject drop until I promised to find out more. After all, if his mom could teach bunnies to fly, so could theirs. I was a teacher, right?

The life of bunnies, like that of all living things, is a precarious thing. Or maybe, the life of bunnies is more precarious than many of the other creatures who live on the ranch. They require protection. And his family was pretty good at it. Pens and fences and shotguns to keep the bunnies safe (and sure, everything else safe as well). But fine. Safe bunnies. Got it.

But when one died of its own accord, his mom would take it from the pen, holding it up by the feet, climb up to the top of the ridge the ranch stood on, and fling the bunny way out into the wilderness below. And they flew, they really flew. And the coyotes were grateful. His mom, he said, was an expert at teaching bunnies to fly.

And I realize now, although it didn't occur to me then, that boxing or no boxing, martial arts or no martial arts, fieldwork or no fieldwork — and no matter how much my kids might want me to teach them — there was one thing that I would never ever be able to teach, and that was ... teaching bunnies to fly.

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