At one stage in our lives, my family and I lived in a house with a large woodland at the back of the house, in a little place called Harrietsham in Kent.  Apart from salmon in the stream (the River Len ran through our backyard), there were many wild rabbits frolicking on our lawn.

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One year, in this part of Kent, many rabbits were infected with myxomatoxis. Once infected, these rabbits have very little chance of surviving. My son Kit and his father would cull the infected rabbits to put them out of their misery.

One day, they found a baby bunny who was healthy. It was found alone so they took it indoors and cared for it. When it was at the “teenager” stage, they released it back to the wild. But the rabbit did not want to leave its box.

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What imprisons us is fear. Fear puts us into a small room with a locked door, where we are prevented from making meaningful connections with other human beings. Of course, life still goes on as usual for the prisoner, but one that is lacking in authenticity. We have relationships, but through the bars of our prisons. It’s like making love without being completely naked: you go through the motions of ins-and-outs, but you would not know the exquisite pleasure of the skin-to-skin connection.

Trapped in a small room, we stop speaking the common language as we formulate a new one that is spoken from behind walls. Like the walls, the new language seeks to protect the speaker’s heart. Clever words, witticism, humour and anecdotes to bury the vulnerability, to become immune to the exquisite pleasure (and yes pain, too) of living.

In personal relationships, it is often love that gives us the courage to unlock the door of the prison and walk out into the arms of the beloved and to speak the common language again, instead of “I’m black/white, straight/gay, Muslim/Christian, conservative/liberal.” It’s a scary thing to do (absolutely!) to come out of the box whose walls you have spent years building to protect yourself from past hurt. As a child who’s had a terrible childhood until my adopted parents came into my life, I never want to leave my box, which is my family, and venture out on my own. But this is my chance, with my youngest leaving home.

It is also a choice, a conscious decision, whether you want to live in a box forever (like the rabbit) or to be courageous enough to live free in this glorious world.

Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.

~ Maya Angelou