The Rabbit in the Road

When I went to get the paper this morning at our rural mailbox, I saw a crow picking away at a dead animal in the road near our neighbor’s driveway. It looked like a cat, but when I walked over, it turned about to be a rabbit, a large rabbit. I felt sorry for the rabbit and also for the crow whom I had driven away by my presence. But the crow would be back. The rabbit wasn’t going anywhere–except as it was ingested into the crow.

This led to me reflect: what is the value of a dead rabbit in the road? I was reminded of some of the thinking of Holmes Rolston, III on the value of life in his Environmental Ethics, and also of some ideas I had written in my two books.

I think that a live rabbit has value in and of itself, and it affirms its own value as it tries to live. This is the value of life. And it the value of a particular creature that represents of legacy of evolution that goes back to the beginning of the universe. The rabbit, while alive, was in developed form some of the energy-matter from the “big bang.” this is true of all living forms including us. The rabbit also was a legacy of DNA evolution that over time on earth produced this particular rabbit. And the rabbit was a child of two other rabbits whose recombined DNA made this particular rabbit. All this was what I thought of when I considered the value of that rabbit’s life. It also is what I think about when I consider the value of my own life.

But now the rabbit was dead. Does it have any value? It certainly has value for the crow–the value of food that now helps support the life of the crow, who is affirming its own life by eating the rabbit. The crow is another manifestation of the energy-matter that had evolved throughout the history of the universe, another creature that had value in its own right–historical life value.

All things are here today as a result of their having come forth from the “big bang” through processes of evolution. All things are related to each other through that same process. Now dead, the rabbit is related to the crow as sustenance for the crow. It has what Rolston calls “life support value.” Certainly it is significant to support the value of another creature. This is a way that the rabbit was valuable even in death, in fact, only because it was dead.

So we all live and die, and we all have value in and of ourselves as results of the evolutionary creativity of the universe. And we all have value as we support the lives of others, as we care and nurture others through our living and, when we die, as our molecules and atoms continue to support the lives of others. My father used to say: “we are dust and food for worms” (paraphrasing Percy and Prince Henry in Shakespeare’s King Henry the IV). When I heard this, I understood my father to be simply stating a fact–the way life goes to death to support more life. In this dance of life and death, all beings, including rabbits and humans, have value when we die, because through death we become part of ongoing life.

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