I noticed it was nearly time for the next presentation I was scheduled attend, so I slung my backpack over my suit, grabbed the handle of Whatchi's wagon, and headed outside. A gust of wind rippled through Whatchi's fur, a stunning display of natural beauty. I could watch it forever without getting bored.
Outside, as we made our way to another building, we passed a gentleman pushing a rickety cart full of personal possessions. He did a double take when he saw the striking figure in my wagon and called out to me, asking for a short visit with my rabbit. This wasn't unusual—I would often get stopped on the street when I was out with one of my bunnies. They often reached out to touch them or take a picture; I just wished they'd ask first. This man, huddled over his cart, was incredibly polite. I was struck by his courteous manner and how he treated me with genuine respect, not like a kid.
Still, I almost dismissed his request because I had traveled a long way to be at this conference and was in a hurry to get to my next appointment. But something nudged me to slow down and be in the moment. It's hard to explain the idea of providence, but you know it when you feel it. So I stopped and witnessed something I'd never seen before: the man bent down until he was eye to eye with Whatchamacallit, and then he tilted his head to the side and waited for Whatchi to acknowledge him. They looked at each other for a while. Then he asked my rabbit if it was okay to have a visit together. Only after Whatchi came over to the edge and engaged with the man did he reach out to pet Whatchi's fur. Despite the bustle around us , it was like time stopped.
The man sat down on a nearby bench. I pulled Whatchi's wagon next to him, and the two of them had a lengthy heart-to-heart talk. I stepped back to give them space.
Maybe it wasn't just any bunny this man needed to be with, but with Whatchamacallit in particular. They clearly connected. Whatchi was particularly patient and willing to let people stroke his fur for extended periods anyway, but he genuinely warmed up to this man on the street, and the connection was mutual. It felt like I'd come to Philly so Whatchi could spend time with this man and so he could spend time with Whatchi. They seemed to understand each other.
Only recently did I wonder if the two bonded because Whatchi came to our house with his own hard past. His mom was one of four Angoras who survived a barn fire in northern Minnesota, but because of the smoke, they all died much too soon, but not before one gave birth to a small litter that included Whatchi.
Whatchi was the smallest and different from the others in both looks and personality. It seemed to me like he truly grieved when his mother died, and although I'd never seen a rabbit act sad before, it made sense because he lost his appetite, stared off at nothing, and stopped being interested in playing. Over time he opened up again, and he let me in. People talk about dogs and other animals being able to sense things. I think the same is true for rabbits; it certainly was for Whatchi. Who knows—maybe his past gave him a special kind of empathy.
I don't know exactly how long Whatchi's visit with the man lasted—it's not like I checked the time. Finally he nodded toward me, motioning me to come closer. As I did, he stood up, reached into his pocket, and pulled out a wrinkled dollar bill, which he handed to me without an explanation. Knowing he had a sign on top of his cart asking for donations, I didn't feel right taking a donation from him.
"Thank you for your time," I said. "That's enough of a gift." He shook his head and pressed the bill firmly into my hand.
"Young man, this dollar isn't for you," he said. "It's for my friend here who has done more for me in the past fifteen minutes than any human has done for me in years. Do you understand?"
Our eyes met and I nodded my head. Yes, I understood.
Here My Yam
After I returned from the conference, I kept busy with bunny events and business responsibilities, chores and finishing elementary school.
Not that I've had a lot of experience to compare to, but I've had one of the coolest backdrops for growing up that a kid could hope for. I'm the only child born to hardworking Midwestern college sweethearts who managed a junior hockey team for ten years, which made me a lifelong hockey fan even though I don't play. I loved attending the team's practices and games, along with the road trips we took across the United States for recruiting. We even traveled as far as Italy and Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics, where our team served as peace ambassadors and I lost my first tooth.
I was young enough to be treated like a mascot, and for me, it was like having a whole bunch of big brothers. At games, I helped my grandmother in the merchandise stand area between periods and had fun singing along to the '80s rock anthems that blasted out on the PA during intermissions. If you want to hear music that pumps you up with energy, I suggest going to a hockey game.
My best friend in the world is Noah Bachman. His family lives across the street. We've played together almost since the day he was brought home for the first time. Although I'm a year and a half older, he had a major growth spurt the past year and now towers over me. I've given up hope of catching him. His whole family acts as if the extra chair at their dinner table has my name on it, with me fitting between Noah and his brother, Markus, who is seven years older than I am. Markus was born with health challenges that have kept him closer to our speed, and I'm thankful he has always been one of my closest pals too.