The Lesson of the Rabbits Who Listened by Cori Doerrfeld
I want my children to learn so many things. I want them to study history, science, art and to become critical thinkers. But, I also want my kids to develop a strong emotional intelligence. All too often I realize that adults, myself included, struggle for what to do in difficult situations that involve emotions like grief or depression. Over the past few years, two of my friends faced losing a child. I couldn’t even begin to understand the pain they went through and still carry to this day. It was a very helpless feeling to not know how to be there for them, and it quickly became clear that most of the people in their lives felt just as clueless as I did. Nobody really knew what to say or do. It made me realize how much I wished we talked more about empathy and emotions with our children, our families, and as a society.
As I thought about the helplessness I felt, I remembered a letter I got back in high school. The letter was from my high school boyfriend, someone who also experienced losing a loved one. When my high school boyfriend was only eight years old, his older brother was killed in a car accident. It was something he didn’t talk about very much, but he wrote me a letter once that explained a little of what it was like for him after his brother died. The letter described a little boy surrounded by concerned adults. Adults who talked a lot. Adults who tried to tell him how to feel, or what he needed to do to get better. There were so many voices, he said it was impossible for him to even hear his own thoughts, let alone begin processing his emotions. Eventually he began retreating by himself to the small barn on his family’s property. There, he would sit amongst his pet rabbits. The rabbits were warm. The rabbits were peaceful. The rabbits were quiet. It was there surrounded by his rabbits, that he was finally able to think and feel on his own terms for the first time since the accident. He could talk to the rabbits without anyone interrupting, judging, or even trying to understand. It was the first time someone just listened.
I had thought about these rabbits before, but for the first time the invaluable wisdom in their quiet, loving support really became clear. In our awkward attempts to somehow make things better or rush someone through emotions that make us uncomfortable, we often forget to stop and just listen. I was overwhelmed by the sense that I had to do something with these thoughts, for my friends, and to honor the message of the rabbits. One day, on a long walk with my dog, everything started coming together as an idea for a book. I rushed home and began sketching and writing. The idea flowed out like a good, long cry. I had never written a book like this before, so I was hesitant to share it with anyone. I wondered if what I put together made sense or if the story really captured everything I was trying to communicate. I decided to send it to my critique group, anxious for feedback. I remember how immediate their responses were that I was onto something, and that I had to share the book with my agent. My agent had a similar reaction, so with all their support I submitted the book for publication.
That very same day, I heard back that editors were not only interested, but people were instantly connecting the book with their own lives. It was overwhelming how quickly offers to publish the book came in, but more so how clearly the message of the book was resonating with others. The entire experience has left me humbled and grateful that I may contribute in some small way to the overall idea of emotional education. I want people, like myself and my children, to start learning what to do when life gets difficult and emotions become awkward, messy, and overbearing. I hope the simple message of The Rabbit Listened is something people can share when they don’t know what else to do. I hope it becomes a reminder that sometimes there isn’t much we need to say or do. Sometimes, we just need to listen.
Cori Doerrfeld has created many popular books for children including Little Bunny Foo Foo: The Real Story. She wrote The Rabbit Listened (on sale February 20, 2018) after several of her friends went through difficult times. She hopes it’s a reminder that often what a person needs most is someone who will just listen. She lives with her family in Minneapolis, Minnesota.