Freeing The Rabbit Of Vigilance from Terrorism


September 21, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 374
"Terrorism & The Rabbit Hole"

Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

       GROUND ZERO, New York City, September 21--In Alice & Wonderland, the journey to a bizarre world starts with Alice chasing a rabbit into its hole.   Down she tumbles, some say in a psychedelic dream, to land in a world of odd creatures where she is not welcome, terrorized, and must find her way out of the "Terror of Madness."
       Today, I saw a similar rabbit hole.
       It wasn't quite as glamorous as Alice's.   In fact, it was more sad than humorous, more troubling than revealing.  But its paradoxes were just as vivid, and its message just as potent as author Lewis Carroll intended in 1865 when Alice in Wonderland was first published.

     My granddaughter, Sarah, was asleep in the stroller; her head lolled forward in complete serenity.   Most children in New York City learn at an early age how to take naps in a stroller--they limp out, head sagged forward and to the side so it can rotate easily when you turn corners or hit bumps.   They look like rag dolls, impervious to screaming sirens and loud noises from the bustling streets.  Even a chained rabbit doesn't wake them from their sidewalk slumber.

       I had been walking all day at a brisk speed, transporting the four-year-old to her tumbling class at Chelsea Pier where she dons her tutu and walks on the balance beam, rolls over the low-bar, does backward and foreword somersaults, and a host of other coordination skills designed to build her confidence and spark her inner competition.
       We had gone to many places, computer stores, Burlington Coat Factory, the doctor's office twice to get a booster shot (the nurses had the day off, unfortunately for me), and, of course, McDonald's for a Happy Meal, which, I think, was a ruse to get the toy that McDonald's promises inside each non-nutritious meal they serve kids.
       Sarah was snoozing from a thorough gym workout.  Her somnolence was helped by the fat in the McDonald's milkshake and fries.  (She didn't eat the McNuggets.  Don't blame her, really, I don't.)
        We were  en route to pick up her brother, Matt, 6, from his school.   I assumed the babysitting for the day as my wife and daughters, one of whom is Sarah's and Matt's mother, were in Montana at my wife's mother's funeral.   I was "filling in" for G-Ma.
        Whenever I walk around the city, I am heavily armed.
         I like to shoot things.
         Not with a gun, with my digital camera.
         Since pictures say a thousand words, I've elected to pepper my stories on Vigilance versus Terrorism with as many photos as possible.    When I was a combat correspondent in Vietnam, I carried a waterproof Nikonos with me.  It had no telescopic capacity, and I learned how to get up close and shove the camera in people's faces to capture the ethos and pathos of war.    Part of me wanted to indemnify what I saw as the truth, for pictures just record what is, without embellishment.    

        I've found the infinite eye of the camera lens to be my punctuation to fact.   Somehow I feel comfortable knowing whatever I write has a real picture I took to back it up.    Plus, by looking for pictures my eyes are trained to see every pore in the concrete, and to be alert to any struggling blade of grass fighting its way through the maze of the city's choking steel and asphalt.
        So it was that I caught the rabbit out of the corner of my eye.
        The average passerby might have just glanced at it with a pleasing gaze, for the rabbit was sitting on its haunches holding a flourishing nest of flowers growing out of its tummy.   It was on the steps of an apartment building, a touch of nature amidst a forest of bricks and mortar.
        The gate to the apartment was shut, so I respected the privacy and started shooting my picture over the waist-high wrought-iron fence.    I kept a watchful eye on Sarah as I clicked picture after picture of the rabbit.
         Most people passing by might have thought I was a photographer capturing the rabbit's beauty.   It was a ceramic rabbit, colorful, blazed with pastel colors and cute rabbit eyes.  Everything looked normal except for one small but vital item.
         The rabbit was a prisoner.
         Behind the rabbit, where its tail was, was a ring,   Through the ring was a thick chain.   The chain was wrapped around the wrought iron and secured with a heavy-duty lock.    
         I understood instantly what it was--the owners of the rabbit didn't want someone to rip it off.   Things out on the street, or exposed to passersby, are vulnerable to being extracted from their owners.     For years there was a metal chicken sculpture cemented near a tree on the way to our daughter's apartment.  It was rusted but very attractive, and secured by heavy steel that made up its frame.    When we walked past it, we always said: "Look, here's the chicken."

       One day, about a year ago, the only remnant of the chicken was a steel spike sticking up from a chuck of concrete.  Someone had hack-sawed the chicken from its long-standing roost.   Obviously, the chicken belonged to someone, and, I'm sure, had a fascinating story behind it.   But now it was gone, victimized by some chicken Terrorist.    I felt bad because the kids had "adopted" the chicken, and now we had to explain that someone took it, and enter the realm of the human dark sides.   It wasn't pretty.
         So I was in full understanding of the lock and chain securing the rabbit.
         However, the paradox was that the rabbit looked more like a prisoner than an art relic.
         I'd never seen a chained rabbit before.
         Looking at the rabbit as you walked easterly, it appeared the rabbit was behind bars.  The wrought iron resembled a prison cell.  Ominous lines shadowed its figure, as though the rabbit had been "bad" and was being punished for committing some "rabbit crime."   The thick steel chain and bronze large lock added more dread to the rabbit's plight.    I thought of Amnesty International, and what they might say about a rabbit being held prisoner, however good the intentions of its owner.   
         I also thought of children.   What would a kid think about the thick chains around the rabbit?   Would they be looked at as one might view a lock on a door, or, as a leash limiting the freedom of the rabbit?    And for what reason?    Rabbits were free spirits, after all, with this exception, of course.
         But, as I moved my camera around to different angles, if you were walking westerly, you saw only a happy rabbit with a bellyful of flowers.   It was a delightful sight, because the owners had obviously drawn sight lines and placed the chains in such a way they were barely noticeable as you approached with the sun at your back.
         I thought of the two faces of life--the Vigilant one and the Terroristic one.    Approaching one direction, all one saw was a happy, innocent, free-looking ceramic rabbit offering a splash of color to the dull drab soot of the city.   But from the other view, you saw a rabbit in chains, a prisoner of people's intentions to raid and pillage the innocent.
         I thought of rabbit terrorism.    From one point of view, freedom existed without restraint.  From the other, there was none.   Freedom, peace and harmony was all an illusion.

      Part of me wished I had bolt cutters.  I had an urge to set the rabbit free, even though it was an inanimate object, because chains and locks disturb me.    I'd seen my fill of human deprivation.  I knew that any symbol of restraint was an affront to freedom in general, even a ceramic rabbit.
         Maybe it was the Terrorism of thinking that someone somewhere thought they had a right to bind and detain another human without just cause that set me off.    I knew that our laws were softening regarding the rights of people, and that more and more were being "detained," shackled, and bolted down under lock and key without certain rights of redress we once cherished in this country.
          To me, that was the breath of Terrorism exhaling its bile upon the citizenry.
          On the other side of the coin, I thought of Vigilance, and the need to protect the children, and families, from the threat of harm.   
           The rabbit symbolized the conflict.
           From one point of view, it was a "free rabbit."  From another, it was a "prisoner."
           I kept looking at my lovely granddaughter in her serene slumber.    I thought of her rights to be free, and then I saw the chains of change ensnarling her wrists.     It bothered me that we were chipping away at the fundamentalism of rights in the heat of Terrorism's embers.
           I thought of the waitress who called the government to report the three Middle Eastern men talking in a coffee shop, and how swiftly the government came down on them.     I thought of Big Brotherism, and how it creeps into societies from within, a cancer that no one sees coming until it is too late.
           All that was contained in the rabbit with the chains.
           I finished taking my pictures and walked toward the school where I was to pick up Matt.    I thought of the innocence of the children, unaware that in the bowels of government radical changes were taking place without the public making a peep, and if they peeped, they were castigated as being "pro-terrorists."
          I thought of the President asking for the right to wage war unilaterally on anyone who didn't meet our demands, and wondered if the role for America as the world's policeman was the right role, or one that would turn us into Alice's Wonderland, a mish-mash of characters twisted by a supercilious sense of righteousness that made no sense except to the Cheshire Cat who, in his constant grin, reminded us all of our folly to be more "right" than others.
          I had no answers.  

          But I had many questions.
          And I knew that all answers lie in the question--for without questioning the rights of others to take away things that belonged to them--freedoms for example---we were all becoming rabbits with thick chains and big locks.   We might look free, but we were shackled to laws and regulations that skirted the Constitution, and found exemptions in the same way the giant CEO's of major companies found loopholes to justify the stealing of equity from their stockholders.
          I didn't see much difference in the reduction of rights of Americans and the skimming of corporate funds, both weakened the institution of shareholder rights, and my granddaughter and all children have, or should have, the same equal rights as those who suppose they have a right to weaken the Constitutional links.
          A rabbit.
          Yes, a rabbit.
          I saw too much in the rabbit, perhaps, but as I shot glances from the camera lens to my granddaughter, I knew I had a job to do.   And that was to free the rabbit.


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