I had gathered my three grandchildren on the porch for story time. Rodrigo, the seven year old, said, “Grandpa, can you tell the story of the priest and the rabbit? It’s my favorite and I don’t remember it all.”

Carmen, who just turned eleven and didn’t visit as often as Rodrigo, said, “I’m not sure I remember that one at all, Grandfather. Anyway, this won’t take too long, will it?”

Little Alicia, younger than Rodrigo by two years, just smiled.

“Certainly,” I said. “And Carmen, I have a story about your namesake as well, but for today children and for Rodrigo especially—since he spoke first—the story of the priest and the rabbit.

“The day the rabbit showed up at the south end of town was a very auspicious day indeed. It hopped, sort of, out of the scrub brush: small, gnarled mesquite, white-thorn acacia, dried-up creosote and a tuft of range grass now and then. There should have been a flower or two as well, but the lack of rain had sealed the fate of that eventuality. There had been overpowering, heavy rains to the south, but in our little corner it was just hot and dry. Our fields, what few there were, had withered, and the one cow, three goats and several chickens in town had succumbed to the drought as well.

“From the time Father Rodrigo Saenz first saw the rabbit it had moved only a few meters before a crowd began to gather. Of course, bowing to good manners they remained behind the line formed by the good Father’s shoulders. He didn’t have to raise his arms to bar their way or to establish proprietary rights over the rabbit. The rabbit had shown itself to Rodrigo first, and that was that. It was all very natural, very civilized, and only Rodrigo and the rabbit itself would dictate any further actions. The crowd remained civilized as well, almost silent, with only the occasional murmur slipping through the dust that hung in the air.

“‘Ooh, look at that!’ one person said. Another pointed and whispered, ‘It is a rabbit?’ A young one exclaimed, ‘It is beautiful!’ An older one responded with a shrug. ‘It is food.’ But most of us simply watched. Regardless of our comments or our silence, we all averted our gaze from the rabbit at least one time to search for other rabbits, to no avail. This rabbit was a loner.

“The rabbit seemed at once grateful for and ignorant of the crowd. It hopped, but with no great energy. The motion was more of a raising up on its hind legs and then overbalancing toward its front legs so that it had to catch itself. Certainly it was in no rush. Most rabbits hopping and grazing along a roadside, upon realizing they were being eyed by even one human, much less an increasing crowd of humans, would have done rabbit magic and disappeared, running in jagged, angled spurts. But this one didn’t.

“As if on cue, someone said, ‘He doesn’t run. I’ll bet he is deaf.’ He even raised his voice slightly and called to the rabbit, ‘Hey rabbit, are you deaf?’ A man in the crowd snorted through his nose, then said, but quietly, just in case the rabbit was not deaf, ‘Deaf or not, he must know we’re here. Still he does not run.’

“And the rabbit didn’t run either. After each lazy hop, it sniffed about, but in that curious, timid way that rabbits sniff, as if they don’t want to be seen doing it. A man with binoculars would be hard pressed to see the nose wiggle with such a timid sniff. And having sniffed, if there were anything nearby that seemed succulent, the rabbit would nibble, again very timidly. All of this as the town slowly emptied and the crowd across the street grew around old Saenz.

“Nobody had thought to ask Rodrigo Saenz why he hadn’t picked up a rock and brained that poor rabbit. It would create a fine stew and there would be enough leftover rabbit for a few meals besides. It was a good thing to be a man of peace, a man of the cloth, but all men need food regardless of their calling, and nobody in the town had eaten for a few days. Truth be known, Rodrigo probably had gone longer without food than the others. He was the village priest, and a good one. By that I mean he always set the good example and provided for others before he provided for himself. But the fact remained that he hadn’t provided a dead, cleaned rabbit for anyone. In a moment of weakness, I thought, How dare he not take this opportunity to feed his flock?

“As if giving thanks for that thought and expressing it as action, the rabbit hopped, sniffed, nibbled.

“Well, as an elder in the town, it is among my responsibilities to question the priest when necessary. I was standing behind Rodrigo and to his right, and I tugged lightly on his sleeve. Barely above a whisper, I said, ‘Rodrigo?’ He inclined his head toward me slightly but kept his attention on the rabbit. I said, ‘Rodrigo, should we not give thanks for this bounty and thump it on the head with a rock?’ Imperceptibly to anyone but me, he shook his head, then said, ‘No.’

“The rabbit hopped and sniffed and tasted a bit of discarded baling wire that must have reminded him of red grass. Not too intelligent, our rabbit.”

Carmen giggled.

I said to the padre, ‘I’m sure any of us could outrun it and put it out of its misery. Old Garcia has his cane,’ I said. I could borrow it and—’ But he interrupted me, again with a simple ‘No.’ I tried to explain. I said, ‘Rodrigo, I think it might be no great loss to rabbits who know what they’re about. Perhaps this one is an outcast.’ But the good priest just smiled and said, ‘No. He is not an outcast. He is an example.’

“The rabbit hopped and sniffed, then leaned into another hop. ‘An example?’ I said. ‘An example of what?’

“The priest turned to me. Very quietly, he said, ‘Gervasio, the rabbit is a miracle. I’m not sure how I know, but he is a miracle and an example.’ Then he said one of the simplest and most important things I’ve ever heard: ‘Listen… he is speaking to us.’ Then he turned slightly and repeated it for the crowd. ‘All of you,’ he said, ‘be still and listen closely… he is speaking to us all.’

“Well, as you might imagine, there were more murmurs from the crowd than before all at one time. They almost reached the point of being a little loud, but then they died as quickly as they had begun. As the priest had suggested, we watched and listened. The rabbit hopped, sniffed and nibbled, hopped, sniffed and nibbled. It was a slow process, but somehow he held our attention. As the rabbit hopped, sniffed and nibbled, we and the priest shuffled along with him. As we neared the center of town, the earth rumbled, then calmed, but even the earth moving beneath our feet seemed of less importance than watching the rabbit, listening to the rabbit. The rabbit hopped, sniffed and nibbled, we listened, and after a time we came to understand.”

Little Rodrigo Saenz Rodriguez Arrancado turned his face up to look at me, his eyes wide. “What did you understand, Grandfather?”

I sipped my coffee, then set the cup on the table beside my chair. “An old lesson that presents itself in many ways many times during a life, perhaps to keep us on track—that things are very seldom as they seem.”

Carmen smiled, having recently come into the certainty that there is nothing she doesn’t know, and was seemingly wary of a trap. “But a rabbit is still only a rabbit, Grandfather.”

“Oh yes, yes… it was still a rabbit, true enough, but as the priest said, it was a great deal more than a rabbit. Tell me, Carmen, Rodrigo, Alicia… do you believe in angels?”

Rodrigo and his younger sister nodded, their eyes wide with anticipation.

Carmen crossed her arms in what some might have thought was defiance, but it was not defiance. It was derision. “Of course, Grandfather. Things that exist are not dependent on belief.”

“Exactly. Also, some things are more than just one thing. The rabbit—” I swept my gaze over all of them. “The rabbit was an angel.”

As the other two stared, still wide eyed, Carmen almost allowed her jaw to drop open before she caught herself. “Now that would be a matter for belief, that one real thing could also be another. Did you say the rabbit spoke?”

I nodded. “The priest, Rodrigo Saenz, said the rabbit was speaking to us. We heard no actual words—at least I didn’t—but that one statement and the possibilities it created caused us to listen. And that was what mattered…that we listened. But let me get back to the story. Then you too will understand.”

All three children stared at me with rapt attention.

“We continued to watch the rabbit as it hopped and sniffed and then either nibbled or, if there was nothing to nibble, hopped again. It seemed unaware of us, or at least unconcerned. And that is how it spoke to us. Rabbits are very rational. Human beings are not. But that day, the rabbit taught the humans what it means to be rational.

“There were no words that I heard, but there were impressions, sensations, that meant the same as words but bigger. They came into my mind as clearly and with as much meaning as if spoken to me personally in an otherwise quiet room.”

Carmen frowned. “But what did it say? For example, did it say,” and here she paused and put on a faux baritone voice, “‘I am an angel, so you must not eat me! You must be still and ignore your grumbling belly as I lecture you!’” Her smile broadened. “Did it say that?”

I looked calmly at her, and I spoke softly. “No, Carmen… no, that the rabbit was an angel is my own conclusion. But the impressions that washed over me, although clear as speech, were not separate and disjointed. They were smoother even than the smoothest rhetoric I’ve heard uttered by humans. And the impressions overlapped in waves. Unfortunately, I can describe them only with speech, so the description will lack much of the substance.

“The first impression was that the rabbit was at peace. It meant no harm and experienced no fear. It was not separate of us, but part of us, or rather we were part of it. Had there been a thick field of lettuce that he knew was ours growing alongside the road, he would not have partaken, except perhaps of a head that had grown wild, its seeds removed from the field by a breeze.

“The second impression was that it knew we could kill it and eat it but that we wouldn’t. There were three dozens of us plus some, the whole town. And there’s the wisdom—we could easily have destroyed the rabbit, but only a few could have eaten. Collectively we did not want to know which few would have eaten and what they would have done to fend off the rest of us.

“The third impression was that where there is life and reason, hope is eternal. The rabbit, left alive, hopped and sniffed, hoping to find minuscule morsels of food. The bits of food he found seemed only enough to fuel the next hop to the next morsel. And that brought the fourth impression—the collective realization that we were rooting for the rabbit, and therefore rooting for ourselves. And in that way, the rabbit moved the entire two kilometers through the town: hopping, sniffing and nibbling when there was something to nibble.”

“And you all just moved along with him?”

I nodded. “We all just moved along with him, even through the trembling that occurred as he reached the center of town.”

“And he continued to hop and nibble and pay no attention?”

“He continued to hop and nibble and pay no attention, either to the trembling earth or to us, his faithful audience.”

“And when he reached the end of town?”

“Ahh… when he reached the north end of town—and remember, this had been an arduous journey of several hours—for the first time he stopped without sniffing or nibbling. He turned to his left, perpendicular to the road, sat back on his haunches—I had never seen a rabbit do something like that before—and looked at us. Something… a very strong kindness, I think, like a blessing… washed over us all, and there was the deep-throated sound of a truck engine from back the way we had all come, we and the rabbit together.

“Of course, we turned our heads and looked south. There was a large farm truck, its sideboards straining. That’s when our priest, Rodrigo Saenz, the man who was wise enough to have us listen, said, ‘Look!’ It was the most excitement he had shown in contemporary memory.”

“We turned back to him and looked in the direction he was pointing. The rabbit was gone. We looked farther along the road, but it was not there. We looked into the desert on that side of the road, but there was no trace. Some, I included, even turned to look behind us, thinking perhaps the rabbit might have raced past us as we were distracted by the truck, but it was not there either.” I shrugged. “It had simply disappeared. But stranger yet, nobody asked anyone else about it or questioned it. Everyone was calm and smiling. And that was the final impression: the rabbit was gone, but it was all right that the rabbit was gone.

“We turned our attention back to the truck and it had passed the center of the village. We began walking in that direction. When he noticed we were coming toward him, the driver of the truck applied the brakes, which squealed and pulled the truck to a stop. Dust almost obliterated our view for a moment, but it cleared soon enough. The truck was overloaded with crates of chickens and produce, and standing in the very front, just behind the cab, was a milk cow.

“As the driver and his assistant climbed down to greet us, our priest stepped forward. ‘To what do we owe the honor of your visit?’ he said, still smiling. ‘Has the rabbit sent you?’

“The driver stared at Rodrigo for a moment, then took off his cap, looked at the ground and shook his head. Then he looked back up at the priest. ‘Strangest thing I’ve ever seen, Padre,’ he said. I’ll never forget the look on his face. I’m paraphrasing now, of course, but he said something like, ‘Down south… Agua Rocosa, they’d heard you were running out of food.’ He indicated his friend and himself, and said, ‘We were tasked with bringing food to your village. Well, some fifty kilometers south of here, the narrow road over the mountains had washed out. Probably that last big rain a month ago. I understand you folks haven’t had any problem with rain.’ He smiled a bit at his own joke. Then he said he set the parking brake and he an’ José—that was his assistant’s name—got out of the truck to look at the washout. Well, they couldn’t believe their eyes. The gap was three or four meters across and several meters deep. He said there wasn’t enough loose material around to fill it, not with just the two of them and no equipment to speak of. He and José decided there was nothing they could do, so they climbed back into the truck and began the frightening process of backing down the mountain.

“He said they’d gone almost a kilometer backing down that narrow, winding road when José spotted a small rabbit in the road behind the truck. He told the driver to stop, that there was something magical about the rabbit. The driver said he thought maybe José was crazy, but he stopped anyway to humor him. But when they got out of the truck and looked, the rabbit was gone. On their way back to the truck he was teasing José about his overactive imagination. And just as they were about to get back in the truck, the ground shook hard all over. A great cloud of dust rose ahead of them. The driver said, ‘For some reason, I looked at José. He was calm. He told me the road ahead was clear now.’

“So the truck driver and his assistant got back in the truck and drove forward. When they again approached the gap in the road, they could tell where it had been, but it was mostly filled. They got out and inspected it to be sure they could believe their own eyes, then got back in the truck and drove across it.

“And that is the story of the priest, my friend Rodrigo Saenz, and the rabbit who was an angel.”

Carmen just stared for a long moment, then got up and hugged my neck. “Grandfather, did you say there was a story about a woman named Carmen also? Is it magical too? May I visit more often?”

I laughed with the joy that only a child—or an angel—can provide. “There is at least one story about the beautiful woman named Carmen, and perhaps more than one. It is indeed magical, as are all events that matter, and you may visit, my beloved granddaughter, anytime you like. But now it’s time for all of you to get some rest.”

I stood and accompanied them into the house and down the hallway to their rooms.