Nineteen years ago, a factory employee (We´ll call her Mary) finished stitching together a rag-doll rabbit. I imagine Mary pausing as the little rabbit bumped down the assembly line, wondering as we all do, if her work made a difference in the world.
From the factory, the little rabbit would have been boxed and loaded onto lonely trucker Bob´s eighteen-wheeler. She would journey to the warehouse where Phil worked a double shift to pay his son´s tuition; then on to a wholesaler where single mother Judy worked a second job, and finally arrive at a retailer, where Jim, a tired teen, placed her on a shelf.
The rabbit faced stiff competition for adoption, for many furrier, prettier plush animals stood next to her. Nevertheless, a kindly grandmother felt compelled to pluck her from obscurity and present the little rabbit to her baby granddaughter that Easter Sunday.
I have a photograph of that rabbit, nearly buried in a stuffed animal menagerie as she peeks out from behind a four-month-old baby—my daughter, Caitlin. The rabbit still had to rival cuter, more huggable animals, yet some indefinable quality made her attract little Caitlin’s affection.
She was loose limbed and soft, the color of wet sand, and wore a dainty blue dress, white pinafore and pantaloons. She possessed a certain dignity, which demanded a grand and uncommon name. We christened her Mrs. Hopps.
For a plush rabbit, Mrs. Hopps has led an adventurous life. She´s traveled extensively—to Florida, Colorado, Nebraska, Missouri and Canada. She´s flown on airplanes, visited fancy restaurants, attended asthma camp and even vacationed at Disney World.
But life has not been all holidays and exotic destinations. Once she had to undergo an ear-lop-ectomy: a procedure whereby her ears had to be reattached after a naughty boy ripped them off. And one stormy night, she disappeared for fourteen hours, provoking a sleepless evening of hand wringing. (I was the crazed one. Caitlin, at age five, was certain that Mrs. Hopps would be home soon.) The next morning, Cait´s daycare provider discovered Mrs. Hopps lying in the parking lot where we´d dropped her the night before. Dried, fluffed and reunited with my daughter, I couldn´t help but weep with relief.
Last fall, Mrs. Hopps went off to college, and my daughter unashamedly accompanied her. These days, Mrs. H. spends her days presiding over Cait´s dorm room, overseeing homework, slovenly living conditions and bad eating habits, and bringing Caiti home for occasional weekend visits.
Mrs. Hopps has aged through the years. Her fur is threadbare; her eyes scratched; her limbs loose. She is nineteen years old, equivalent to AARP status in stuffed bunny years. But I don´t notice her decline. Instead, I think about Mary at the factory, trucker Bob, warehouse Phil, wholesaler Judy and retailer Jim. Then I think about something I read once. "There is no greater joy, nor greater reward, than to make a fundamental difference in someone´s life."
I hope somehow, they know that they did.