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Sad Story. True Story.

This is a sad story. If you do not like sad stories, you should probably stop reading now.  I will offer, though, that, in one way or another, they are all sad stories.  You know what I mean.

I was coming home from church on Sunday. It was cold. It was gray. It was one of those days in which the atmosphere seems to have paused itself. No wind, no sound.  Just cold.

I had pulled off the highway, was edging toward the bad curve, following the shallow ruts that had been made after the minimal rainfall of the day before when something caught my eye.

In the shallow edge of the road that passes for a ditch was a baby deer. He couldn't have been more than a few days old. He was lying down, but with his head and shoulders raised, his dark eyes alert. I thought at first that he had somehow gotten stuck in the mud, but realized quickly that he was not struggling and, besides, there wasn't enough mud for that. The only other option was that he had been hit by a car or a truck and that his hips had been broken.

I looked away as I drove past him. Not because I am insensitive.  Quite the opposite.  I internalize this kind of situation.  For every bird with a broken wing, every squirrel that darts into the road at exactly the wrong moment, every raccoon or possum that freezes in the beam of headlights, I am overcome with  undeserved guilt and unreasonable regret despite the fact that I am not responsible and there is absolutely nothing I can do.  

As for the fawn, even if I tried to approach him, to bundle him up in some way so as to get him to a wildlife veterinarian somewhere who would most likely not be able to save him anyway, his mother – who had to be somewhere close by, probably staring at me from the edge of the woods – would chase me away.  

Nor could I, as we say, put him out of his misery because I did not have a gun with me.  (I say that like I could have done it.  I could not.)

I unsuccessfully fought back tears. I bit my lip.  I muttered all sorts of angry and uncharitable and disrespectful words toward the truck driver and nature and God.   And then I grit my teeth, pressed the accelerator and I reminded myself that animals die. That we all do.  

Last week, on Ash Wednesday, I stood in front of a man holding a bowl of ashes and looked him straight in the eyes as his thumb smudged a cross on my forehead.  “From dust you have come.  To dust you will return.”  He says it matter-of-factly and, yet, in his soft, deep voice there is  such compassion.

It is a strictly Christian thing, this placing of the ashes, but it occured to me as tears rolled down my cheeks that it would not be a bad idea for all of us – Christians and Jews and Muslims, Republicans and Democrats and those who don’t even vote, vegans and vegetarians and keto people – to stop once a year to stare death in the face. To acknowledge the temporary nature of our lives, the frailty of our bodies, the impotence of our intentions.  To allow another temporary, frail, impotent human to gently touch our foreheads and remind us of how precious it all is.

The next day buzzards were hovering over the body of the deer.  They scattered as my car approached and I watched their wings spread like giant brackets on a page of sky.  

Copyright 2024

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I think you just relived an experience many of us can share. So sad...precious little innocent baby deer died before he had a chance to romp and leap with the best of them. There was nothing you could have done. Very same thing happened along Country Club Road a couple of weeks ago. The poor baby was left flailing around in the road. Whoever hit him could possibly have moved him out of the lane of travel. So sad. It's just the way it goes I suppose. Nothing left to do but snibble.

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