I’ve continued walking in the park each morning, although I skipped one day on account of rain. A couple of days ago, I was walking through the oak alley where I met the bear last week, when I almost bumped into a small doe! She was grazing just off the road, behind the row of big, old oak trees when I stumbled across her. She picked up her head and stood still, looking at me. I softly wished her a good morning, she flicked her tail, and went back to grazing.
The doe grazed her way along the road, then crossed, and positioned herself about twenty feet into the meadow, still eating the meadow. I moved up the road the few feet to catch up with her, and stood watching her.
One of the crazy ideas I harbor is the notion that animals are just as spiritual as people. I believe that many animals, especially mammals and birds, experience and exhibit love, and that leads me to speculate that they are also capable of experiencing the fundamental, grounding Foundation of existence, which is a torrential force that overwhelms us with love. And so, when I encounter an animal, I concentrate on loving it, just being a loving presence; to borrow a phrase from Thich Nhat Hanh, I try to be peace. Often, animals seem to respond – but not so much with rodents.
As the doe grazed, several times a minute, she heard something that caused her to pause, raise her head, and stare into the woods with her ears straight up at attention. Then she would go back to her meal. But my presence didn’t worry her in the least.
After a few minutes, I wished her a good day, and continued my walk.
So, I was thinking about this encounter and my ideas about how even wild animals sometimes respond to a loving presence, and then I started thinking about people. I know that someone who has been in public safety all his life is supposed to be cynical about people, but it is my experience that rodent people – people who are so fearful, so defensive that they are beyond the reach of love – are few and far between. People are more like deer.
And that thought immediately reminds me of an ambulance call I was on about two years ago. My partner was a much younger man, who was a very experienced EMT and also had a little police experience. We were sent to a high school in a neighboring town to transport a student who was having an emotional crisis.
When we got to the school, we were directed to the principal’s office. There were worried people milling about outside the office with two uniformed police officers. Our patient was a young woman, and we found her on the floor behind the principal’s desk, almost under the desk, tensed and crying. The principal was trying to coax her out, but she just crawled further under the desk. On her forearms, I could see self-inflicted cuts, in various states of healing.
After we were briefed by the police and school officials, my partner immediately said that he was good at resolving these sorts of impasses, and would talk to the girl. He went into the office, behind the desk, and crouched down. He was close enough to the girl that she was cowering away from him.
He told her that we were trying to help her and would take her to a hospital where she could be helped. He reached a hand toward her, and she snarled and made herself as small as possible. He became frustrated, and demanded that she go with us; that didn’t go over well. (Love is patient; it’s never frustrated.) He told her there would be trouble if she didn’t come. That went over even worse. My partner gave up and came out, steaming.
I was about to go in and try to undo the damage, when a local police detective arrived, looked at the situation, and told everyone to stay out of the room. He went in, and stopped before he reached the desk. He called the girl by name, introduced himself, and reminded her that they had met before. He asked what was wrong, and she told him. He said that he could see she was in pain and asked if he could help. She said that no one could help. He said that might be true, but we had to try, because she was suffering. He promised to go with her to the hospital, and look after her, and asked her to come with him. She came.
Love is patient, love is kind. It doesn’t tell, and it doesn’t threaten; it asks, it offers, and it promises. But, whether we are talking to a person or an animal, it isn’t the words we use that make the difference, it’s where the words come from.
Nothing is really new. It is now two weeks since a small cancer was dug out of my lung, and the pathyologists are unable to confidently say if it is a metastatic recurrence of my old cancer or a new lung cancer. Everything has been sent to Memorial Sloan-Kettering for their opinion. Even if what is happening remains murky, we will still have to decide how to procede. It no longer feels stressful; it’s funny and kind of exciting for someone who usually avoids gambling and risk-taking.