When People Are Deer

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.

Grazing Doe

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.

Health Update
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.

3 responses to “When People Are Deer

  1. Jackie Brotbacker

    Enjoyed your journey with the deerl I feel at piece in quiet moments like that. I don’t feel
    as peaceful with the bears, though.

    Thinking of you with love and sending all good thoughts your wayl

  2. John Edminster

    I love what you wrote, Paul, and I love it on so many levels!

    First, about animals loving: yes, they do! and it may be that the purer we become as channels of divine love, the better we can see it, — and also the more hospitable a space we make around ourselves for the lion to lie down with the lamb in.

    For the past week I’ve been writing in my notebook: “write to Paul,” but not quite finding the time and energy. But I’ve been marveling over the conundrum God has set you: it’s as if He/She is asking you: “well, what if it’s metastatic?” and then “well, what if it’s not metastatic?” — as if God, who knows perfectly well what the tumor is, is deliberately withholding the information until you reach for and claim, or perhaps evolve, the wisdom and serenity God wants you to greet the information with – whichever it’s to be. Nor is this time of not knowing simply idle or waste time, because — well, that’s obvious; you’re living in what seems to be a very vivid present, meeting deer and bear. (I can’t help thinking that God may have sent them to be physicians of some sort for you. I’ve had cat physicians come lie on my chest and purr when I’ve been sick or emotionally distressed, and of course books have been written about dogs who’ve saved human lives, “miraculously” knowing just what to do by way of intervention.)

    “What if it’s metastatic?” all of us who love you (or read your blog with interest) are rehearsing, imagining ourselves being Paul as he gets the bad news. It’s good exercise for all of us, because one day we’ll all have to face bad health news of our own, and then, eventually, the death of this body.

    “What if it’s not metastatic?” – Now we’re all getting to imagine ourselves being Paul as he dances with relief and joy and thanks God. But is it possible that God could teach us to be joyful and thankful even if the diagnosis is not the one we want? Has God some epiphany to show us, as God showed to Job, even when the whirlwind is at its most intense?

  3. Mia Kissil Hewitt

    This post rings true to me on many accounts, particularly now, as our family has adopted a little shelter dog, who doesn’t appear to have been physically traumatized, but is clearly emotionally scarred. As we work slowly to both train her and gain her trust, we are indeed reminded that “love is patient” (particularly regarding the lesson that the bathroom for her is OUTSIDE the house). And we are now more often rewarded by a tail wag and a pair of loving eyes following us around the kitchen.

    And Benjamin the Meetinghouse Mouse aside, I am in complete unity with you regarding the rodents, particularly the actual ones! 😉

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