It just so happens that Rebecca and I often run into animals in distress. They’ve ranged from hawks to humans to groundhogs to domestic dogs, and in most cases we’ve been able to help the creature so that it can be released back into the wild, get proper medical attention, or find its way home.
But sometimes, we come upon a situation where there’s not much we can do to help.
Today, for the second time in our lives, we came across a deer who had been hit by a car, but not killed. She was curled on the pavement, moving her head back and forth. The car that had hit her was nowhere in sight.
We stopped and pulled her to the side. It didn’t take long to discover that her wounds were fatal, so we took her down the hillside into the tall grasses and shade. I went to get my knife, but Rebecca shook her head. So we sat with her, and in a few moments her breathing stopped.
Rebecca reflected as we drove away on how it’s a sort of honor to be there for someone’s death. We can be so removed from actual death, and so barraged with the stylized death we constantly see in movies and television, that many of us have never been present for someone’s dying.
My first reaction, to ‘end her pain’ by killing her quickly, suggests that I felt I might make a judgment regarding whether she should have the right to experience the moment she was in. Perhaps there is a time to kill in such a way, but in this case Rebecca was completely right – the deer was peaceful and quiet, her eyes soft, right up until the moment she died. The steel of a knife might have given her a very different experience.
We can get tangled in moments like this. Wondering what is the ‘right’ thing to do. But careful attention to the circumstance at hand always shows us what is ‘right’, and if we’re present in any given moment, we will never feel regret for what we have done (or haven’t done).
Unlike the first deer that we encountered many years past, we had no tears or sadness for the beautiful doe that died today. No anger at the driver who had hit her and left her there. And reflecting on the experience, anger or sadness might have altered how we reacted to the situation. Our minds would have been elsewhere, and we wouldn’t have found ourselves able to be there for the moment at hand.
All of us are experiencing this marvelous thing called life, and the only true tragedy in the world is when we ignore the life we’re living. I can only imagine what that deer experienced, but from her eyes, she seemed right there, feeling the intake of each breath, the trembling shock throughout her body.
As human beings, we too are perfectly able to experience this very moment, and when we do, we find it marvelous, even if it is the experience of something we might call ‘painful’. Even our own tears can be marvelous! It is our desire to be elsewhere, our belief that there is something better waiting tomorrow, that robs us of our ability to experience the wonders of life. We can be swift to judge whether a situation is worth experiencing. When we think that things will be better later on, we do our best to escape this moment – to ignore it as best we can.
It might take us until our own death to discover what we missed during all the decades that we walked about on this earth, always wishing we were somewhere else. In that moment, we can hopefully forgive ourselves for all that we’ve missed, and experience our own last breaths, our own emotions and sensations.
If it takes us until then, so be it. But may we all, in that final moment of life, finally discover this remarkable reality which has been waiting so patiently for us all along.