Life seems incredibly fragile, and it is true that every day is a gift. To live, even for one moment among such dazzling miracles as trees, and grass and stars, is a blessing you will not comprehend until it is nearly gone. Even then you will not grasp it. You may glimpse, briefly, the preciousness of this gift, this life, you may have moments when it crystallizes for you and you realize that your very existence is a priceless treasure. But you won’t hold onto it. It’ll slip away and you’ll go back to being a father, or a mother, or a farm-worker or some dotcommer, saving your fleeting epiphanies for sunsets and funerals.
Death, for the body, is a given. It is the only thing we can be absolutely sure of. All the problems of the world, all the fear and all the strife, all the misunderstandings and injustice derives from our desire to stave it off.
You can be walking along, enjoying a beautiful day, lost in your very important problems and enjoying the sunlight filtered through the Bay trees and the Manzanitas (like I was on the Sunday I took this photo) when suddenly death jumps out and slaps you with an open hand across the mouth. Hello, death says. Remember me? The voice of death is like a whisper at the bottom of a well when you peer down inside and see your own face looking back at you all shiny and distorted. I’m here, it says. Don’t you forget. I can take you in a heartbeat. I can take your children, I can take your dog, I can take any one you love or I can take them all, and the whole dream will be over, and all that you thought mattered – your iPhone, your electric bill, your waistline, your hair, your nails, the whiteness of your teeth – will cease to be burden because then you will understand that you really only have seconds to live. Then you will pay attention.
We turn away from the roadkill we pass but do you ever stop and think about those mangled animal corpses you see by the side of the road? Those deer and skunks and dogs? I do. I think about every one. Maybe it’s because I understand them. I was once hit by a speeding car. I was flung into the air and sent flying 40 feet, sprawled across the asphalt, so I have an inkling of what it’s like to be living a carefree life one second and seeing it all flash before your eyes the next. I relate to roadkill.
But this, this deer, is not road kill. This is a victim of a storm. This sweet little fawn, only a few weeks old, was killed during the night in the midst of a passing storm. I happened by early the following morning to find it lying in my path, still wet from the rain. And I wept. All alone, by the side of the trail, I wept, and I prayed. For what I do not know. Maybe because I am a father, and this child was lost so early in its life. Maybe I saw my own children in this frail little body. Maybe I saw the frailty of us all. We tend to believe we are a lot mightier than our flesh and our bones, but we are vain and arrogant and stupid and blind because we fail to remember how many of us are crushed in cars, or by trees, or in the rubble of earthquakes, or the wreckage of planes. We fail to remember that microscopic organisms kill us by the millions, or that tiny cones of hot lead no larger than our thumbnails can stop our hearts or puncture our lungs when they are fired through our permeable flesh.
We go about our daily lives as if we were Gods, rather than human beings. We believe we are great and invulnerable. We use and consume and discard and destroy – each other, our resources, the animals, the water, the air – the list goes on. And we forget we are fragile. We forget we are thin-skinned and brittle-boned. We forget that we are, in the grand scheme of things, tiny and helpless and weak. Each of us is a skinny little fawn wandering alone in the woods in a storm. And that is why I am showing this to you, so that you will not forget this image, nor our fragility. So that maybe we’ll stop for a moment and think about the moment and how valuable a moment is, all of them. In those moments we should be vigilant, and watch each other, love each other. We need to love one another – all of us. Not just our families and friends, we need to love strangers and those people we are prone to judge and hate. We need to love and protect the fawns. I see fawns everywhere. I see them in my car when I am driving and on the sidewalk as I’m walking downtown. And they all have such pretty fur and big round eyes and such frail, wobbly legs. In the movies Bambi lost his momma but we know that’s not how it really goes, don’t we? We lose the fawns. And that’s what I needed to understand. Don’t waste a moment. Love every moment. Love every being who occupies each of your moments. Now I understand. We’re the fawns, Yes. We are fawns in a storm.