Sunday, January 30, 2011

Lessons from the Deer

The deer saw me first, or smelled me more likely, although I was making a racket as I picked my way over the trail’s exposed tree roots and the rocks still muddy from a storm two days earlier. Being young deer and wild, they scrambled out of the narrow river to safety on the opposite shore. I saw two white rumps and raised tails when I finally looked up, expecting nothing more than squirrels.
            Barely hidden by the trees, they stopped and stared. I didn’t move, but bowed and cooed to them of their beauty; I tried to look deer-like—not an easy task, despite the extra “leg” of my stick. My stillness or cooing must have lulled them. After a few moments first one, then the other, took a few steps toward the bank. Slowly, turning several times to check on my deer lawn-statue imitation, they crossed the narrow, shallow river and went on up the cliff.
            I walked the path along the river, marveling at the double gift I’d been granted: to see them at all, then to have them decide I wasn’t danger enough to stop them from reaching their goal. And thus came a third gift—a lesson in persistence.
            Some things are worth doing, even later, even poorly. The deer demonstrated that if I wanted to cross the river, I should do so, despite any cautious delays. “Dreams are like a bird that mocks, flirting the feathers of its tail” says a line from a poem I memorized decades ago. At midlife, I have seen many of my dreams come to fruition, after years of apparent feather-flirting mockery. These fulfillments scare me. A dream comes to pass, and who knows what might change? I’d learned to live without the dreams, even told myself they didn’t matter, all those high-minded ideals of my college days, the deep longings of my thirties.
But if a goal is worth pursuing—even if we briefly lose sight of it—then it’s worth our standing a while in the trees, looking carefully at the apparent danger. We can stand on the bank for as long as necessary, regarding the danger until we recognize it as a chimera, an imaginary monster. The chimeras aren’t real. Neither are the things that frighten us. The message of the risen Christ to the fearful disciples was, “Be not afraid. It is I.” We are no longer children, left alone in the dark with the monsters under the bed or in the closet. We are God’s friends, living out God’s dreams for the world.

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