IF YOU ARE HIT YOU DON’T HAVE TO FALL
by Dorothea McArthur, Ph.D., ABPP
It was dusk on the snow-covered roads in the Colorado Mountains. Suzanne was driving while enjoying the incredible silence of tall pine trees on either side of the road. Suddenly Suzanne braked as she heard a thunk and watched the vehicle two cars ahead of her swerve, correct and drive on, as if nothing had happened. The car immediately ahead of her pulled to the side of the road. A young couple got out quickly. A deer had been hit while crossing the road. He sat on his crumpled haunches as if dazed by headlights, not yet turned on.
Suzanne pulled over and got out of her car just as the couple was dragging the deer over to the side of the road, clear of any oncoming cars. Suzanne stood in the middle of the road, slowing approaching traffic. The young deer was wounded but not dead. He sat, frozen like a concrete statue. His eyes gazed. He was neither dying nor rallying, just stuck in shock. The young couple was also frozen, looking down at him, wringing their hands, dismayed as to how to help further.
No one spoke. The silence was deafening. What to do? How to help? Neither Suzanne nor the young couple had a gun to put the deer out of pain. Suzanne called 911, and asked them to come to put the deer down. Since Suzanne was half way up a steep mountain pass, it would take time for aid to arrive.
It was cold. The couple hugged, reaching for warmth and intuition. Suzanne walked over to the deer and knelt to be at his eye level. She placed her hand gently on his neck, fearing what he might do since he was a wild animal. The deer did not resist. She gently began to stroke his neck saying quietly, “I’m sorry this happened to you. Somehow, it’s going to be all right. Take it easy. It’s ok if you need to let go. We’ll help you and take care of you. I’m so sorry.” She kept each movement calm and deliberate to keep the deer from panicking.
The young couple hovered at the edge, nodding slowly as they heard her words. The dusk was turning to dark; the snow continued to fall silently, sticking to the eyelashes of the deer that barely seemed to blink. Occasional cars and trucks drove by, oblivious to the crisis at hand.
The deer stayed a statue; but his body was warm. Time seemed to slow to a snail’s pace. Suzanne soon discovered a wound on his left side. However, the bleeding had stopped. Suzanne continued to pat the deer, repeating softly the same reassuring words. She did not want the deer to die alone because she knew aloneness deeply from within her own life story.
Suddenly life came back into the eyes of the deer. He moved his head, sat up straighter. Suzanne stepped back. The deer got up, gazed directly at Suzanne and then at the couple as if to say, “Thanks, I’ll be okay now.”
The deer initiated a long shudder that reached into every part of his body. It was as if he was shaking off the trauma completely. He then darted off into the forest, never to be seen again. Would the wound heal? Had his life been saved by kindness, concern, and hope? The shock he had felt only stopped him for several agonizingly long moments. The deer would go on to fulfill his rightful place in the universe.
The 911-rescue call was cancelled. She and the couple hugged each other as only strangers can when they have shared a precious moment. Suzanne climbed back into her car and drove slowly away. The warmth from the car heater made her body shudder from the cold she’d felt standing still, so alone with the deer and the couple.
For Suzanne, when life gets hard, the dark green-brown eyes of the deer come into sharp focus from within her mind. The story of our lives is not about how many times we get knocked down. Rather it is about whether and how we get up. Meaning in life comes from helping others get up and learning from them how they do it. That beautiful deer taught her to take the blow, to accept help from others, to stay with the knock down until it’s understood, then to shake it off completely, let it go, with forgiveness, and then to go on, knowing more.
Dorothea McArthur is a Diplomate Clinical Psychologist practicing in Los Angeles. She is President of the Independent Psychotherapy Network. She can be reached at (323) 663-2340. Her email is DMcA@ucla.edu.