When the heart stops beating

One night this past summer I was biking home to Dorje Ling from an evening event at Hollyhock. The night was pitch black , warm and clear with no moon as I pumped and swooped, up and down, eyes wide in the darkness, skin tingling, blood rushing thump thump and all the subtle night smells of the forest filling my lungs.

As I came down the last hill just before the gravel road I sensed the presence of animals around me. Wolves? There is a pack that roams near here. Then I heard the click of small hooves on the pavement just ahead of me, a flash of motion in the bush, ah – a family of deer out for a late night forage.

As I rounded that last blind curve headlights appeared coming toward me on the opposite side of the road. there was a thump and a squeal of brakes. The pickup truck stopped quickly and in its headlights I saw a small animal the size of a dog spiraling across the the road, neck broken but still running in soundless terror.

For a moment I thought it was my dogfriend Darla, it was just her size and golden brown – but it was a small fawn. The deer family scattered and the fawn fell to the road, and a man jumped out of the truck and ran over to the little deer he had just struck down. It was lying on the road panting hard, eyes wide in terror. “It’s dead”, he said. For a moment I was distracted by his words and their obvious contradiction, but then the whole scene collapsed into itself, the man disappeared, the road and the forest disappeared and I disappeared and there was nothing left but that dying creature, fully absorbed in the act of passing on.

I dropped my bike and knelt on the road, stroked the fawn’s neck and put my hands on its white speckled body. It jerked and I could feel its fast beating heart . The man from the truck knelt down too and put his hands softly on the fawn. After a minute the heartbeat slowed and grew fainter. The light in the fawn’s dark eye sparked and then went black, and the heart beat slower, slower, stopped.

I said, “what should we do”? – meaning, with the body – and the man said, to his honour: “I’ll take it home and bury it.” We lifted the dead fawn – so light and small – into the back of the truck. We clasped hands briefly and said “take care”, and he drove away.

I rode home to Dorje Ling and climbed up to the bench by the Buddha, and looked up at the stars in the sky. I thought of how in that collapsing moment I might have been confused or angry or frightened, but I wasn’t any of those things – all I was, was – there. All that mattered was life, and death, and whatever breath there was left to breathe. I had been thrown into the event of that creature’s dying, and been its companion on the journey out. It felt like an honour.

I was so very very grateful then, to be alive. That moment, that curve in the road, could as easily have been my moment or the driver’s moment, but as it turned out it was the fawn’s moment. My moment will come, but for now – here I am. Small and alive and looking up at the stars.

One Response to “When the heart stops beating”

  1. Bernadette Keenan Says:

    What a wonderful thing. I think it is very good that you were there for the fawn when it passed.

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