At first glance, I thought the woman kneeling in the weeds at the side of the road was petting a dog. Her hand stretched over a tawny lump as her hair swept across her face. So far, my morning had been routine. I was on my way to work. The unexpected sight of a woman kneeling in the bush made me pause. Was she hurt? Had she accidentally hit a dog? What a horror. It seemed to be a big dog; perhaps someone’s pet had gotten loose over a busy stretch of this commuter road. It is almost impossible to stop in those instants when an animal darts out in front of you. You sicken before it happens because you are about to feel a thump as your speeding tires strike a soft body. You think, if only I had been driving slower, or faster, or had stopped to put the cup in the dishwasher, pick the newspaper up from the driveway. Something, anything to change the bizarre march of time when suddenly two beings collide at the same moment in the same space. Coincidence. Maybe. What are the chances? And we shrug and say helplessly, stuff happens.
I felt a bond with this woman. She might need help. I spun my car around and raced back up the hill to find another woman had already stopped. She hurried out of her car and tucked her long blond hair behind her ears as she settled in the grass on the other side of the animal. A smear of mud stained the hem of her Ann Taylor pants. She reached out a hand also, looking for life.
It wasn’t a dog. It was a young doe. Her jaw leered at an impossible angle. The side of her face was bloodied. A liquid eye stared straight ahead. Her lean body was stretched out in the grassy bier as if in mid-leap. The two women had their palms on the doe’s shoulder and were stroking the coarse fur. They examined her ribcage, hoping for the rise and fall of life, then peered into her eyes, not wanting to see death. I knelt behind the first woman, placing one hand on her back and the other on the clean flank of the doe, completing the circle.
“I thought it was a dog,” the blond woman whispered.
“Me too,” I said. “I have a leash and towels in my car all the time, just in case.”
The blond woman glanced at her SUV. “I keep a crate in my car.”
The red-haired woman looked up, tears streaming down her face. “I have leashes too.”
She continued: “I didn’t hit her. As I drove up the hill on my way to work, she came staggering out from the woods on the other side of the road. I could see she was bleeding and pulled my car over, but then she fell here. Someone must have hit her and continued on when they saw her run off.”
We sniffed and nodded, examining the doe. There were old nicks and bite marks where the hair had not grown back, old scars from a life in the wild, but not a life far enough away from humans and traffic to be safe. Tufts of soft gray fur clung to our spring jackets.
“We should pray or something,” the red-haired woman wept. “This is so awful.”
“Yes,” I whispered. “We can pray.”
There was no question about religion, about what we should do or who should say something. There were no special garments beside the mud we were wearing, no gestures, no introductions. We were already kneeling. The only hope we had to move into the next moment of the day was to somehow make this one right.
So there we were; three of us, strangers kneeling in the grass and united in silent prayer, each with a palm upon an animal that had never before felt the touch of a human hand. We offered up the spirit of this doe to a greater soul, to a greater love, to a magnificent understanding. It was one of those amazing moments when souls crossed over, doe to woman, woman to woman, woman to God. An instant where you know exactly what to do, where to move, what not to say. An unexpected turn when three strangers unite and turn over their grief and vulnerability in order to trust each other in the moment. We mourned the loss of something innocent and beautiful and in so doing, became innocent and beautiful ourselves.