Praying the Herd

 By Andrea Scarpino


A faded green field, tall grass and weeds, a few trees. And a movement—bright white. I slowed the car. Light made physical, bodied: an all-white deer. White from head to toe, two slightly pink ears. It grazed in a herd of other deer, the one white deer among a dozen. I stopped by the side of the road, tried unsuccessfully to take a photo: white blur, faded green grass, tall weeds. 


Since moving to the Upper Peninsula, I’ve seen dozens and dozens of deer—while driving, while running trails, hiking. Every time, I gasp, slow down to watch them. Their slight but muscular legs, the way their ears twitch with the slightest sound, the way their eyes look soulful, take my whole body in. Once, while running along a quiet road, I came upon a doe eating. I stopped, stood quietly, only a car-length away. Her mouth ground back and forth, I could hear the dry twig in her teeth. I reached out my hand, palm up, as if that showed her I meant no harm. And she stood, watched me, kept eating. Her ears twitched constantly but she showed no sign of running away, totally unfazed by my presence.  It felt like magic to be so close to a deer, to have her watch me too. When I finally walked away, I wished her well, safety. 


But a white deer—even more rare. Even more at risk from predators, hunters. Totally without camouflage—except, I guess, when it snows. I sat by the side of the road and watched it move, white body among a herd of brown. White light made physical. And I wished it safety, that the herd would keep it safe. That they’d move as one around it. That they’d help it live a long life. 


In the meditation world (at least in the limited bit I know of meditation), I was practicing loving kindness, sending loving kindness to another being, wishing another being safety, peace. I know this sounds crazy—to expect that thinking kind thoughts for another will change anything. But it also sometimes feels just right—and sometimes feels like the only thing we can do anyway. 


Because what do we have but our thoughts and the herd to keep us safe? The herd we build around ourselves, the herd we trust to do the best it can. How else can we move through the world successfully? Maybe I’m stretching things a bit, romanticizing nature—something I’m loathe to do. Growing up, my mother always told me, “Mother Nature isn’t kind.” And she was right. The Earth couldn’t care less that we’re here—it’s just moving along through space. So what do we have? What light? 


Maybe only our own kindness. Holding others with the highest regard, whether or not we know or like them. Maybe the beauty of a single white deer, grazing. Maybe calling on the herd to keep it safe. Calling on the herd to keep each one of us safe, to help us live in peace. 

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