Lessons from unexpected teachers

The sight of the young doe was jarring. She was standing in our front yard. One of her back legs was badly broken below the hock. She hobbled across the yard, unable to put any weight on it. It just dangled.

I wondered what to do. She had two young fawns. Would she be able to feed them? Would her leg become infected? Would she starve to death because she couldn’t get enough food? My husband and I began referring to her as “Mama Deer” and kept an eye out for her, reporting to each other when we spotted her and sharing our assessments of how she looked. During this time, I watched the herd dynamics. Mama Deer had a guardian–a fellow doe who chased away the other deer when they got too close to where she was eating. She even kept Mama Deer’s offspring from coming too close. It was as if the doe was ensuring that she always had a patch of grass from which to eat without having to move too far. As I read more about deer, I found out that does often travel together, looking out for one another. 

I worried about Mama Deer and spoke to a friend who told me that if I called the authorities, they would likely euthanize her. Another friend who has a lot of experience working with wildlife told me that this happens to deer sometimes. She had seen them adapt. But, before I could decide what to do, she was gone. I was concerned I had waited too long and that she had died in pain. Perhaps I should have called the fish and game authorities. Over the subsequent months, I scanned the small herd of deer that regularly traverses our yard and woods, but there was no sign of her.

Finding strength

Several months later, in late summer, my husband came into my office and told me that she was back. I went to the dining room window, and there was our Mama Deer—with three new fawns. When she stood, I could see that the broken part of her leg had fallen off, and the remaining part had healed, and she could walk on it. While she was thin and had a significant limp, she moved around and ate as her babies rested. I was overjoyed to see that she had adapted so well and had brought her beautiful babies back to our yard. 

Photo of deer with one leg partially missing

Mama Deer with her three fawns.

Photo of deer with one leg partially missing.

Mama Deer walking a few months after her return.

The wisdom of animals

I find myself thinking about Mama Deer when I need strength or when I feel stuck. I think about the pain she must have endured in her healing. It must have been difficult to carry three fawns without the use of four healthy legs. Of course, she didn’t have the luxury of ruminating about her leg. She didn’t have medical care or someone to help soothe her when she was frightened or in pain. She had no choice but to do the best she could to heal, endure, and carry on.

As I have watched her and her now nearly grown offspring, I’ve noticed that she has lessons for me about survival and resilience. Even as her very life was threatened, she found what she needed to recover and survive. She found a place where she felt safe. It’s relatively quiet here, and we take care not to bother her. She rests often. She is surrounded by other deer who look out for her and help take care of her. She tends to her babies well, but not at the expense of what she needs to survive. She’s a metaphor for resilience; a living example of what is possible, even with significant obstacles or challenges in our path.

Sometimes, the challenges we face are truly life-threatening. Sometimes, they disrupt our sense of ourselves and who we think we are. They may cause pain, fear, anger, grief, shame, or other paralyzing emotions. It can be difficult to move forward in the face of such circumstances and feelings. But maybe we all need to note Mama Deer’s wisdom. Find our “safe place,” both physically and psychologically. Surround ourselves with the others and resources we need for our own well-being. Stop subverting our own needs to others’ to the detriment of our health. And embrace the fact that, while our lives may not look the way we thought they would, we can still realize and receive opportunities, experiences, and blessings we may never have thought possible. 

Think about the challenges you’re facing now. What can you seek out in your life to adapt to or overcome them? How can you reclaim your life? It may not be possible to answer these questions immediately. If not, think about them for a bit. 

Gwen Moran

Gwen Moran is a writer, author, and speaker who wants to help people cultivate more joy and fulfillment in their lives. She is the creator of Bloom Anywhere.