Lessons of Life, Taught by a Deer

There are some things you would prefer that your child NOT learn about in an unforseen, unexpected, uncontrolled blur of an instant. Death is one of those things, better saved for a day when long, provocative talks with you child can be understood, accepted, and rudely brushed off, as in "dad, I already know all that stuff. Can I play my nintendo now?".

Unavoidable as it is for all of us, death still keeps kids from enjoying childhood. They can become obsessed (or maybe even intrigued or fascinated) with the fear of death. I don't even want to get into the whole Teri Schiavo thing.

We know of a child, who is nine years old, and has so many fears and phobias, he's on antipsychotic medicines, and has to be excused from classes at school to eat his lunch 5 minutes early, so he doesn't have to interact with the other kids. He's afraid that their germs will kill him. His fears are so pronounced that he weighs only 40 pounds. Nausea from his fear keeps him from eating. He doesn't want ot go to amusement parks; Disneyland terrifies him. That to my mind is a truly sad thing. The joys of childhood have been replaced with adult-like fears. A young life is supposed to be special and carefree, not so filled with dread that you can't have fun...or friends...or even food.

I just learned of this poor boy's plight this evening. A close friend confided in my wife and talked about her son's difficulties with the fear of death. My wife was retelling the whole account of this poor boy to me in the car when, suddenly, we were faced with death up-close and personal.

That's when the deer hit the windshield.

I was driving. It was dark, and the deer had just jumped into the fast lane on the highway. There was no way to avoid a collsion with the animal at freeway-speed...the deer was going to die and it would be my fault and there wasn't anything I could do to stop it. Any attempt to swerve, change lanes or stop would've caused a more serious accident involving other cars, possibly endangering my wife and son, who were with me in the car. It was my ultimate responsibility to protect them, as the driver and the dad. The deer would lose this moral conundrum.

Its amazing how quickly you can sum up your options at a time of crisis. I was able to determine (a) there were no options; to my left was a guardrail, to the right was another car -- there would be a collision, (b) I needed to put both hands on the wheel and brace for impact, (c) I needed to get to the side of the road NOW, (d) I needed to make sure no one else made any erratic movements on the highway to cause a pile-up, (e) that my wife needed to call the Highway Patrol immediately to report the colliison and remove what was left of the deer from the road so no more injuries or damage occurred. Total elapsed time: Less time than it took my wife to scream, and I'm pretty sure I only blinked once.

I thought briefly about the poor animal, while waiting at the roadside for the Highway Patrol officer. I thought that it was better that I hit the deer square-on and got it over with quickly. Better that the deer die without having time to react or feel pain. Better than making some rash move and flipping the car at 65 miles-per-hour, with family in-tow.

Then, my son, whom I love and hope to raise with compassion and caring, who witnessed the gore firsthand said "wow, dad, is there blood on the tires? I wanna see it." The follow-up was "is the deer dead, or did he just explode? Is his head under the car? Can I keep it?"

I think I was more shocked by my boy's reaction to whole grotesque episode than I was to killing that innocent creature. And believe me, the deer blood-on-my-hands thing messed with my head for a bit. Please pardon the vague Macbeth reference.

It seems, however, despite no conversations from me on the subject prior to the impact, that my son has a pretty advanced grasp of death. In fact, it had been my intention to have "the talk" about death, about our beliefs in the afterlife, and the whole life-death-cycle sometime well into the future when most psychologists, our pastor, and just about every other parent I've ever talked to on the topic, seem to think would be more appropriate. I remember being freaked out by the "...if I should die before I wake" part of the prayer I recited as a child just before bedtime.

"I'll wait until the time is right with my son", I thought. It seems that my son is better prepared than a casual observer (or me, or the pastor, or the child psychologists) would surmise.

"Educational benefits of preschool", I mused under my breath. That's gotta be where he picked this up. Along with about 5 of the seven words you can't say on (non-cable) TV.

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