Today is international Women's Day. And in honor of all the women in my life who continue to blow me away with their courage and tenacity, I'd love to share this story about grit.
Last winter I was pulling out of the driveway when a mule deer heading up the hillside caught my eye. She was a young doe, maybe three or four years old, and traveling alone. She wasn't ambling or striding or springing, but instead lurching, head low, tail limp.
Instead of turning north to pick up more dewormer for my bunny-munching dogs, I snaked across the main road to the opposing driveway. I rolled slowly towards the doe, jaw clenched.
She wasn't just limping. She was carrying a hind leg that had been severed except for one tenacious ligament just below the stifle.
Ears ringing, I reached for my phone to call the sheriff. Hopefully they could come out with a rifle before she disappeared back into the brush, put her out of that heart wrenching misery.
Shit. No cell service. She stumbled further up the hill towards a sagging barbed wire fence.
The more entrenched humans become in civilization, century after century, the more idyllic our fantasy of nature becomes. But it's no picnic out there once you get past the hosts of golden daffodils and woods so lovely, dark and deep.
Often, we like to imagine that we're safe from the kind of meaningless suffering that plagues other life forms. After all, we have surgery, de-wormers, central heating, and grocery stores. We seem to have all the scary stuff under control. Up until my illness, I happily bought in to that fantasy. It seemed that as long as I worked hard towards virtuous goals, my effort and intentions would earn me a long, happy, successful life.
The stories we tell ourselves about deserving success, life working out for the best, and heroes triumphing over evil are invaluable tools to get through the day without becoming paralyzed by fear and grief and anger. And in the face of certain challenges, those stories give us the strength to pick up the pieces, become better people, and create something beautiful from the rubble of suffering.
But as the years of my illness went by, and the silver linings got thinner with every relapse, my comfortable notions of higher good and cosmic justice started to fray. My recovery wasn't a matter of fighting harder or aligning my intentions or achieving acceptance. Sometimes we catch a glimpse behind the curtain and realize that we have no control, we get no guarantees.
All we have is our grit, that white-knuckled grip on hope that can endure impossible odds. And like so many women before me, when I felt past my breaking point, I kept discovering that I could dig deeper.
Looking around, I am floored by the grit of mothers living out of their children's hospital rooms, of refugees braving the Mediterranean for a chance at a better life, and of so many of the patients battling this invisible illness.
The strength of women (and deer) seems miraculous at times, but we're each from an unbroken lineage. Back through the dark ages, the stone ages, and long before humanity itself, every single one of our great grandmothers hung in there long enough to pass along her tenacious will for survival. In our blood and our bones we have the grit built by 2 billion years of enduring.
With my cellphone useless, and nothing more practical than a box cutter at hand, I headed for the closest house. At the top of the hill, I borrowed a landline from the grouchy lady who coincidentally owned the field I had been trespassing in. Out her floor-to-ceiling windows I could see the doe had slowed her progress towards the shrubs and was grazing out in the open.
"Jefferson County Sherriff's. Is this an emergency? Can you hold?"
She was still accessible to someone with steady aim, if they hurried.
Five minutes and two transfers later, I was surprised to be put in touch with a deputy who knew this doe.
"Right hind? Yup, she's been in the area since last spring. Seems to get along alright."
Almost a year later, and here she was. She had survived the impact, recovered from the blood loss, and fought off infection. Living alone, she had been out-maneuvering coyotes, mountain lions, and local dogs. She was even maintaining a healthy weight through winter.
And while I often bemoan how soft and silly humans have become (#firstworldproblems), the fact is that when the going really gets tough, we persist.
Read all of Maya Angelou's poem Still I Rise here