The White Deer

Steven Lee Gilbert

One fall evening around dusk we had gathered around the kitchen window to see out into the woods on the northern side of the yard where there was making her way down the trail toward the house a small white deer. There were ten or so other does with her but she was the only white one, and she was all white except for her eyes, nose and hooves, which were pink. As the herd meandered into the yard and the garden, we stood  in wonderment huddled over the sink and staring through the windowglass, careful to not make noise or any sudden movements from fear of startling them.

Lia named the white deer Isabelle and for four years we watched after her, glimpsing her whiteness first through the woods then spotting the others and following their wanderings which took them more often than not to the garden’s edge, where depending on if it was growing season or not, one of us would step outside and shoo them away. Mostly we were simply in awe, ruined tomatoes be damned. The white deer, a mythical harbinger of good things in times of turmoil, had appeared at just such a time and in just such a manner, if one is to believe in these things, as for us a long and tenuous family situation was coming to an end for the better. Though there was no reason to think her arrival had anything to do with the outcome, we welcomed the white deer anyway for the accompanying liberation as much for her rarity. Through the seasons, hunting and rut, while the herd changed in number and member, Isabelle remained, a token of our continued good fortune.

When late last year word spread that she had been struck and killed by a car not far from the woods we debated not telling the children the truth about her, preferring the more palatable excuse, if they asked, that she must have moved on with her family, a large buck and the small spotted fawn she’d been seen in the garden with months earlier. The rumor turned out to be false, however, and when she was sighted once more we were spared having to tell them anything. Calamity and mishap averted, good charms restored.

But it wasn’t, and one month later Lia was diagnosed with diabetes.

Though the diagnosis has done nothing to alter how we feel about Isabelle, hearing someone call her name still draws us to the window, but it does raise two important and relevant questions. One has to do with faith, and the other with what truths we reveal to our children in the face of tragedy.

The second, I’m much more comfortable answering: what we tell our children depends. With Lia and her diabetes, we tell her what she needs to know to treat herself. We talk about carb counting, about insulin and dosing. We talk about the impact of exercise on her blood sugars and about eating and snacking and the importance of monitoring her numbers. We talk about recognizing the symptoms of hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia. We talk about the pump and doctor’s visits and her school and how well she’s managing this complex new thing in our lives. We talk about a cure, but not much. She knows people are working on it, but her thoughts and energies are better spent on the much more immediate future and that is how her mother and I like it. There will come a time for her to think about the more frightening aspects of diabetes but that’s our job for now, to worry, not hers.

For that other, I don’t know. You grow up most of your life feeling invulnerable, then you have a child and that child grows older and becomes with the rest of her family the center of your universe and one day that child falls chronically ill and it feels after that like everything you’ve ever been told about faith is a lie. What you may already have begun to believe is confirmed: we are alone.

I’m not saying that this is the truth, but you can see how one could arrive at the point on two parallel lines of finally accepting that they may never meet. It is the courage and strength we derive for ourselves that’s important. For some that comes from within, others seek it elsewhere. Few might not find it at all. But one thing survivors all seem to have in common is that they all draw on something from somewhere to fortify their intent to prevail against whatever odds have been set against them.

I wish it were as easy as trusting good fortune to the reoccurring appearance of a solid white deer, but it’s not, of course. Chance happens to those who are prepared, not wishful. But that won’t stop me from swinging by the window from time to time to see if Isabelle is out there. If not her then, who knows, maybe the truth lies with the Great Horned Owl, a herald of wisdom and knowledge, who recently set up house in those very same woods. It sure would be nice to think so.