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Loss of life diminishes us all

We live on the Northwest Side of San Antonio, where there are patches of wooded areas that are home to families of deer. For some time, as I drove to work, I would see stags and doe and their offspring gracefully leaping fences, idly grazing by the side of the road, watching me watch them. Their grace, their fear, and their large, doleful eyes captivated me.

That morning, I was driving toward the highway, perhaps faster than usual, listening to the obsessive reporting about the war in Iraq on the car radio. Young women and men were being placed in harm's way, a civilization and its artifacts were about to be destroyed, huge chunks of human history were about to be looted. And as always, innocent people were destined to be killed, or worse, forced to live with the debris and devastation of war.

I glanced to my right, and there were three or four young deer grazing peacefully on the side of the road. Suddenly, as if trying to defend her young, a doe leaped at my car, striking its left front, breaking the headlight and denting the hood. The impact sent her careening 20 or 30 feet down the road, her neck broken, her head limply crooked against her back. She was dead.

At the moment of impact, I was stunned. I felt as though I had disrupted the flow of life. I also felt as though I had momentarily lost a bit of myself. For several days following the accident, I carried this hollow feeling in my stomach. It was vaguely reminiscent of the feeling I had when my dad died a few years ago.

I had admired the poet John Donne for years. Now, slowly, his words took on a visceral meaning for me. No man is an island, each death does diminish me. That was it, the hollow feeling in my stomach! I felt diminished because I had lost a life dear to me. I felt diminished because I had taken a life.

This made me think of a friend in graduate school who was studying to be a minister. He had played football in college and went from there into the Marines. He was, by his own account, a dedicated soldier. One day, he looked into a mirror at boot camp and he realized, with the same suddenness with which I had killed the deer, that he had become a trained killer.

Soon after, he left the Marines to go to seminary. The last I heard, he had become a successful minister and he continued to manage the remnants of his demons. There are a few things I know more clearly as a result of that accident: I know that my own sensitivity to life and death has deepened. I know that, as with 9-11, I am diminished when life is lost, particularly human life. I know that, for me, war is senseless, that it does nothing but beget more violence, chaos, and human suffering.

Now as I drive to work, I don't see deer anymore on that particular road. Perhaps the sense of death still lingers, turning that spot into a wasteland, a place of loss for them. Perhaps they too have been diminished. •

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