Here’s the thing about deer hunting.
After seventeen buckless deer seasons, I was in the right place, at the right time. A buck appeared in gathering dusk, 30 feet away and framed unmistakably against a dusting of new snow. I raised my rifle, took aim through the telescopic sight, and fired. The deer bounded away unhurt.
There has to be a lesson, a meaning to this. Had I not put in a seventeen year novitiate, cultivating the thin strand of hopefulness that endures through hours of staring into empty woods? Had I not humbled myself, purified myself, emptied myself of haste and envy? Had I not trained myself to focus on the experience of being in the woods, at peace with myself and in communion with the deer? I can think of no reason why I should have missed that deer. If I had failed to get my gun up before being noticed, or if the buck had come from some unanticipated direction; if I had been dozing, or crinkling a gum wrapper, or any one of a thousand deer-hunting sins I have committed at crucial moments in the past, then I could reproach myself in all the familiar ways.
But this time I did everything right, at least as “right” as I am capable of doing them. So there has to be a meaning here, or else there is no “rightness” to be had.
Meaning 1) There is no meaning. Shit happens. Comment: And that’s not a meaning?
Meaning 2) Jonathan cannot shoot a gun any better than he can shoot a basketball. If it’s such a big deal, take some lessons! Comment: the only lessons that would help would be real-life scenarios with real deer looming out of the dimness, which, at seventeen-year intervals, would not provide much opportunity to practice.
Meaning 3) God is teaching you humility. Comment: I already learned that. In 1988. Ask Bill Moulton. He even wrote an unsolicited letter to the then-Bishop of
Meaning 4) What’s the big deal about deer hunting? It’s not as if something really tragic happened. Comment: When a man who has not had a decent shot at a buck in seventeen years misses a buck standing 30 feet away, it doesn’t seem tragic, it seems stupid. At least tragedy is cathartic. Things like this are… boring? It feels bad enough to ponder, but not so bad as to break him to pieces. So it’s NOT such a big deal, and that relative insignificance is precisely why it has to have a meaning. Get it?
Meaning 5) maybe it was a ghost deer. Maybe the bullet went through him, just to show how the wild things are going to survive the death-dealing blows of technology and urbanization. Maybe, David says, it wasn’t a deer but a person-in-transition, a Webelow maybe, messing with my head on its way to the spirit-world. Comment: what person? It couldn’t be just any Webelow. It would have to be someone who has an agenda for me. I can’t think of who that might be… The former Bishop of
Meaning 6) came to me as I was sitting in the same place the next morning, the first day of the next phase in this long novitiate. “Live gracefully in a world that often seems graceless.” Comment: “That’s what everything means,” says David. Maybe so.