Conversation with a Doe

The following is an excerpt from JHATOR, which explores grief from a Buddhist perspective.  Sofia and the doe, Afra, are both grieving mothers.  In this passage, Sofia has been searching for Afra in the depths of a harsh winter.  The deer has been sick and hungry and distraught because she will not bear a new fawn in the spring.  They meet on a winter's night and, in the simplest language, Afra explains non-attachment to Sofia:

    "'I understand now why there will be no fawn,' said Afra.

    'You do?' said Sofia.

    'Yes.  I see my lost fawn inside me.'

    'You mean you remember her?'  The pair was moving over the wide, white expanse that stretched between the flanks of trees.

    'I know she is dead but I see her inside me.  She has been there all this time.  This is not a good thing.  That is why there will be no new fawn.'

    'I don't understand.  What does one thing have to do with the other?'

    'I see my fawn inside me.  She fills me up.  I am filled up and there is no room for a new fawn."

    There was logic in Afra's words--a stunning and sorrowful logic--that struck Sofia so hard her eyes stung with tears.  Afra stopped walking and looked into Sofia's stricken face as streamers from the full moon broke free of a scurry of muffling clouds.  'After your fawn was lost,' she asked, 'did you ever have another?'

    'No,' Sofia whispered, her voice breaking.  'No, I never had another fawn.'

    'And do you still see your lost fawn inside yourself?'

    'Yes, I see her inside myself.'

    'Even now, after all this time?'

    Tears were streaming down Sofia's face.  'Yes, always.  Always.'

    'So she has filled you up.'

    'Yes, she fills me up.  All the time.'

    'And so you have no room for another fawn.'

    Sofia was suddenly flooded with shame as she recalled the many times she had deftly turned aside Steven's suggestions they have another child.  They had never found a way around this conflict because the conversation had been forbidden.

    'No,' she confessed.  'I have no room inside. No room at all for another fawn.'

    'I understand now what I must do,' said Afra.  'I know now this dead fawn cannot stay inside me.  I have to send her away.  It will make me sad and it will be hard to do, but I will tell her she must leave.  Then, there will be room and the next time I mate a new fawn will come.'  She paused then asked, 'Will there ever be a new fawn for you?'

    Sofia caught a sob before it could fly out of her throat.  She could not let the words escape, the words that admitted she did not know how much room she had for anyone new to enter her life.  She looked at her animal friend, letting her shoulders rise and fall in a helpless shrug.

    Silence was never a problem for Afra.  Sofia struggled with her shame and her misery while Afra waited, breathing softly, patiently and watching, watching, carefully watching.  Finally, Sofia's breath shuddered.  She regained her composure and lifted her face skyward.  She did not know how long she and Afra stared at the moon as its soft halo glowed through a haze of scattered clouds and misty air.  After some time had passed, she felt Afra's warm muzzle touch her bare hand.  When Sofia looked at her friend, the doe was already moving away.

    'You're leaving?' asked Sofia.

    'Yes,' Afra replied.

    'Wait,' Sofia called.

    Afra waited.

    'Afra, I'm so afraid,' Sofia cried.  'I'm afraid this winter will be too hard on you.  I'm afraid you will die before the spring gets here.'

    Afra looked Sofia up and down, taking some measure only the doe understood before patiently replying, 'This night, I am not hungry.  It is not too cold and I am not tired.  And once again, you have taken some sorrow away from me.  If death comes, I will die.  But right now, here in the meadow with you, I am happy.'

    Afra turned away and with a slow, dreamlike gait, melted into the wooded shadows."