"Let faith oust fact; let fancy oust memory; I look deep down and do believe."
― Herman Melville, "Moby Dick"
The huntsman sat perfectly still in his tree stand as the big buck approached. It was almost dusk, but the waning light gave everything a golden hue. The scope of his rifle sighted perfectly just behind the shoulder of the unsuspecting deer. He never hunted just for pleasure. Any meat of the deer that he did not personally take would be given to a family that had fallen on hard times. His finger rested lightly on the trigger. He silently watched the buck slowly walk into the woods. He did not shoot. He did not know why.
Climbing into his truck to make the short drive back to his cabin, he thought about why he had not fired. Lost in thought, he missed his turnoff. He would have to go the long way home. Turning the corner, he was confronted by a house trailer on fire. Black smoke poured into the already darkened sky. Spotting a woman standing near the trailer holding a small dog, he brought his truck to a stop and ran to her. "My dog!" she screamed. "My other dog is still inside!" The huntsman started to put his hand on the front door, but it almost glowed red. A bedroom window seemed safer. He picked up a cement block and crashed it through. From that broken window he could hear a distant barking from inside. Racing to the other side of the trailer, he found a back door, but it was locked. Gripping it tightly, he tore the door off its hinges. He did not know how.
A blast of hot smoke knocked him to the ground, and the entire trailer now seemed engulfed by the flames. Suddenly a faint voice whispered "Help!" from inside. Jumping to his feet he stood beside the door and fished his left hand inside the smoky interior. Feeling a shoulder, he jerked a woman outside where they both tumbled down. Her dress was half-burned away, burns covered swatches of her face. It was the woman's daughter who had run inside to save the dog just before he had driven up. Somehow, she was still alive. He did not know how.
Soon the fire department came. Ambulances came. And the huntsman headed home, his mind trying to comprehend what had happened. If he had taken that buck down, the time spent dressing it would have meant he would not have been there to save the woman. If he had not missed his turn, he would never have driven by the trailer. He thought about the tree stand and how by sparing one life, he saved another. Was it coincidence or something spiritual? I put the phone down after listening to his story and wondered the same thing.
Perhaps we all sometimes feel like Ishmael: Alone in time. Lost in the world. Lost to ourselves. But life dances on the edge of something else, something that connects us and makes us whole. Spirits pass above and behind us, before us, wherever we go. Perhaps they were whispering "don't shoot." Perhaps they make us take a different road one fading day. We stand on their shoulders. We sleep in their quiet embrace. And in compassion for each other, perhaps we lay claim to the divine inside us. Happy Thanksgiving.
Sey Young is a local businessman, father and longtime resident of Bentonville. Email him at [email protected].