Right now, our world is struggling with the unknown. We have not faced more uncertainty, fear, anxiety and concern for humanity in many generations. Our faith is being tested like never before. The COVID-19 crisis has hit our world and forced us all to slow down and consider what our busy lives are really all about. Suddenly we realize that all the things that truly matter aren’t things at all. Viruses don’t discriminate. This is affecting all of us—rich, poor, young, old, Democrats, Republicans, communists, capitalists, socialists, Christians, Jews, atheists, agnostics, non-hunters, anti-hunters and hunters alike, vegetarians and carnivores. Literally everyone.
We truly are all in this together. And we are beginning to show thoughtfulness and empathy for each other in a manner unlike any time to which I have been witness. The concept of “social distancing” is dominating our mindspace. But is it really “social” distancing that will keep us safe? Do we distance ourselves from those we do not trust? From those who we think had something to do with the cause of this pandemic?
Perhaps we ought to re-frame that concept for what it needs to be: “physical” distancing. I personally do not want to alienate myself from anyone. Yes, I do appreciate people keeping their six feet of space between us, but that is not to say I am afraid of their intrinsic value as a human being.
There is an interesting parallel in the animal world with a disease called chronic wasting disease, or CWD, which is a form of encephalopathy that kills whitetail deer. And how do they contract it? By sharing bodily fluids through licking branches, naturally occurring mineral licks and eating in the same space. When there are too many deer in one area and they are sharing resources, CWD can present itself with one individual and spread throughout the herd very quickly.
Aristotle claimed that “Nature does nothing in vain.” Is this pandemic, then, perhaps a way of nature correcting the species? Now, before anyone attacks me for being cold and heartless for even questioning this, ponder this for a moment: How disconnected from one another have we become? How have political beliefs divided us so thoroughly? How disconnected have we become from nature? Our food? The basic needs of shelter and tribe? How long have we taken for granted that the sun will come out tomorrow morning? That the birds will still sing? That flowers will still bloom?
We are all so concerned suddenly with getting enough toilet paper, hand sanitizer and food, that we rush into grocery stores, motivated by fear, and do what humanity has done to preserve itself for eons. Are there any lessons to be learned here? Might it be that Nature, the Great Spirit, God, Allah or some Divine Entity is forcing us to slow down and observe the value of our own lives and how we should cherish one another? When I am sitting in my tree stand, or my duck boat in a swamp, or walking through the woods, I find myself totally present. But when I am pursuing some dream of a better tomorrow, I am not acknowledging the simple beauty of now.
Tonight, as I kneel beside my bed, I will give thanks for the health and well-being of my family and friends and my job that helps provide financial assistance to those who struggle and those who seek more security. But tonight, I will also take a moment to give thanks for the magnificent venison dinner that I was blessed to have acquired through nothing more than the unfortunate meeting of this hooved being with one of our civilization’s motorized vehicles. Yes, roadkill. And I ask you: what should we do when this happens? There is both a legal and an existential consideration to assess.
This, once again, is where Nature asks us, “What would you do with this circumstance?” My answer is: “Nature wastes nothing,” and as a part of the natural world, I feel indebted to the spirit of the animal world to utilize the body of this animal, preparing it with the highest love and respect for those humans I hold dear to my heart.
So, let us try to re-frame our fear and anxiety for this period and ask: What am I to learn from this? Might I become a more caring person? Might I learn to love even those with whom I disagree? Might I just spend a few more minutes today practicing gratitude and compassion? Might I even learn more grace from the Deer Spirit and share my meal with someone who needs food?
Bradley Carleton is executive director of Sacred Hunter, a nonprofit that seeks to educate the public on the spiritual connection of man to nature.