The fall of 2008 was a dark time. It was an election year, so, that was stressful. My son ended up in the hospital with a shunt failure, and as we sat in Albany Medical, waiting for tests and surgery, the stock market began to plunge. We were there for five days or so, and during that time, the entire US economy dropped into darkness.
As a parent with a child with special needs, I've been familiar with the worry that comes with every runny nose, and when I end up in the Intensive Care Unit, it's like an icy hand wraps itself around my heart. On one hand, I only want to give my son the best environment of love and support and faith that things will be okay. On the other, the fear of the unthinkable is intense, and I hang on the slightest inflection of each word from every nurse or doctor in a hyper-aware state of alertness, all day, all night.
I could be in the deepest sleep in a chair, holding his hand, and be instantly awake as a nurse comes in to do a routine check.
It's the kind of 'awareness' that is not pleasant, but it's real, and I could tell you every moment of those days and nights in the most painstaking detail.
Thankfully, once he got what he needed, he recovered quickly, and we ended up home and grateful for the help of everyone in the medical community. But once our life began to feel whole again, it was clear that the outside world was crumbling away.
Retirement savings for millions of people just evaporated overnight. Property values sank like rocks. People were scared, and each day, it seemed like everything just got worse. The fear was palpable in everyone we knew, so, as a small community at Hawk Circle, we created an event to bring people together, get close on the land, and find hope and renewal. We called it the Gift of the Deer Gathering.
I don't remember exactly how many people came, but it was awesome. It was cold in November, but we managed to stay warm in our heated barn workshop room, and share our stories. We had people come from all directions, offering classes and experiences and crafts, all in service to the community. We didn't charge anything, but enough people made small donations that really helped cover the costs of portable toilets and other materials and food. We sang, we told stories, we practiced skills, and we had a bonfire that was epic, with a life-sized, twig 'deer effigy' at the top of the tipi that was sent into the night sky in a shower of sparks.
There was a magic that flowed when we created this experience. No one was trying to 'sell' anything. Everyone was giving from the heart, with what they had, and it was shared and received. I remember a lot of laughter, and prayer, and good words and joy. It was something that truly soothed my spirit, and restored my hope that we would be okay.
I knew that we could ride out this recession, or depression, or whatever it was that we were going through. I knew that we were going to do it together, and that we were strong, like a tribe, even though these people were folks I rarely saw in my daily life. That part didn't matter, really. The bonds of that weekend were stronger than the fear.
There was frost in the fresh fallen leaves each morning, and it was a joy to see people connecting in small groups, to head down a trail to gather some tea, or to work on some hides, or practice making fire without matches.
It's now ten years later, and our world is different. We are deep in the 'Digital Age', with the rise of screen technology entwined in almost every aspect of our culture. I can't even pump gas without seeing video messages, news and sales pitches for car washes or coffee. Our kids are spending over 8 hours a day on tech, on average, and it's literally changing our brains.
These changes are happening so fast, we really are struggling to respond and take action. In many cases, we aren't even really aware of what's happening, or what's causing it, and what would make things better. When our society is specialized and fragmented, it's filled with millions of good people who have not been trained to see the 'Big Picture', or follow the threads of cause and effect.
It's my sincere hope that we can change the direction that our communities are heading, away from anxiety, fear, stress, mental anguish and physical pain, and down a new path, one with community and nature and working with our hands in service to our families and our world.
Maybe it's time for more 'Gifts of the Deer' gatherings, so we can find that peace, that renewal and healing that so many people are longing for, and searching for, but not finding online.
I know plenty of kids and teens would would really love it if their parents and friends could get it too.