Kathy Baker: A community dinner

Eight deer accept the dinner invitation, each arrayed in their best bib and tucker. They gather in the clearing just as dusk begins to settle over the trees and sky, like a soft blanket enveloping a sleeping child.

A fresh offering of deer food and an overflowing bird feeder touch my dinner guests in several different ways.

One deer immediately commandeers the bird feeder, pushing away a persistent yearling (her own child, perhaps?), who hopes to share the feast. Why does the doe cling to the bird seed, instead of claiming her share of the deer food, which should be more to her liking? Why does the yearling persist, coming back after each rebuff?

Two or three of the deer focus their attention solely on the deer food. Meanwhile, one of the bigger deer, along with two of the yearlings, play tag — chasing each other at breakneck speed, crashing through the twilit trees in joyful abandon. Has the tag team already eaten? Are they respecting a pecking order? Is having fun more alluring than dinner, even in winter, when food is scarce?

Every once in a while, the deer stop their various activities, snapping to attention in their version of a fire drill. Four of them station themselves in four different directions, on high alert for any encroaching danger. The others stay within the circle created by the four sentinels, their noses sniffing the air, their ears rotating like Wifi searching for radio waves, vigilant for any threat to the herd. Is there a human walking by? A dog barking?

Isn’t it interesting how vitally important their community is to the deer? I suppose it shouldn’t surprise us. After all, community is the lifeblood of any herd, neighborhood, town, church, school or country. There is always something more urgent, a higher calling, more important than the individual — a reality that often seems to escape those of us in the human herd.

We seem to pick and choose who and what is deserving of our stamp of approval, according to our personal likes and dislikes. We decide who fits into our own little community. And, don’t we all, in a way, inhabit a “gated” community, a.k.a. “them” and “us”? Of course it’s fine to have preferences but, speaking for myself, I suspect my motives when everyone I root for, vote for, choose to love or care for looks just like me, or believes exactly what I believe. My life feels so much richer when it includes people of diverse opinions, lifestyles, affiliations, ages and stages, even though, quite frankly, it can be challenging sometimes.

Deer have differing personalities, just as we do. They may have food fights, but in the end, everyone eats. They play hard and work hard. They are protective of their young, just as we are. The deer have an advantage, though. They are keenly aware of what we seem to have forgotten: that the collective must be protected, that communication of every sort is crucial for the survival of the group. Have we as a nation, or we as individuals, lost the ability to listen to each other? Are we blind to how necessary each of us is to the strength of the whole? To the survival of the world as we know it?

Do we fail to notice when our actions or beliefs limit or bruise the well-being of others? Do we find it necessary to lash out at one another, to try to outdo each other, to prove our point or to get what we want? Is getting our own way, having our personal needs and wants met, paramount — even at the expense of others?

We like to believe we are superior to other creatures on earth, yet animal communities thrive because they focus intently on the survival of the group. The entire group, not just select members of it. No exceptions. Can we say the same about the priorities of our community — the community of humankind? Do we focus intently on the survival of the group? The entire group, without exceptions? I shudder to think of the fate facing humankind if we don’t open our hearts to a larger concept of community.

Food for thought?

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Kathy Baker is a writer and speaker, a messenger of encouragement who loves to touch hearts and tickle souls with her work. She is the author of “Leaving Adversity Plaza,” and “A Tale of Three Choices: His, Hers, Mine.” She loves hearing from her readers and can be reached at [email protected].