By Elizabeth O’Brien, LPC-S

I was already feeling fragile, having slept fitfully, rattled by disturbing dreams. Some part of me couldn’t shake a feeling of dread. I forced myself into my morning ritual, firing up my iPad, New York Times app, coffee by my side.

The top story hit me in the face: a German airline crash, in which 150 innocent people had died when the plane slammed into a mountain. A young German co-pilot, it seemed, had deliberately downed the plane. There were rumors he suffered secretly from depression.

As I tried to make sense of the tragedy, my husband walked in the door from an early-morning workout. “When you walk the dogs, head right, not left,” he said.

“Why?” I asked.

“There’s an armadillo in the road. It’s been hit by a car.”

“Is he dead?” I never refer to animals as “it,” as I believe them to be sentient beings.

“No,” he said. “Still alive.”

“We have to do something!” I said.

Michael grabbed the big walking stick we had bought from Mestizos on the Rio Grande in Big Bend, and we headed to the top of our cove, turning left. There, by our neighbor’s mailbox, was an enormous, regal armadillo, upside down, like a beetle on its back. His underside was pink and tender, and his clawed feet and pointed snout were twitching. Faint squeaks emanated from his bloodied mouth.

After a few failed attempts, Michael was able to push him toward the curb and flip him over. In those few seconds, I prayed that once righted, he would scoot away, battered but intact. But no, his beautiful, ribbed shell was cracked, and he was bleeding from his abdomen. He could barely hold up his head, and trembled with the effort. I knew he was doomed.

I am not a crier, but a sob escaped my throat. It felt as if it had exploded from deep within my gut, where it had been lingering since my mother’s death more than a year ago. I felt out of control. I had no way to put the animal out of his misery. We don’t keep guns, and even if we did, I could not have pulled the trigger. So I called Animal Control, and then the neighbor in question, warning her not to take her young children out front.

I got ready for work. But before leaving, I fought with my husband: old business, regressive detritus of marriage, came spewing out of us both. My emotional immune system was weak, out of whack, and so I devolved into old neuroses and defenses.

Though Animal Control had removed the armadillo by the time I left for work, I thought of the poor, innocent creature for the rest of the day. Here this noble, prehistoric species has survived millennia, only to be run down in suburbia by unconscious human beings.

I thought of the hapless plane-crash victims, obliterated in an instant by one of their own kind who had lost his way. And I realized that I, too, was painfully off-course, my armor cracked. I made a pact with myself anew that I would wake up, cast off the old script, and—in the words of psychotherapist and spiritual writer Thomas Moore—“enter my fate.”


ElizPhotFinalElizabeth O’Brien holds a Bachelor of Arts in English degree from the University of Tennessee/Knoxville; and a Master of Arts in Counseling degree from St. Edward’s University in Austin. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor-Supervisor (LPC-S), with a private psychotherapy and supervision practice in Westlake. She also created and runs a pro bono counseling program at the Town Lake YMCA in downtown Austin. Ms. O’Brien worked as a journalist for many years in Florida and New York City before moving to Austin to raise a family. She is the co-author, with her husband, photographer Michael O’Brien, of The Face of Texas (University of Texas Press), a book of portraits and stories of Texans, both famous and “ordinary.”

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Sources: feather grass photo by Ryan McGuire,