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Driving home one evening, consumed by thoughts of work/family/life, I saw something I’ve been unable to forget: five or six deer, less than a block away, crossing the street. Unfazed by one of our town's busiest thoroughfares, as unperturbed as the most blasé jaywalkers, they sauntered across the pavement, disappearing into the trees on the other side. Their appearance was so charming, so unexpected, they might as well have been unicorns.

Now I know about ”the deer problem”. In metropolitan areas the whitetails’ burgeoning numbers are a threat to gardens, and they endanger motorists and themselves as unprecedented numbers dash into streets and are smashed by cars. But seeing them merge from nowhere, with their long, velvet necks and primeval grace, my impulse was to protect them. Clearly the deer didn’t belong there. Their out-of-placeness made them precious. Now when I drive through this neighborhood I’ve passed a thousand times, I look for deer – and see everything else. The brick homes’ curves, the light darting through the trees’ diving branches, all seem different. Something magical passed before me here, so I now see the magic that already existed.

I remembered the deer the other day. Writing my umpteenth check for groceries, I was begrudging every cent when the redheaded cashier told me she’d been working there for 23 years. “Life,” she added, “is good.” When I looked up at her curiously, she seemed ready to pass off the remark as a joke.

“Yeah, life is good,” I said, suddenly meaning it.

“You know the good thing?” she asked conspiratorially. “We know it. So many people don’t.”

No, they don’t. Others know it but focus more on the myriad ways it could be better. More money, more love, more sex, more appreciation by family and co-workers. If they just had more, life could really be good. Some of us can’t see the good life for worrying about disasters-to-come, or about people whose lives truly are awful – concerns which, by themselves, help no one.

A crowded kind of loneliness has become our norm, one in which we contemplate everything but the happiness we can discover when something helps us look for it. Everyday life is a steamroller that can flatten the wonder right out of you.

But we can search for the beauty that doesn’t seem to belong. In a world intent on our always working toward something – staying young, building financial security, always acquiring more – we can know that the real challenge is recognizing the wonder at hand. With our eyes wide open, we can see it. Even without the unicorns.

Donna Brit - Washington Post Writers Group