Cars swerved out of the way of an unforeseen object in the middle of the road on Temple street. At first glance it looked like a piece of trash. Until I saw it moving. In the middle of the two lanes was a pigeon glued to the cement, either unsure of what to do, or unable to move. I wasn’t sure which. Cars plunged ahead. Behind us other drivers became increasingly agitated seeing that the light was green, and the line was hardly moving. Horns blared. Engine hopped into overdrive as they barreled through the signal.
From the library parking lot I strained my eyes, trying to see. Nothing. Maybe it flew away. Maybe someone picked it up out of the street. Or maybe it was in between the teeth of someone’s car grill. It was just a bird, yet I felt torn. I fidgeted with the library books in my hand that needed to be returned. It was out there somewhere. Suffering. Alone. What could I do? It was gone.
After returning my books, and picking up the book I had on hold, I found myself standing in the parking lot, staring out into the street. The wind had picked up. The sky was ashy. The weather in Los Angeles never seems to fit the season. There on the other side of the street it sat underneath the crosswalk signal, as if it was planning on crossing the street once the light changed. My fingers rapped the spine of my book, caught in decision paralysis. It was just a bird.
I stood there on the other side of the crosswalk, looking down on the pigeon. It cocked its head and looked up at me. There appeared to be nothing wrong with it until it tried to fly away. It flapped fitfully, its wings scrapping the pavement, flailing like a spinning top going out of control, unable to understand why it couldn’t fly anymore. The sight was horrifying.
“It’s ok, be calm,” I said as I gently approached. I removed my jacket and wrapped it into my arms. Its entire body was trembling. I carried it away from the noisy city street to a patch of dead grass, the best place I could find.
We sat there for a while. I stroked its head with my thumb. This seemed to calm it. I’m sure it was covered in germs. Compassion seemed to trump that fact. When it began writhing I wished I had a gun. The painful truth about life is living things suffer, and often we are voyeurs. There was a heap of asphalt chunks behind me. As I got up to go grab one the pigeon tumbled out of my jacket and got tangled in a web of weeds. I looked at the bird then the slab of asphalt in my hand. I could picture it in my head. All I had to do was hold the pigeon down, crush its head with one swift brutal motion, and all its suffering would cease. I held it down and poised the rock. I looked into its eyes. It could be over in a second. That’s all it would take…
I couldn’t. I couldn’t do it. So I did what I’ve done on many occasions, at dinner tables, in the car, in the privacy of my own home or head, I prayed. I prayed for death to come quickly. Within one minute the pigeon went into convulsions. With a final lurch it fell onto its side. I laid my hand on the bird. I could still feel its warmth, its heart beat.
In an instant clouds came into its eyes. I felt again to find a heartbeat. It was gone. Snap. Just like that.
“Rest now, little soul,” I said. As I picked it up to lay it back down on the bed of grass a fly landed on it. I shooed it away in disgust. “You couldn’t wait one minute?” I asked, incredulous.
I felt slightly numb as I walked back to my car.
I scrubbed my hands with soap like a surgeon in the library bathroom. It was a bird, I kept thinking. It was just a bird.
In my mind I kept seeing it there in the middle of the road as I drove away.
“Death is the ultimate equalizer,” a friend once told me. The chilling reality hit me. One day Death is going to come for me like it did for that bird. In fact it’s already on its way, like a train, far off in the distance. Am I ready? Am I prepared?
My mind went to a dark place. I saw those who didn’t stop stopped, who didn’t care. I saw faces long forgotten of people who I saw who needed help, who I pretended to not see because I feared rejection, or didn’t know what to do, or thought were trying to scam me. How could I feel compassion for a bird, and at times feel nothing for my fellow man?
I once believed that the world was a cruel place. Now I realize it is what we make it. We have the ability to change it. For better or for worse.
When I came out of the ether, I found myself somewhere on Sunset blvd, waiting at a red light. On the sidewalk I saw two pigeons doing their mating dance, the male trying to woo the female who was pecking the ground. That must hurt their heads, I thought. Around them were people waiting for the bus to come. I smiled. The clouds were gone. The sun was out. It warmed my face. I became acutely aware of the fragility of life at that moment, and I resolved to do what I could to make the world a “for better” place.