July 10, 2008 § 4 Comments
I have a soft spot for the little outcasts of nature; those deemed ‘disgusting’ simply because they live too close to us and remind us too much of ourselves. I love to watch brilliant white seagulls screaming at each other, fighting three miles down the beach over one French fry and then forgiving each other and flying off together to find a dead fish. I love squirrels – the ‘furry rats’ that run around our neighborhood with whole tortillas in their mouths, or half of a hamburger bun, or my favorite, half of a hollowed coconut, trying desperately to maneuver it up a tree into their cozy hut. I click my tongue at them so they’ll sit up and put one hand to their chest as if saying “Me?”
But most of all, I love pigeons.
I love that they’ve decided to stay here. Instead of being pushed out to ‘nature’ while we carve out our giant footprints, they chose to adapt and stay in the city. I crack up every time I walk down a busy sidewalk in Chicago and see pigeons amongst the people, walking right along side as if they, too, are late for the big meeting with Handleman. I love their head bobbing, their iridescent necks, the way they gather in little gangs on warm roofs in the wintertime, poofing out their feathers to become little grey balls with heads. I think it’s great how tough they are. You see big fat healthy pigeons trudging forth with one eye, one foot, toes chewed off, whole swaths of feathers missing, pigeons that look like they’ve been dipped in Vaseline and shaken out like a troll doll, and yet there they go, walking with you to the bank, crossing at the crosswalk, flying up to the nest they’ve hidden behind the neon sign.
I like to give animals names and backstories, dreams and goals, crises and commitments. The squirrel with no fur on his tail that lives at Springfield and Ainslie is named Jimmy Rattail. He’s in the mob. The limping gray cat I fed every morning on the way to work is Roy, a traveler, a mystery. So it’s probably my own fault that I react so dramatically when I see an animal hurt, abused or laying dead on the side of the road.
The day I went to Target, I was preparing for our trip to Vegas and Charlotte’s trip to Canada. I was feeling better, backwise and in good spirits as I left the store, humming on my way to the car. I saw a pigeon walking towards me, slowly, his head slowly bobbing.
“Lazy guy. C’mon on now. There’s things to do,” I said with a smile.
From a distance it looked like he was carrying a stick in his mouth. Then I saw that the end of it was yellow, and a bit frilly. A flower? Was he indeed bringing me a flower? I was flattered. I told him that this whole situation was awkward as I was married and took a few steps closer to him, wishing I had my camera. As he approached, however, I saw that it wasn’t a stick at all, and it wasn’t in his mouth. It was a stainless steel dart, and it was about eight inches long, jammed straight through the fat part of his neck, poking about four inches out the other side. I audibly gasped and my instinct was to reach for him, not even knowing what I would do had he let me pick him up. Surely pulling the dart out would kill him, letting the wound bleed and be open to infection, but the dart had to be killing him just by being in there, didn’t it? I walked behind him as he made his serpentine way around the covered parking lot. There was no reason to follow him, no reason to keep saying “it’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok,”, but I did. It was comforting to me somehow, that I was trying to help him even if it was just by offering a kind word in a language he didn’t understand.
When he ducked under a parked car and I realized I was four rows over from my car, I shrugged and headed back, sad that I’d seen such a thing, a little impressed that the pigeon, like his one footed, one eyed brothers was still soldierin’ on, and then I was angry. I was furious to the point of tears that not many folks would understand because “cripes, it’s just a pigeon, J.”
Of course. Just a pigeon. And I’m just a Midwestern white girl. And my dog is just a mutt, and we’re al just living things. And what made me cry for the pigeon, that “flying rat” or “vermin” that everyone despises, is that it didn’t put a dart through its own neck. He couldn’t possibly have gotten that eight inch metal spike through his flesh in a perfect horizontal fashion. A HUMAN BEING, the supposed ‘most intelligent’ of creatures on this earth, for some reason that no one will ever know or be able to justify, stabbed a living thing and left it to die. I care because I think the biggest step on our path to ‘enlightened’ humanity is to care enough to have compassion and empathy for ALL living things, no matter how ugly, or distasteful or small. And I guess I believe that we shouldn’t go out of our way to do them harm. Useless harm. Harm for harm’s sake. Harm preceded by “hey, watch this.”
It started me thinking of people who blow pot in cat’s faces, or tie their tails together, or throw firecrackers at puppies or things so much worse that I can’t even type them. I have no interest in knowing how these things are “funny” or “entertaining”. I don’t want to hear how we have to laugh at these things or else we’d cry. I don’t want to ever meet the person who feels that one living creature is so insignificant that it can be tortured and killed without any kind of remorse.
I thought of the pain that little pigeon was feeling. The hot, stinging, ache of infection? The woozy loss of blood? Exhaustion? The weight of the metal yoke forced upon it? Perhaps animals don’t have emotions, or names, or full time jobs. But I’m positive they have central nervous systems and can feel pain as exquisitely as you or I.
Were I not me, I could probably convince myself that being a tough city pigeon, he’d carry on, living life as Ol’ Mikey DartNeck, with a super great story to tell. But I’m me, and I know he’s no longer with us. No longer walking the sidewalks of the north side, greeting the folks at Target. He’s gone for no reason other than being a pigeon.
I really hope the person who stabbed him was thoroughly entertained.