My daughter and I rescued a pigeon the other day.
It had been injured by one of those cruel spikes that impale birds who dare to land on window ledges of fancy Parisian apartments. By the time we arrived on the scene, at least a hundred people must have walked by the spastic bird, who was noisily beating its wings against the pavement.
It was my daughter who first noticed it. Aren’t children so much more observant than we are in these matters? They know that pigeons and other living creatures are vital, important and real, whereas we as adults often forget about this.
I probably wouldn’t have noticed the pigeon if my daughter hadn’t pointed it out. She is always showing me the things that really matter in life. She helps free me from my own self-obsessions and day-dreaming. She reminds me of a world of animals, rocks, and trees—all kinds of miraculous appearances. Children also have an innate desire to protect the world. They remind us of our own biophilia; a word which means a deep affinity and connection with other beings.
Thanks to the keen eye and compassion of my daughter, there was some hope for the bird. I gingerly picked it up and brought it home, intending to bring it to the animal hospital in the morning. It spent the night in a cardboard box with some water and food, and I spent a sleepless one listening to it thumping around the kitchen. Its breathing had become short and quick, and I wasn’t sure if it would make it through the night.
The next morning, to my surprise, our new friend was sitting in the box where I had left him, now perfectly recovered. It looked at me for a long moment, and then flew up onto one of the top shelves, banging its wings against the ceiling. This once broken creature had now become formidable! I ducked it claws, and with some difficulty managed to catch it and place it on the window ledge. In a flash, and not looking back, it flew right up into the sun and disappeared.
We humans are not so different than that pigeon, so often we feel like wounded birds. We try to fly—metaphorically speaking—but get caught in various traps and circumstances that seem impossible to escape. There are times when we feel ourselves to be irredeemable, broken and lost—times when we are truly vulnerable and at the mercy of a world that seems cruel and indifferent.
Deep down we know our essential beauty, intrinsic nobility, our innate capacity to fly. However, we might need some kind of intervention, a place to recover from whatever trauma we are recuperating from, or stranger to give us a lift up. We might get injured and collapse from the weight of things, find ourselves on a cold, hard sidewalk, in pain and not knowing who we are.
We might hear a voice saying: “Look papa, the pigeon cannot fly.” And then, some force of existence more powerful than our own might reach down from the sky and help us. Numb with terror we might fall down into some place that feels like death; we might pass a dark night in a damp box, with only strangeness and twilight shadows around us.
When in the morning the light breaks, and that same helpful hand tries to put us on a window ledge, we may discover, to our joy and surprise, that we don’t don’t need divine intervention anymore, for we have found our own inner wings. Something will have deeply changed inside us: the ability to heal our own wound, a measure of self love and respect. In that moment, we won’t feel the slightest bit afraid of jumping off the ledge of unknowing, for we will know that we have been given our wings and a second life.
I needed to share this story about the pigeon. He was a good, fat pigeon—a sturdy kind of bird—and he healed easily. As we all do at east once in a lifetime, he got injured. He was lucky, as am I, for I too have known that cold sidewalk, have have been in that damp dark box, waiting for death.
I wanted to tell you of this instance of the good, of what transpired between the pigeon, my daughter and I.
Because if I don’t, no one will ever know.
Author: Andrew Sweeny
Editors: Sara Kärpänen; Catherine Monkman