When I walk to my usual bus stop, I always walk along a street that passes under the freeway – or, rather, the freeway passes above the street. Underneath the freeway, the concrete is covered in bird droppings, and you just know there are always pigeons around somewhere nearby.
Yesterday morning, when I was walking this very same route, there was a pigeon lying on the concrete off to the side of the footpath, right under the freeway. It only took one glance to know that it was dead.
Later that day, in the staff tea room, I was reading a copy of National Geographic that someone had brought in and left at the table. There was an interesting little feature article about death and how it’s defined. It quoted some medical definition that referred to the cessation of either brain activity or heart function, but also touched on the spiritual significance of death, and how this could create another definition altogether.
It having been a busy morning, and me having read the article quickly because I was only on a short break, I did not immediately connect the pigeon and the content of the article. And you might ask “But why would you? It’s just a pigeon!” but I should tell you that I have a kind of fondness for pigeons. Not the kind of fondness that one might have for puppies or kittens, but more of a kind of sympathetic fondness for these simple creatures.
The thing that struck me the most the first time I saw this poor pigeon, was how peaceful it seemed. It did not look like it had been attacked and killed, and no scavengers had yet come to claim its flesh.
Only tonight, when I walked past it again (someone had moved it aside, further out of the way, but I assume it was the same pigeon), did I think of that article again. The way that the pigeon was lying there, its wings folded in close to its body, made me think how perfectly it would fit into my cupped hands. I imagined the warmth emanating from its body, the gentle rhythm of its heartbeat, and a soft coo rising from deep in its throat.
I slowed my pace momentarily, marvelling at how its body was still so intact (although who knows what has happened beneath the feathers smoothed over its body). It very well could have just been asleep – in an odd place and an unusual position, but asleep nonetheless. I thought of that article again, and wondered if it really might still be alive, in the sense that it wasn’t dead, based on the technicalities of the definition(s).
It was a humbling experience found in an unexpected place.