A Pigeon Crashed My Writing Group. Literally.
On Monday night, in the middle of my writing workshop, a perfectly healthy-looking bird fell right out of the sky. Or maybe off a tree, a power cable, or a rooftop. But wherever it fell from, the poor thing thwacked to the ground HARD. It lay there on its back, flapping its wings in weak little jerks. We all looked on in horror. The workshop leader was closest to the scene of the misfortune, though her back was turned; so she didn’t see the bird until after it had made its crash landing. In fact, she was so close that, just a meter or two closer, the pigeon could have fallen onto her head.
The weird thing is, this happened mere moments after the table had done an activity wherein the organizer of the workshop had tasked us with “killing each other’s monsters.” The monsters of fear and doubt that keep us small and keep us silent. Keep us from soaring.
And then, like some weird collateral damage within the orbit of all our slaying, a bird dropping from the sky. (#notamonster)
Two women next to me, trying to lighten the mood, turned to me and joked, “You did this! You were just talking about weird coincidences” (because the three of us had been talking about writing magic realism, and I mentioned how the genre sort of blends with my actual life). I appreciated their attempts at humor, but, (a) thankfully, I hold no power over such things (nor would I want to), and (b) bizarre though it may be, is a bird’s stone-cold drop from a summer sky truly a “coincidence?”
I felt just as stunned and awkward as I’m assuming they did, and I mused aloud, “Hm, a lot of ‘killing’ energy right here at our table, and a bird plummets to the ground.” (Though to be fair, the “killing each other’s monsters” activity was all about compassion and encouragement. For instance, I tried to encourage the friend whose “monster” I was supposed to “kill” to embrace her fears with non-judgment and kindness; and to root, in moments of anxiety and self-doubt, in love. To let her love be what writes, rather than her analytical mind.)
The whole situation momentarily flashed for me a mental image of something biblical, like the blood sacrifice of a bird at a temple, or the ancient concept of a scapegoat, wherein a village whispered its problems into the ear of a goat and then drove the animal out of the settlement, as if to send everyone’s problems away with it. I didn’t seriously think that we had anything to do with killing a bird, nor that this pigeon-crash had materialized as any kind of sacrifice, but it was just such a strange sequence of events…
Then, after a few seemingly interminable moments, the bird did the unthinkable: it righted itself. As in, it somehow flipped itself over onto its little orange feet.
And then it just stood there.
… And then it took a few steps and hung out on the sidewalk, going nowhere. Yet.
We were expecting none of this: obviously, not that it would crash to the ground without reason, but much less that it would live, that it could flip itself over, that it could walk. I asked someone for the saucer under her espresso cup, and I carried it toward the bird to pour some of my water into the dish; maybe the bird was drunk. Alcoholic berries happen. Birds get plastered. Water helps. But the pigeon didn’t seem to want the drink and moved further across the sidewalk to get away from me when I slid the tasty(/tasteless) beverage toward it. I left the dish near a planter and went back to the table. The group resumed — now (as per the pre-written agenda) on the topic of trauma.
Which I guess is also weird.
Weirder still, though, perhaps, was that the final activity of the evening involved blacking out lines of poetry on our worksheets. One of these poems was “Caged Bird.”
I played with this one without really thinking about it, trimming it down to:
The free bird
till the current
dips his wings
I liked this pseudo-new creation. It spoke of the liberating serendipity that a zen approach to life can sometimes unlock: go with the flow, no flapping or struggling, and eventually the cosmic current just might flip things around and you’ll end up borne up. Flying.
It wasn’t until last night though that I decided to look up the fuller poem. (No, I cannot remember having read it in its entirety before. Yes, I REALLY need to read Maya Angelou.) That’s when a deeper irony hit me:
Here we were, trying to put each other’s self-limiting, self-silencing fears to rest. Trying to help “free” one another… when a bird, who should have been enjoying the freedom of its birthright to soar, abruptly, for no discernible reason, tumbled to the ground, and we had all gasped and cringed at the prospect of… what if that was the end? So abrupt and without warning?
… and then this poem, already written into our evening in advance, with the lines that remained just out of view: about dreams that have all but died, of “things unknown but longed for still” by a bird who can no longer fly… yet who “opens his throat to sing” all the same.
Too many feels.
I don’t really know what to make of this. Like so many of the weird Synergisms of the Random that life seems fond of concocting, I guess there are a bunch of ways of reading this:
It was purely a coincidence. *(tl;dr: this entire post was a waste — jk!)
Maybe we had killed it, with our words and intentions.
But I don’t believe that. Not for a second. The work of liberation is the work of love. Love does not harm. And anyway, humans do not control the fates such that they can pluck a bird from a summer sky with the mere power of their thoughts.
AND anyway, the creature didn’t die; it flipped its situation around and walked it off, taking plenty of time to rest.
Perhaps this pigeon’s fall was previously-scheduled and the universe simply made sure that, whenever the big moment came, it would crash-land right next to our table full of women afraid to sing and to soar. What if the bird’s quick drop was a reminder to us all about our own mortality, or even the mortality of the various sorts of life circumstances that can support our dreams? So maybe the message is write, write now, don’t wait, because you don’t know when you will run out of chances.
BUT — the bird SURVIVED.
While we’d moved on from focusing on our fears about pursuing our dreams and we played silently with a poem about the grounded bird who laments the supposed death of its own dreams and yet sings all the same… this creature found some way to right itself. Kind of like it showed up to say, “Check out this trick!”
So maybe that’s the message. That we should remember it’s never too late. Like a bird can crash from the sky and get a second chance, we can pull ourselves together, no matter how hard the “ow,” and reach for another chance too. And this absolutely applies to our dreams.
In the mean time, damnit, we should SING. We might not be flying just yet, or we might need some recovery time before we’re flying again — but we never lost the ability to sing, did we?
The final stanza of Maya Angelou’s phenomenal poem *(full poem here):
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
P.S.: for those curious, the bird stayed put, walking very little (but not limping) and standing perfectly straight and steady for hours after its fall. It wasn’t bleeding or making sounds of distress. I contacted a local agency that rescues wild birds. I’ve since read that birds often survive falls just fine, but hopefully, if it needed some professional help, it got it.