Monday, September 04, 2006

The Pigeon

The Love Embrace of the Universe, Frida Kahlo
The Tate Gallery website
Click to enlarge

I dislike being late intensely so am generally far too early for everything. It perpetuates the illusion that I can retain some vestige of control over the unpredictability of life. Over the years I have sat in innumerable cafes drinking innumerable cups of coffee to pass the time while waiting for companions to arrive or offices to open. My father was the same and, apparently, his father before him.

But last Tuesday for reasons too uninteresting to mention I was on the verge of being late for a dental appointment. So I really wasn't in the mood to stop and talk when, one street away from the surgery, the old lady emerged from the doorway of her flat as I hurried past.

“You can’t see a pigeon in there can you dear?” she asked.

She pointed at a strip of scrubby communal garden where a few dispirited laurel bushes formed a barrier between her front door and the main road. I guessed she was in her eighties. Frail and slight, her skin had a yellowish tinge but her voice had remained clear and strong and I detected an Irish accent. She was obviously worried.

“There's been an injured pigeon hiding in those bushes for two days. I think it’s broken its leg. I can't see it now though”.

I peered into the shrubbery. No pigeon, just an empty crisp packet or two. A panicky voice in my head was telling me that I was definitely going to be late now.

“I put some food and water out for it. My neighbours don’t like it when I feed the pigeons because they say they’re dirty. But how would they like to be hungry?”

“It doesn't seem to be there,” I told her. “Did you phone the RSPCA?”

“I called them yesterday afternoon. Maybe they came last night and took it away to look after it?”

I said that yes, this was probably what had happened. But I thought of different possibilities as well. Urban fox. Cat. Other unpleasant scenarios. I suspected she was thinking along the same lines. We talked for several minutes, her eyes scanning the bushes periodically.

“I’ve got a bad leg myself, and I wouldn’t want to be left alone and in pain," she said, suddenly.

My heart lurched. She could doubtless imagine only too vividly what this would be like. I attempted again to reassure her that the bird was probably in good hands. I wasn't sure whether I believed it or not but that didn't matter.

“I always look after the animals ”, she went on as she turned to go back indoors. “They can't ask for help can they?”.

I went on my way. It occurred to me that the panicky voice had been silenced.

The end of the story is a cliche. I was late for my appointment but it didn't matter, the dentist was behind schedule anyway. It really wasn't that important. And neither are a lot of the things that I worry about.


Blogger Dale said...


9:41 am  
Blogger Jean said...

This made MY heart lurch. Thank you. And I love the Friday Kahlo painting - one I didn't know.

11:14 am  
Blogger rdl said...

I thought of something I always tell my patients that are worried about what might be wrong with their eyes or possible surgery: Don't worry til you have something to worry about. But being a worrier myself I know this is hard to do.
Myself I am chronically late but possible for the same reasons. My 12 year old son is always telling me we have to leave - he must take after my father who was always early. Guess it missed a generation. Enjoyed yr. post and the picture.

1:19 pm  
Blogger herhimnbryn said...

The unexpected.
Takes you down a different path.
Allowing you to talk with her.
Who would have been behind net curtains....
And dentists are always late!

3:04 pm  
Anonymous in2deep said...

my first time here and it was a breath of (fresh) air. i enjoyed reading a few of your posts:)

4:29 pm  
Anonymous Jessie said...

I love this story, Mary. I love that you took time to validate this woman's humanity. This is a great reminder that it doesn't cost so much to acknowledge someone else, and the benefits are mutual. Sweet post!

5:59 pm  
Blogger LJ said...

The end of the stories like that are not cliche at all.
Unless it is cliche to suddenly be tapped on the shoulder by the universe and reminded to get our priorities straight.

I live for encounters like this - and this entry made my heart lurch, too.

7:22 pm  
Blogger Michael Manning said...

Mary: My Dad and I share this trait: being early. My uncle was this way too and when I was a little kid I'd giggle at how one was half an hour early and one was on time. "I've been sitting here for half an hour!" Bwahahaa! Anyway, I've been late to work 5 times in 13 years, so lol! A great charcter trait, Mary!

8:36 pm  
Blogger Becca said...

good for you take the time to stop and speak ... and break the tyranny of urgent ... I seem always to be in a hurry so this is a great story for me to read.

2:33 am  
Anonymous beth said...

What a wonderful story, and so beautifully and sensitively told. (I don't like being late either...)

3:05 am  
Blogger Brenda said...

You impart so much with this story, Mary. It's stayed with me all day.

The ways in which we comfort each other...

3:23 am  
Blogger Sonia said...

What a beautiful and moving story, Mary! You was so kind and thoughtful with the old lady. I think that her comportment tell us much about the aging process.

May I ask you a question? I don't know why my About Me, Links, Previous Post and Archives were showing on the bottom of the page when I click in Setember 2006 or when I click on Principal Page. But when I click on Previous Posts, like "Toucans Visiting my Garden" (the latest post)the Side Bar is OK. Did you have any clue? Sorry to bother you with this, and thank you!

5:02 am  
Blogger Endment said...

What timing --- I really needed to read this story today -- thank you

1:05 am  
Blogger Sky said...

what a nice exchange - she was supported and comforted, you were reminded about the really important moments in life...treasures, both.

this encounter undoubtedly brought her a sense of peace as she anticipates future days when her own wing may be broken - someone stopping. these shared moments bring such meaning to our lives. :)

gosh, mary, i am just the opposite - late to everything! i know it is so rude and i don't mean to imply that my time is more important than another's, but the pressure to be on time almost incapacitates me!

6:43 am  
Blogger Dave said...

This is what I needed today. Thank You.

2:19 pm  
Blogger chuck said...

Wrote you a comment that would not post-- so I'll simply say, GLAD YOU ARE BACK...

3:16 pm  
Blogger Mary said...

A couple of very busy days so have been away from the blog. Thank you, everyone.

in2deep: Welcome! Nice to see you here and thank you.

Sonia: RE sidebar dropping. The only time this has happened to me was when I posted a photo that was too wide ... If you upload through Blogger there is no problem as Blogger resizes, but as Blogger has been SO difficult a nd temperamental for photo uploading, I have used Flickr from time to time. If you are using an outside photograph storage facility like Flickr you have to be careful that the photos are the right size. Trial and error I think. I

f this isn't the problem with you then I am not sure I can help .... sorry!

7:59 pm  
Blogger Sonia said...

Thank you so much Mary, for your help. The size of the photo I download is the same size of the others photos on others post. But I think that the troubles begun with the Adsense (ads from Google). I give up these ads and let's see what's happens! Thanks again! Have a great weekend!

8:11 pm  
Blogger Edie said...

This is a beautiful post...a lovely two-way exchange...another reminder that the universe does give us what we need as we need it.
Thank you.

3:18 pm  
Blogger MB said...

You told this story very well. Thanks for the reminder that connection is more important than worrying.

6:30 pm  
Anonymous ginkgo said...

Look beneath the bush or scratch just a little beneath the surface and you find our common, vulnerable nature. Each of you met it with compassion. Thank you for sharing this lovely story.

6:46 pm  
Blogger leslee said...

Wow. Yes, this made my heart lurch, too. I'm sure it helped her greatly just to have you listen to and spend a few moments with her. Well worth the time. Sometimes the problems in the world seem overwhelming and we're so helpless to do anything. But a moment to be kind to an old lady is something.

1:23 pm  

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