When I was growing up we lived right next to this creepy looking forest, full of crows. When I went to bed I’d lay awake, looking at this forest. Particularly this large misshapen tree shrouded by the darkness of the countryside, next to the river and fields. I used to think it was some kind of monster, locked into place during the day but at night it would awake and wreak havoc.
I don’t know why, but back then I had this weird fear of forests like this. These dark, crowded brushwork’s of trees. I remember thinking that this forest at the top of a hill on the way to Banagher Dam was the gates of Hell- and if I took my eyes off it for one second while passing, an army of Demons would come raging down.
But eventually you grow up. You realise there’s no angels above, no devils below and those scary looking trees are just…trees.
The crows always meant nothing to me. Just these big black birds that cawed excessively as they flew about on school day mornings and only ever came down to eat the scraps of whatever dead carcass was on the road that day. I didn’t care for them, or at least not until a few years back when I was coming home from walking the dog and I found this crow along the path, crashed out of the sky or fell from its nest in the deep dark trees.
I thought it to be dead, that is until the dog was about to stick its nose in it and its head started moving. It lived, but was really hurt. I stared at it for a while. Wondering what I ought to do. But then I thought to myself “things get hurt all the time, things die all the time- what’s the point?” and so I walked on.
When I got home I kept thinking about that stupid crow. Couldn’t take my mind off it. I couldn’t just leave it there, at least not like that. I had two options as far as I could see. I could go out with my knife and stab it in the back of the head to put it out of its misery, or I could try to save it.
I thought about it for a while. Thought about the amount of effort I’d need to put in to nurse this bird back to health. Get a shoebox with some holes in it, shroud it in darkness to keep it from going into shock, feed it regularly. So I did what a lot of people would have done. I took out my knife and I went out with the sole purpose of killing this bird.
But when I found it again, it was already dead. It had suffered and died from its injuries while I was debating ethics in my head. The death of this stupid little bird hung over me for the rest of the day. But like a lot of things, a nights sleep washed it away and now I rarely think about it.
I’m only writing about it now because something very similar happened to me recently. I come into work last week and one of my colleagues tells me that when they arrived, they’d found this baby pigeon lying out by the fire exit. It’d fallen from its nest, mother was nowhere to be seen. It couldn’t fly nor walk, it was effectively crippled.
To keep it out of further harms way my colleague had put it in one of the cardboard boxes we’d thrown out and laid it down at the end of the steps. I’d come down now and again to take out some rubbish or change a keg, so I kept an eye on it.
For some reason I found myself compelled to save this stupid bird. A few colleagues told me it was sure to die, one even went into detail about how either the rats would tear it apart or the other birds would come down to eat it. There was no saving it. My response was to take out one of the bottle bins, flip it upside down and place the box with the bird on top of it- that way the rats would at least have a harder time reaching it.
So every time I went to take out the bins, I made sure the baby pigeon was alright. Sometimes I’d find it trying to stand up, flap its wings- only to fall back down. But most of the time I found it just lying there in its own shit. We’d given it a name; Maggie the Pigeon.
I don’t know if the name helped. I like to think that you can’t just leave something with a name to die, you’ve deemed it worthy of personhood. But names don’t mean shit and I was just…baffled at why I felt the need to save this stupid pigeon. Maybe I was getting soft, maybe I was bored, or maybe I felt that the best people I’d ever known- most of whom are either dead or otherwise gone- would want me to save this stupid bird.
So when I was on my break, I collected the crumbs from my food and cut out the bottom of a plastic bottle to act as a saucer for some water. I carried it down to the bird. Another colleague who’d just finished their shift came down as well to see it. I’d explained the situation to them. At this point I’d gotten the bird box to higher ground and placed a few spare boxes on top so that both the rain and the rats wouldn’t get to it.
I placed the water and crumbs in alongside the bird, but it didn’t seem to take to it. I think it was used to its mother feeding it and thus didn’t know what to do with what I had offered.
When I finished up and went home, I kept thinking about the bird. I hoped it’d make it through the night. I knew my colleagues were to busy too look after the bird, so I’d planned out in my head how I’d come in every day just to feed and water it- make sure it was safe.
So when I left home the next day for work, I’d collected all the crumbs I got from breakfast and put them in a plastic container. It was more than what I’d offered her the night before so I thought it’d last a while. Honestly, I’d no idea the eating habits of pigeons. I don’t know what they eat or how much.
But when I got to work, I found that bird box was gone. I went down the back alley to see if it was still there- hoping someone had misplaced it. But I couldn’t find it. The bird was gone. Either the rats had torn it to shreds or someone had thrown its starved remains out into one of the bins.
I stood there for a moment at the top of the steps, a little heartbroken. I’d tried to do the right thing and the goddamn bird died anyway. I took out the container and threw the crumbs along the steps, that way at least the living could eat.
So I went up stairs to get ready for work. I was a little bummed and tried to not think about the bird. But as I was getting ready, one of my colleagues told me that they’d taken the bird to the vet that morning- meaning that it would either get better or put down humanely. A far better ending than getting torn apart by rats.
I was relieved. My efforts weren’t for naught, this stupid little bird would live or die in peace.
This level of kindness confuses people, confuses me too. A lot of people think these efforts are foolish because…well, if you live in this world, trying to do good- especially if it’s minute- seems futile.
Saving one bird won’t stop a hawk from ripping a hummingbird to shreds. Making sure that some plastic doesn’t fall into the ocean won’t stop a group of dolphins beating a turtle to death for no reason at all. Donating to children in need won’t stop twisted little men pumping little kids with heroin so they can take advantage of them.
Being nice, being kind, it seems illogical. But sometimes being nice makes the difference. Which is ultimately why when you look out in the world there are two different perspectives. The realist view and the liberal view.
The realist believes that the world is set in its ways, that this is the best things will ever get so you might as well makes the best of things and to fend for yourself and your own with a big stick. The liberal thinks the world can get better, that through cooperation and dialogue you can enact real change to eliminate conflict and ease suffering. I choose the latter.
The lesson I got from that crow is this; there is no sanctity in neutrality. Inaction is in itself an action and indifference makes the difference. That bird could have lived, or it could have died a far less painful death- but my passivity and stalling led to that bird suffering more than it had to. So if you have a choice, make it quick or it will be made for you.