Pigeon on the El

In lieu of any new writings (there is one, but I’m trying to get in into a newspaper first, so you’ll have to wait a little longer for that one), I went back to the archives for a short little piece I wrote about 3 and a half years ago.  It’s not as powerful as it could be, but I’m not in the revising/editing mood today (and it’s a Sunday, so I’m not going to do more than I feel like).  Enjoy!

I rode with a pigeon on the El today.  I don’t mean “pigeon” as some slang that may be out there – I mean the kind of pigeon my mom finds so cute.  The kind of pigeon you find in big cities, strutting around, eating food scraps, and disregarding all the “NO LOITERING” signs.  ((But let me start again.))

Now, because I live in Evanston, a little bit north of the Chicago city limits, I have to catch a train, the Purple Line, so I can go about 8 blocks to catch another train, the Red Line, that will take me the remainder of my journey.  On this particular Sunday, I was about 8 seconds from making the train I need to get to assure myself that I’ll arrive at church on time.  But as it was, I saw the train pulling away as I ran up the stairs.  I had to wait, reading some Anne Lamott for the 10 minutes until the next train came.  Usually this meant I would get to my final El destination at 10:00, just the time church was starting, but as it worked out, I arrived to the front of the door of the church about 8 seconds before the service began.  So in the end, it all worked out.

But let’s not forget about the pigeon.  I missed my normal train, so thus I had to take the second, arriving at the Howard El platform and changing to the Red Line, looking at my clock and hoping I would be able to make it on time.

Now, you might find it weird when I say this, but it happens to be an integral part of what occurred this Sunday morning: Whenever I ride the El and will be stopping at a familiar location, I try to position myself on the train so that I might be as close to the stairs or escalators as possible as to limit my time of walking up and down the platform after arriving at my location.  In this case, it meant walking a little bit back before boarding an empty car on the Red Line train.  I decided to sit facing backward in the middle of the train, but I soon moved a few seats away so that I could have some more legroom.  And as I sat there, doors of the train still wide open, waiting for departure, the pigeon walked in.

Now, I have heard of a few instances where a bird had somehow flown into the open window of a train or bus and then struggled to get out, but this was nothing like that.  The pigeon simply walked onto the train and looked around, as if making sure this was the right train to get it where it needed to go.  And when the train’s voice bellowed, “Doors closing,” the pigeon didn’t even take notice, instead strolling over to investigate some interesting bits of nothing on the floor across the way.

All I could do was sit and smile, not able to decide what I wanted to do more: laugh or cry.  This was one of those moments where you realize, as it is happening, that you’re experiencing something that will probably never happen again.  The pigeon was so nonchalant about it all, too.  It had pretty much taken over the back half of the train car, the portion I was facing, pecking away at whatever caught its attention.  I glanced behind me to see if anyone else was enjoying this once in a lifetime event, but the only passengers behind me, two men, were busy reading, something I couldn’t yet bring myself to do with the excitement of the pigeon.

Both then, in the moment, and now looking back, I have to liken my experience to the scene in the movie American Beauty where we get to see a video of an ordinary plastic bag doing its little dance.  Ricky, the character who recorded the incident, proclaims, “Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it, like my heart’s going to cave in.”  Ricky is actually showing another character this video because it is so special to him and he wants to share that with this other character.  And as the bird pranced around, taking ownership of the train as if it were its new home, I wished I had brought my video camera with me that morning.  But as I think about it now, I’m actually glad I didn’t.

One of the things that made that experience so special was knowing that, no matter what, it was a finite experience that would not last forever.  Even if the pigeon held its ground and refused to leave as more and more people entered the train, eventually I would arrive at my destination and leave the pigeon behind.  Or if I decided I would continue to ride with my new friend, the train would sometime reach the end of the line and I’d have to get off then.  There was no way to make this experience last forever, though I was enjoying it so much, I probably wouldn’t have minded if it did.

And if you think about it, isn’t life full of those types of moments?  While not every moment may be exciting and delightful, many are.  But we usually don’t care to realize just how amazing our experiences are, not when we’re in the moment and not even when the moment has passed.  We’re so concerned about what’s coming next, we choose not to live in those moments of joy and bliss.  But that doesn’t stop us from living in those moments of sorrow and agony.

My pigeon experience didn’t last forever.  In fact, it couldn’t have lasted more than about three minutes.  As we approached the next stop, the pigeon started to mosey over to the doors of the train.  The doors opened, and the pigeon slowly crept toward the cold air that was rushing into our car, into an area of the train where my view was obstructed.  I didn’t think the pigeon was walking fast enough to get out in time, but as the doors closed, I looked out my window just in time to see this bird dart from the train and fly away in the direction from which we had just come.  The pigeon had had its fun, and it didn’t even have to wait until the next train to get back to the Howard stop.  For all I know, that pigeon does this kind of thing a few times a day, taking a little joy ride to keep life interesting.

I stared in awe at the floor where the pigeon had been wandering, enjoying my thoughts as I pondered why that crazy bird had wandered onto the train with me.  Once again, I almost wanted to cry.

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