Flying The Coop: A Story Of Life And Death

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Dear Michael and Caroline,

The day after a recent Christmas, I discovered a trespasser on our terrace. A pigeon. But it was no mere intruder. It was also a captive.

Our terrace is enclosed with a wire-mesh screen. We made this home improvement expressly to keep pigeons out. For years they had visited unannounced, warbling ad nauseum and depositing souvenirs.

But now a scruffy gray pigeon had gotten in. It squeezed through a gap only a few inches wide. And now it was trapped. It tried to get out, flapping its wings, darting high and low.

My first instinct was to save it, though more to rid a nuisance than out of mercy, and I commenced eviction proceedings forthwith.

Unfortunately, I had no pigeon removal experience. I could try to drive the pigeon toward the gap it had entered. Or try to coax it into our living room, adjacent to the terrace, and enable it to fly through its open windows.

So out onto the terrace I stepped, a plastic outdoor table held in front of my torso as a shield. The pigeon saw me moving in and took to the air. It veered over and around me, wheeling right, then left, clearly in a panic. So much for that.

Nor was I now going to risk letting the pigeon into our living room. I imagined it going berserk, smashing mirrors and lamps, even pecking at my skull. Neither was I about to summon our building superintendant or the city health department. I needed a quick, easy solution.

Then I decided to leave the pigeon be. It would starve out there. Eventually it would die.

Now, I was never a friend to the pigeon population. I never fed one, for example. But neither was I an enemy of the species. I never flung a rock at one. Rather, I adopted a United Nations neutrality, wishing pigeons neither well nor ill.

Still, when it came to murder, I had a clean record. So my decision left me feeling guilty, even ashamed. This pigeon had done nothing wrong except gotten trapped by accident.

When you and Mom came home that night, I explained everything.

“So you’re just going to let it die out there?” Caroline asked.

The pigeon perched on the bedroom windowsill and stared at me. The next day the temperature dropped below freezing, and the pigeon huddled shivering under the table. Every few hours it roused itself from stillness to try to liberate itself. Round and round it flew, rustling in a frenzy, hysteria setting in.

Over the next few days, as the pigeon repeated this routine to no avail, I learned to live with my decision. After all, pigeons were technically vermin, in the same class as rats, carrying germs and potential infection. They marred statues and benches and buildings with filthy deposits, serving no productive purpose.

Then, one day, the pigeon was gone. As it faced death, starved and freezing and weak, it somehow turned its entrance into an exit and escaped its prison.

In cheating death, that willful pigeon took me off the hook. It granted me a reprieve from my role as executioner and spared my conscience. It saved its life and taught me a lesson about mine. Oh, I knew what I had done. Make no mistake about that. But I also knew I would never do it again.

If I’m lucky, someday I’ll get a chance to prove it.

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