Sunday, September 11, 2011

Witnessing Death

I was biking downhill into our downtown yesterday, on my way to pick up a book about Dogen from another member of our sangha, when I saw something odd out of the corner of my eye. As I slowed down, I watched as a pigeon jerked and then plunged to the street below. Stunned, I stopped and continued to stare for a moment as it flopped around in the middle of the passing traffic.

The cars began to thin, and I felt myself lean towards the street, contemplating a rescue. However, there was never quite an opening to run out to the bird, and anyway, it wasn't long before the flopping stopped, along with any other movement. Still, I waited. Maybe it's trying to protect itself, I thought. Somehow, the cars kept missing it, even though I doubt they all were paying that close of attention to the road.

After another few minutes of stillness, I realized that I had just witnessed the pigeon's death. There had been nothing else, really, that I could have done in that moment.

Pigeons are common birds. Probably overpopulated in many urban areas like ours. They are equal parts hated and ignored, with a dash of caring coming from mostly children who still have a curiosity about all living creatures, and who enjoy offering bread crumbs in city parks and along the river shore.

And yet, even a pigeon deserves our love and compassion. Even a pigeon can teach us to pay attention to the preciousness of our lives.

1 comment:

Was Once said...

I thought this would be a nice spin off of your experience, from Krishnamurti:
What does it mean to die?
What is death, what does it mean to die? - and that is an absolute certainty that we are all going to die, and what does that mean? One has continued from childhood till the moment of death - continued with one's thoughts, with one's ideas or new set of ideas, thoughts, trouble, pain, anxieties, loneliness and all the travail of life, that is what we call continuity. And in that process time is a factor. And when we die all the Asiatic world believes, at least some of them, majority of them, including India and so on - this continuity will continue after death - which is called rebirth, reincarnation. That's a very comforting idea! What you sow you reap. If you are not good in this life then in next life you pay for it, or you pay for it now. Right? Cause and effect. Causation separate, as though it was separate from the effect. We are saying causation has in it inherently effect. It is not two separate things. I wonder if you get all this? This is not philosophy, it is not some kind of exotic nonsense. You can see one's own life, if you do something ugly it has its own reward, or its own pain. If you do something correctly, without the self, then that brings about its own goodness. So continuity is a form of causation, effect and the effect becomes the cause, and so it is a chain. And we are asking what is death? Biologically, when the brain has not sufficient blood, breath and so on, it decays very rapidly and that is called death, physical death. Either this is brought about by some kind of disease, natural old age or some accident. We acknowledge that because that is inevitable but we think we have gathered all this experience, all my life I've worked, all my life I have tried to do this and that and what is the good of it all if I come to an end of all that? Don't you ask these questions? So we have to ask: what is it to end? - to end something in which there is no continuity. You understand? To end.

J. Krishnamurti Brockwood Park 4th Public Talk 2nd September 1984