Pigeons & Powerlessness

A Dying Pigeon

A while back, I told my therapist a story from my college years. It was about the day I found a dying pigeon on the sidewalk. I was walking across campus and spotted her near the edge of the walkway. The pigeon appeared to be in pain. She was writhing back and forth. She was trying to get up but, couldn’t. I felt so bad for her. I asked my friend in the campus convenient store for a small box. Then, I put her in it.


She was visibly ill. I didn’t know how to care for her. So, I asked for advice. During that quest, another student told me the pigeon had been poisoned. They pointed to the sidewalk which was littered with white pellets and said the college put the poison out to get rid of the pigeons because they pooped everywhere. I was so angry. Appalled. Incensed. I couldn’t believe the school was poisoning animals to avoid dealing with poop. Why couldn’t they just wash the sidewalks? 

Someone Has to Answer

The more I thought about it the angrier I got. I marched my dying pigeon to the people I thought set out the poison. During the walk she stopped breathing. My emotions were powerful, oscillating between sadness and anger. I stormed through their door, set the box down, smacked the counter, and demanded an answer. “I want to know who’s responsible for killing these birds?” At first, they looked at me with wide eyes, wondering what this was about. A couple of student workers stepped over to the box looked in it, then looked up at me and started laughing. 

Mocking Me

They called for their supervisor. I repeated, “I want to know who is responsible for killing these birds?” He looked in the box and joined the laughter. They mocked me. I was not laughing. I was angry. He looked up and said, “It isn’t a bird; it’s a pigeon. It’s worthless.” “Not true!” I told him. He refused to answer my question. Instead, he shooed me out of their office as if he wished I would eat their poison pellets. They wanted rid of me. I was as annoying to them as the pigeons. Guiding me out the door, he told me to find a tree to hug. 


As I recounted the story I felt silly. But, I couldn’t help it. I really cared about that pigeon. I wondered why she meant so much to me. Even now, 30 years later, I felt connected to her—to her pain. My therapist asked what made me feel sad for the pigeon and what was my anger about. I told her the pigeon was innocent—just living her life, doing what pigeons do, what she was designed to do. They lured her to her death with something that appeared to be good for her. She was powerless. Helpless. Agonizing her own demise. Furthermore, wicked and scheming people used their knowledge and power to manipulate her to fulfill their own agenda. 

“You Are the Pigeon!”

“It was wrong,” I said. The pigeon belonged to God. They didn’t have a right to harm her. And, I wanted someone to answer for what they had done to her. After a few more questions my therapist said, “You’re the pigeon!” Her words fell like a revelatory grenade. Suddenly, I had that feeling I sometimes get when I hear a truth so true my mind and body cannot instantly hold it. So, there’s a moment of stunned space between the words and my brain’s ability to connect the dots. Everything stopped. Then my mind began to process, “Dear God, I AM the pigeon.”   

Container for Pain

I’d put all the pieces of my personal trauma into a living metaphor. The pigeon represented me. I cared about her because I still had the capacity to care about me. My pain was so profound I didn’t have language for it. That is what it was like most of my life. I suppressed my feelings. There was no container to put it all in—no safe place to go with it. Yet, in that pigeon my body gave me one–decades before my mind could catch up and become capable of dealing with my story. What a gift! 

Sometimes, our power is in our capacity to admit our powerlessness.

Lisa Long

Fighting for Her

Now, when I think back to that pigeon I’m proud of myself for fighting for her. This memory sent a smoke signal to my heart to let me know I truly wanted to fight for me. That means a lot to me. I spent a lifetime engaging prolific self-hatred. I’m on the other side of that now—mostly. Regardless, I’m grateful to God for the good that came out of the tragedy of an ordinary pigeon. And, for helping me find a memorable place to put my pain until I was strong enough to revisit and process it. Perhaps, the real fight was telling the truth. Sometimes, our power is in our capacity to admit our powerlessness.

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