My (random) act of kindness happened the other day when I helped rescue an injured and/or sick pigeon on the street in New York City.
Before I dive into this story, I think it’s necessary for me to preface it with the fact that I have been terrified of pigeons for my entire life. Not just scared of them in the way people are of bugs or snakes, but in a clinically diagnosed phobic type of way. As a kid, I couldn’t even look at a picture or video of one without screaming. I wouldn’t even let my parents say the word “pigeon” around me, forcing them to refer to them exclusively as “the p word”.
All this is to say that when I felt the need to help this sick pigeon on the street, it couldn’t have come packed with more irony. But there I was staring at this bird sitting by itself in a puddle looking unwell. I felt a sort of sympathy for it I had never thought myself capable of when it came to these creatures. Since it wasn’t moving and clearly wasn’t about to fly away, I felt comfortable enough to get closer to it to get a better look. Its eyes were closed, its feathers puffed out, and the only sign of life it had was the slow expansion of its body as it breathed. I didn’t know what to do so I clapped my hands together to see if it would respond. To my surprise, its eyes slowly and partially opened, but no sooner after taking a brief glance up at me did its eyes shut again.
I wasn’t sure if it was actually ill or if maybe it was just sleeping. I took the bread out of my bag that I carry around with me to feed the ducks with at Central Park and put a little piece by its foot. It slowly opened its eyes, looked at the bread with disinterest, and then closed its eyes again. It was in that moment that I knew something was wrong. If I’ve learned anything out of my fear it’s that pigeons never pass up an opportunity for food.
I decided to send out a tweet with a video of the pigeon to the Wild Bird Fund, a wildlife rehabilitation center in New York City. I said that I had found a pigeon that seemed unwell and if there was anyone in the area that could help, that would be great. They wrote back saying that they rely on the people who find the animals to transport them themselves to the center. They told me to gently pick up the pigeon and place it in a bag and deliver it to their door. I stood there practically paralyzed, considering whether or not I could push past my fear and just pick it up, but in the end I just couldn’t do it. I opened my phone back up and saw that my tweet had gotten a decent amount of attention—people were re-tweeting my video asking if anyone was nearby to help. The Wild Bird Fund tweeted me again asking if there was any reason why I couldn’t do it myself. It was a strange feeling to stand there and feel like the only reason I couldn’t be of more service wasn’t because of any physical problem, but rather something that was completely limited to my mind.
I didn’t know what to do, so I texted one of my friends who lives a block away to see if she could help. As I waited for her response, a man messaged me on Twitter saying that he saw my tweet and was on his way to help.
Before I knew it, both my friend and this stranger were coming at me from opposite directions, clad in surgical gloves and carrying bags. My friend was the one who bent down to pick up the pigeon. At first it flinched, but then it let her hold it without a fight. She carried it over to the man who held out a large brown paper bag into which the bird was gently placed. The man had his car with him, so he told us that he would drive the pigeon over to the center himself. I thanked him about a thousand times before we said goodbye.
Less than an hour later I received a message from him that the pigeon had been safely delivered into the hands of the rehabilitators at the fund. He told me what I had suspected — that the bird was indeed unwell and needed help.
Later that day as I was walking in the park, I couldn’t help but think about the bird. I thought about how helpless it looked. I wondered how long it had been sitting in that puddle and if it had been in pain. I wondered how many people before me had walked by without even noticing it. I also thought about the strangeness of my desire to help the one thing that has plagued me with fear and disgust my entire life. Even as I watched my friend hold the bird in her hands, I had to take a few steps back.
But I felt so happy then too—both for the bird and for the fact that so many people had reached out to help. The times we’re living in are undeniably chaotic and dark, but it’s in these moments that I’m reminded of what good and kind people there still are out there. Because for that brief moment, me, my friend, and a stranger were all united for one purpose: to help something that couldn’t help itself.