Switzerland, December: Got back from Thailand the other day, still jet-lagged. Writing this because I see, out on the balcony (7th floor), there’s a pigeon and it’s just sitting there, with folded wings, in a small plastic waste-paper bin looking at me. What’s it doing there? At first I think it’s just sitting there because it’s feeling cold or it’s not well. And I don’t pay any attention to it. There are always these birds around on the balcony – it’s because I’ve been feeding them of course.
But how long has this one been there? I didn’t notice it when I arrived…. I look again after a while and it’s not moving away from the seated position. Just then, its partner, (husband, wife… mate?) it’s mate, turns up, on the balcony. It has leaves and grass in its beak looking quite picturesque and part of nature here in the urban setting. Could be an excerpt from a National Geographic movie watched by airline passengers at some hour in the darkness. But I’m saying that because I’m still jet-lagged.
So, looks like it’s decided to build a nest there, in the Christmas tree pot container. How strange and funny! Some time later, and I’d fallen asleep, woken up and it was a different time in the day: what’s the pigeon doing now? I go to the window and take a look. It’s still there. I don’t have a camera so I’m making a sketch of it. It’s nesting in the waste paper bin that was the container that held the Christmas tree pot (with earth and roots). There’s still a piece of red Christmas paper wrapped around it, stuck with tape and the actual Christmas tree is standing next to the nest with one solitary dangling, gold-coloured, paper-wrapped chocolate bell decoration thingy I forgot to remove when we took off the Christmas lights and put the tree out on the balcony. Then went off to Thailand and left it like that.
A day or so goes by and the odd thing is I forget about what’s going on, or I didn’t think that the bird would have laid an egg by this time – I was thinking … I don’t know what I was thinking. Anyway, I was just kind of gazing at it from the warmth of my kitchen, out there on the cold balcony and suddenly the bird got up, hopped on to the balcony rail and flew away someplace: hmmm, where’s it going now?
After a while, I slide open the balcony door and go out to have a look at the nest more closely, and, “oh!”, there was this little white egg lying there. An existential moment. There it was, kind of lying on its side in an uncompromising sort of a way. It suddenly seemed alive! Just there… waiting for the parent to come back.
I hurry back inside the apartment, quietly closing the door and try to occupy myself, thinking is this what it feels like if you’re going to have a baby? No that’s silly. But I kept going back to the window to see if the parent bird had returned: come on parent bird, you should be sitting there, the egg needs to be kept warm! The last thing I need is a neglectful parent, and slipped back into my state of nurturing memories of a childhood that was not all it could have been – which is something I do from time to time. Of course the bird came back, or one of them did, I can’t tell which is which. It settled down and everything was allright again. I felt comforted.
And that’s how the Pigeons came to be on the balcony. Jiab was not overly pleased. There were discussions soon after they came. And later more discussions about how they were beginning to come inside the apartment – in the summer months with the windows open, it was too much. She was completely right! I should never have started feeding the birds out on the balcony all those months ago.
But anyway the nest was there and I couldn’t really chase the birds away. So, I’d taken on a commitment – like feeding the stray dog that comes to the door? And was reminded of something I’d read about the Bodhisattva Vow, by Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche. I don’t mean it was the Boddhisattva Vow to look after the pigeons but I’ve included a quote (below), also a link to the original because it’s such a joyful piece. The pigeon saga came to a satisfactory conclusion in the end. But not before all kinds of small encounters and interesting things I learned about how birds fly and just what it’s like to be a bird. I’ll write more later…. [link to: Birds on the Balcony 2]
‘Once you have taken the vow and fall away from it, then it is very harmful. For example, if you feed a stray dog that comes through your door one day, it will probably return the next day. You continue feeding the dog on the third day and the following days but one day decide, “Well, I’m not going to feed that dog anymore.” The suffering and disappointment you are inflicting on the poor animal is tremendous, because the dog is expecting to be fed, is hungry, and becomes disappointed and sad if you stop. You impose so much physical harm on that dog that is stuck in the habit of receiving your help, because you basically promised to feed him every day. It’s like that with the vow of a Bodhisattva: If you take the vow and make the commitment to help all sentient beings, if you promise to protect them from suffering and pain, to bring them permanent happiness – regardless if only one, two, a hundred, or thousands of beings, everybody, all sentient beings – you promised to bring permanent happiness to all of them. Imagine how disappointed they are going to be if you turn away!’ [Conscientiousness – Bag-yöd. Instructions on Chapter 4 of the Bodhicharyavatara by Shantideva]