Thursday, June 21, 2012

The eyes on the wire

Oh like a bird on the wire,
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.

'Bird on the wire'
Leonard Cohen

I was driving from work in the early evening, waiting at a red light in the grim no-mans-land of the space beneath a freeway in Los Angeles and just glimpsed a view of a pathetic, saddening sight. A struggling, misshapen, bundle of feathers, flapped uselessly as it dangled trying to escape from a wirelink fence. I sat, a little horrified, not sure what I was seeing and the light turned green and I drove off.

It was a crow, it's legs somehow entangled and bloody on the wire. Trapped, dangling, helpless, waiting to die.

In the space of thirty seconds, I turned the car around and started looking for a place to park so that I could find some way to help. I had to park illegally and jaywalk to return to the spot. As I walked up to try to figure out what to do, another car pulled up and a guy hopped out with precisely the same thought on his mind as me.

It was a moment of immediate recognition, cooperation and shared humanity. We started trying to figure out what we could do. The crow had some sort of plastic twine wrapped around it's legs that had snagged. It was ten feet up and neither of us could reach it on our own. The only cutting implement we had was a plastic knife. The other man made a cradle with his hands that I stepped into and we started trying to cut the crow free.

Naturally, the plastic knife was completely useless and I had to try to be careful to avoid hurting the crow, avoid being pecked and scratched by the barbs of the wire. I'm not exactly a dainty, little thing: I weigh a solid 180lb and as I was dithering trying to cut the twine, my new friend was finding it hard to keep hold. We took a break to reexamine our options. It was then that we noticed a whole murder of other crows, circling and screeching. They could see what we were doing. They probably thought we were trying to kill or eat their friend and they making a lot of noise. Their caw-cawing probably meant "You bastards! Leave him alone!"

We looked at each other, hopping up to try again. This time, I tossed the knife away and just tried to pull the wire apart with my hands. My friend kept it together, holding me steady. As I came close, the crow on the wire stopped moving, his black eyes focussed on me in a moment of realization. I swear that I saw something glimmer in his eyes at that moment: a sort of desperate hope, perhaps even the recognition of me as a friend.

The twine gave way, and I scratched my hand across the barbs of the fence. The crow fell in a bundle of bones and feathers, but the sudden movement returned him to his element. He unfurled his wings and transformed in an instant from a clumsy, broken thing to the majestic shape of a bird in flight. He swooped away from us effortlessly, rising to join his brethren in the sky.

My new friend gently lowered me to the ground. We looked at each other and smiled. I held out my hand. "I'm Gully" I said. We shook. "I'm Bruce", he replied. I think I said something like "Very well done, sir" and with that we got in our cars and went our separate ways.

There we were: two complete strangers, coming together without any forethought in a moment of crisis to help. Neither of us could have managed on our own, we needed each other. We both knew precisely what we were doing and why we were there without bullshit, without ego, without any need beyond the fierce urgency of saving a life, hanging helpless from a wire.

It is this urgency that we have lost. We rarely see the sheer, bloody, inviolable miracle of looking into another creature's eyes and seeing a thinking being there. We rarely have our interactions be simple expressions of love and support, strength and courage. We sully the miracle of our lives with petty fears and concerns, with our defense mechanisms for our vulnerable egos, with our fantasies for things we see in movies or on TV, with our arguments to diminish other people and elevate ourselves.

But there are rare and real moments of pure clarity that provide the antidote. They are what matter and strangely enough, attempting to construct them artifically almost never results in their authentic expression. Better to live true, be kind, and be ready for them when they appear. I hope that I will be able to.

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