On September 11 I walked through a parking lot and saw the American flag at half-mast in front of the post office. I wondered which had more impact on the United States, World War II, a war affecting millions of Americans, fought on foreign soil, or the planes crashing into the World Trade Center in the heart of New York City? It was a dumb question. How could the impact of each be quantified, and how could they be compared? Probably the question roamed into my mind because recently I had been in a small house built in 1945. Termites had gotten the floor and parts of some of the walls, yet the house felt inhabited. I don’t believe in ghosts and I wasn’t thinking about World War II before going into the house, but after a few minutes inside it felt as if someone watched us, protective of the house, not quite ready to share the house. We decided too much work needed to be done to make the house livable and hit the road, regretful that a historical treasure like that had been neglected.
Hours later, a sudden conviction came over me that the presence in the house had been that of someone who had fought in the war and had sat there many a night remembering the screams, remembering the artillery shells, remembering the arms and legs shot off, the look on men’s faces when they knew they would never see home again. Somehow it felt as if the owner of the house after the war had spent months of days and nights waiting to hear the sound of Stukas and JU88s diving towards him, mistakenly thinking that this small house was a small bombed out building on a farm where he and members of his unit were taking cover from the enemy, and wishing like hell that the whole thing had never happened.
So the days we experienced after September 11, 2001 and the overpowering presence of this man’s memories were jumbled together as I walked through the parking lot. Then I saw a pigeon walking separately from the other pigeons. She looked confused and sick. As I got closer I saw that her beak was a little open and the feathers on the right side of her face were a sick discolored brown. I started to cry because I knew she had the canker. This disease can be cured if caught early enough, but she looked so sick. I knew it was probably too late. I tried to catch her and even though she couldn’t fly she could still get away from me. I told her, “I’m not going to try to catch you anymore. When I get into my car if you want me to bring you to the doctor, walk to the car and I will open the door and let you in. You are so sick. If you stay here, you will die. If you go to the doctor, maybe they can help. I don’t want to promise anything because you pretty sick, but I will bring you if you want to go.” She had stopped and looked up at me while I was talking.
When I finished walking, I started the engine. She was ten feet away to the left of the car. She walked under the car. I got out and came around to the right side. By then she was standing about six feet away. I told her again I would bring her and opened the door. She walked over and hopped onto the back seat floor. We made the drive.
Terry, the Operations Manger at Liberty Wildlife, told me he would leave me a voicemail about the pigeon. The next day I heard that the vet did a visual acuity test. The canker had made its way into the pigeon’s brain. They gave her some food and let her pass away on her own time. She was safe from hawks but away from her friends. Such a hard choice to make. She bravely tried to get help, but it was too late.