Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Violent and gentle death

On Sunday I saw something that really surprised me.

After chapel we called in to the supermarket to pick up a few bits and pieces we'd forgotten. It has its own small approach road, passing its own fuel station. On Sunday this small road is very congested with traffic (weekend shoppers), some turning in and out of the fuel station, all moving very slowly — further slowed by a pedestrian crossing between the fuel station and the supermarket itself.

Along side the road there are lots of shrubs and some trees planted, and mature trees grow all along the back of the car parking area. So there are often birds around, looking for crumbs that people might have dropped in the car park.

As we drove away from the supermarket back along the approach road, rolling along slowly like everyone else, a line of cars was coming in the opposite direction towards the store, also travelling really slowly. The front car was hardly moving at all, and we saw a bird — a wood pigeon — pottering about on the road in front of the car, pecking for food. Pigeons are not the most alert pedestrians. I assumed the driver of the car had seen the pigeon and was going so very slowly to give it a chance to move out of his way — and I think this was probably true. 

But then, exactly as the pigeon moved in line with the wheel of the car, ignoring the presence of the vehicle completely, the driver rolled forward. He would not have been able to see the bird, and if he knew it was there I imagine he thought it had moved off to the side. I don't know why it didn't. Within a couple of seconds, what had been a beautiful pale grey bird with a softly coloured buff breast and dark grey collar, was reduced to a tangled lifeless mess of meat and feathers.

Tony cried out involuntarily, "Oh, no!!"

It felt so terrible sad, and so unnecessary, and I ranted on for a while about why people can't be more careful and check to make sure, and I searched my heart to see if it would be realistic never to step inside another motor vehicle again. But no it wouldn't, and in any case I rely on other people driving motor vehicles for everything that supports my daily life.

I was still thinking about that poor bird yesterday, but what surprised me was this: its death was both horribly violent and mercifully gentle. I don't fully understand how that can be, and I would never have thought I'd bracket violence and gentleness together, but it was so.

The bird was contentedly going about its business, apparently oblivious of the danger from the car, ignoring its presence completely, unperturbed and unafraid. Then two seconds later it was dead. Its death was swift and immediate. It was completely squashed, because it was exactly aligned with the wheel. No struggle, no injury, no fear. 

It made me re-think the way I categorise life events.


Julie B. said...

I experienced something similar a couple of years back. In the summer time, a seagull landed right in front of my car's tire as I was driving (slowing down for a stop), and it was so quick I couldn't swerve to avoid it. I'm not fond of seagulls, but I felt the slight bump and saw him in my rear view mirror. I cried out AND then cried hard tears, because I felt the weight of causing a death. It was terrible. (Although I could easily kill a snake and do kill some bugs with no remorse.)

Also, in 1997, Michael's parents were both killed instantly by a teen driver who ran a red light at an intersection. The autopsies revealed details that let us know they died within a few seconds, but their deaths were so violent and horrible. We were jarred and wounded, yet we felt gratitude that they were together and didn't suffer long. So we saw the mercy in the way they died, even though it was violent.

Life is so full of paradoxes.

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes. Although such deaths are shocking, I find them in a strange way comforting. It's when people (or animals) are trapped and suffer and have no way of escape or relief that I just can't bear it.

Elin said...

Your story reminded me of a farmer relative who accidentally killed one of his cows who stepped right in front of the tractor he was driving. His comment was that he could never have expected a cow to not move away from such a bit thing as a tractor and instead step towards it when it was that close to it. He took it as a sign that cows are perhaps not the smartest creatures on the planet but still expressed his love for working with them.

Pen Wilcock said...

Ah — I think it's the humans who are not the smartest creatures on the planet. In such a circumstance, the cow may have panicked and done the wrong thing, as I often do myself. There's a moment of mental confusion under stress when you cannot think quickly, and do nothing. I see this time and again with humans(and other beings); they do the *exact* wrong thing, step *exactly* in your way when you're passing through with the hot tray of food from the oven, etc. They move away from where you are, but move into where you're going.
It may have been that the cow felt threatened by the tractor and wanted to challenge it — perhaps especially if she had recently calved (regardless of whether she was allowed to keep the calf, the hormones would still be in operation).
Also some animals need particular considerations — for instance, large birds like pheasants and blackbirds often don't move out of the way of a car in the road, and one is tempted to assume they are stupid. Actually the problem is that a large bird cannot fly straight up like a robin or chaffinch, but needs a runway in order to take off because of its size. As the car it occupying the runway, it cannot escape. The car needs to stop.
Sometimes accidents do happen, like with the cow — badgers are often killed on the road because they run straight out from the hedgerow into the path of a car; but they have very poor eyesight and tend to travel in well-know tracks from which they cannot afford to deviate because of their poor vision.
It's upsetting when we inadvertently kill an animal, but attributing the accident to stupidity in the animal is a mistake — lack of insight and understanding in the human is the problem.

Buzzfloyd said...

Death is a thing that happens. It isn't necessarily bad.

I saw a seagull get run over the other day. It flew down to the road, presumably thinking it saw some food. It was so sudden and so fast that there was no time for the driver to react at all. I'd never fully appreciated the expression 'crumpled like a paper bag' before. I don't believe the seagull suffered for more than a microsecond, but I was sad for its mate, still perched nearby.

Pen Wilcock said...

It speaks to me about the importance of living in the moment, too — of not putting off until tomorrow the chances of today. Because we aren't that different from that seagull, really; you never know, do you?