15 Jan 2011

Dead things

Earlier this week I came home to find a dead pigeon on the glass roof of the little porch over the front door to our building. I’m guessing it flew into the glass windows that front our building and broke its stupid neck. It stayed there for three days before I decided I would have to be the one to call the building maintenance company to bring a ladder and a bucket of disinfectant. I took some photos and emailed them as evidence, but it’s been three more days now and the bird carcass is still there. I’ll spare you the day-lit ones, but thought this one was worthy of a bit of gruesome fascination.

Disclosure – I hate birds. The thought of little bags of tiny bones covered in soft, slightly oily, seed-scented feathers creeps me out on some deep biological level. Pigeons occupy a special place in my scale of loathing, for their lack of navigational skills and capacity for crashing into innocent humans on their way back from the bus stop (the humans, not the pigeons, pigeons don’t take the bus as far as I’m aware).

IMAG0296A The bird on our porch roof is not yet rotting, but the corpse is starting to flatten out as gravity overrules the muscular structure. One of its feet is curling into talons, more like a Poe-style raven than an idiotic flying rat. But I find myself oddly intrigued by the fact that this creature, living earlier in the week, is now formless, inert, at the mercy of the elements and helpless. In a word, dead. And I wonder about humankind’s preoccupation and fascination with death. Funerals, cremations, burials, religious and otherwise, Halloween and festivals like Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). I wonder at my predilection for horror films and novels, for vampires (before it was decided they ‘sparkled’ and drove Volvos *grits teeth*), for Frankenstein and his monsters and just how much I enjoyed Christopher Golden’s recent undead anthology Zombie.

I’m sure studiers of human nature have better explanations than I, but I’m assuming it’s because it is the final Great Unknown. Because we really don’t know what happens after death, because, well, we’re dead and no-one’s come back to tell us (I’m not talking about people who die for a few minutes and are revived by the way, I mean properly dead like my six-day-old pigeon-corpse buddy). Humans aren’t good with unknowns. We don’t like to have unexplained mysteries, we like certainties. Uncertainty is frightening. So death really pisses us off. So to deflect that anger and fear, we make stuff up. We hand out stories of tunnels of light and angels with harps on clouds, or fire and brimstone to keep the kids in line. Or that you’ll come back again, in another body (but conveniently won’t remember your past lives). Or that you won’t die at all, you’ll simply change form, into a ghost, a vampire, or a spirit, floating in the ether around your family and friends, protecting babies from falling out of their cribs.

But I look at ol’ pigeon here and I’m not convinced. His feathers are limp in the wind, his insides are now his outsides, his eyes are glazed over and he’s a soft, damp toy without any batteries. He’s not coming back, he hasn’t moved on, he’s just stopped. He’s not aware of the rushing traffic. He’s oblivious to polite behaviour in public, he won’t hear his pigeon buddies taunting him about his choice of ankle cuffs, the daily food shop is no longer required. He doesn’t have to pay his rent to sit on a lion in Trafalgar Square and his wife won’t nag him about coming home late after a night out on the seed with his mates. He won’t have to go into his boring job sitting on ledges outside office windows. Everything is quiet in his world.

People might be frightened of death as a Great Unknown, but I think they’re more frightened of not getting everything done, of not following through on those childhood dreams, or parental expectations. Lately, having been in a romantic relationship for nearly six years, I find myself frightened of what my death would mean to my partner, but my fears about what death means to me lessen as I grow older and my life is fuller of memories and adventures. No, I don’t want to die yet, but I’m not as frightened of my mortality as I used to be. Because in my noisy, busy, adventure and information-filled world, the finality of death seems like the best, last chance to sit down and have a rest. Peace. Solitude. Tranquillity. The ultimate quiet time.

Then of course my chap suggested that it would be cool if the pigeon turned into a zombie. Thanks babe.


Phillip said...

What a fantastic post! Funny and thought provoking, the ultimate combination.

Miss Blue said...

Thanks Phil! Always nice to know someone other than me and my chap are reading it ;)