on slowing down (or, why pigeons need love too)
December 31, 2021.
I have no idea who he is. With my glasses, I can only make out wrinkles and gray hair, a cigarette in hand. He takes a puff, exhales, and the smoke jumps off the balcony.
He places the cigarette on the right side on his lip. I count seven black and gray pigeons patiently waiting above his window. He hands each pigeon a piece of bread, one by one. I imagine that the wings of the birds hold his darkest secrets and most wonderful joys.
I don’t know his name and he doesn’t know mine.
Life exists for him on the 5th floor of a yellow building with the stained white shutters. The mornings bring never-ending laundry on the clothing line to dance with the wind. In the afternoons, an older woman leans against his shoulder, looking at the ocean in the distance. The way she waves her finger when he reaches for his lighter portrays a love that has existed longer than I’ve been alive.
I like to think about what it will be like when I find the courage. Out of the front door to the left, down the cobblestone hill lined with randomly placed trash cans, up the hill about three hundred meters, to the right, no, the left. Mind the cars.
I will ring the doorbell. He slowly cracks the front door open, a grin planted on his lips.
I say, “Tell me of the life you have lived.”
And he replies, “I thought you’d never ask.”
I think his name is … He lives two blocks over and in my dreams.
I arrived on a Thursday.
It wasn’t necessarily the idea of a new city, a new life that filled me with such emotion. If I am being honest, it was trashcans slamming against the cobblestone during the midnight trash collection, the way I could vividly smell the ocean after it rained, fish on ice eyeballing me at the seafood section at the grocery store. It was how I depended on the way the sun spoke to the trees to know the time and the chime of the church bells in fifteen-minute intervals that reminded me to stay present. Or maybe it was the rosemary, orange, and lemon trees I randomly discovered at the park, Maria’s welcoming smile at the neighborhood coffeeshop as I attempt a new language. It was the sunrise greeting me at 7:48am, the pink e blue e yellow softly touching my face on the balcony, as I burned my favorite sandalwood incense, and wrote in my journal.
Or… the colorful tie-dye leaves in the park that that graced the sidewalk during my afternoon walk, how happy my puppy seemed for the first time in her life, the new faces that invited me for a coffee, and befriended me with a certain gentleness that was familiar since I was finally gentle with myself.
All you have to do is pay attention.
In the meantime, I stumbled over my words when friends asked me about the transition and my new life. How can I begin to explain the change that has occurred in my heart since my last visit? Two years ago, I watched the sunrise at a miradouro with tears in my eyes, too afraid to blink or admit that I did not know where I was going nor what I was doing. Heart on fire, aware that I was headed towards a life that looked better than it felt, and knowing that I needed to make a drastically different decision.
And so, could it be the appreciation of change, the sensation of a profound growth within, seeds planted years ago that have finally started to bloom?
I think about the man, the pigeons, the rosemary, orange, and lemon trees.
And in all of my sorrow, I’d missed it because I never bothered to look.
At the dining room table of the 5th floor of the yellow building with stained white shutters, I sit with the older couple.
Over dinner and the finest bottle of two-euro red wine, I wonder what one does when life strays the course, a path carefully planned in black ballpoint ink? When you worked hard and factors outside of your control change your direction? The grieving of an old version of yourself, memories of playing the game M.A.S.H. in middle school, your best friend’s hand on a wooden pencil scratching unrequited dreams into wide-ruled notebook paper. Oh, how we had no idea.
I will ask, where they put the sadness, fear, joy, and grief?
When the house with the cardinal birds in the backyard is no longer home, a foundation presented as perfect is abruptly decimated, time zones are calculated, and there is more than one location to consider for the holidays? When your heart is now in three places instead of one? When I was a child, my mother always said that some people don’t know how to leave when the party is over. And now, when it was time and you understandably dragged your feet instead, only to reschedule six flights just to get where you needed to be.
I comment on how we often feel safer in complacency because change is challenging, rebuilding is terrifying, and vulnerability is exhausting.
“Or is it?” The woman shrugs, shakes her head, and laughs.
I ask the couple if they ever look across the street at their neighbor’s house. At the American Dream served with a white picket fence, brand-new vehicle in the driveway, two children riding bicycles through a suburban neighborhood, knees skinned with imagination of what was, what is, and what will never be.
“Have you noticed that I give my full attention to the pigeons when I feed them and nothing else?” The older man says.
I nod, but then it’s trickling out of me, the dream I forgot, the dove perched on the notebook in the bedroom painted pink and the closet with the Labrador Retriever door handles.
And she asks me, “Do you think someone will let you in?”
“What?” I respond.
She looks right at me. “Will you break your own heart to knock on the window?”
“I will only ask once. What will you choose when you open your eyes and find a different life before you, a pigeon on your doorstep?”
Over another bottle of wine with the couple, the woman leans forward and grins.
And she says, “When rejection feels all too familiar, you have no idea what you’re doing, and all feel roads closed, hold my hand and keep going. On the other side, you will find an island, strength to stretch your long legs on trails of peace of mind, and locs overflowing with self-expression and discovery. You will find your way.”
“What about the joy?” The older man asks me. “The three-year-old vision board covered with photos of the sunrise that you now watch every morning? You envisioned a slower life and now you’re here.”
I thank them for their time, the conversation, and dinner. On my way home, I throw my tote bag over my left shoulder and wonder what is mine to carry. In my arms, I embrace sadness and gratitude, two emotions that can strangely coexist.
In my dreams that night, I hold both transition and shards of uninvited change tightly in my hands, hands bright red, and I realize that it’s time to let go.
And on my mirror that night, I write, “Tianna, my dear, you have absolutely no idea what beauty will soon touch your heart.”
Imagine. The next morning, I wake up to a small bag of breadcrumbs outside of my front door and I laugh and I laugh and I laugh.
There is a piece of notebook paper taped to the bag and it says- “My love, what are you running to? To feel the need to stretch and approach life like a checklist? How often have you missed the forest for the trees? On the way across the pond, did you stop to look at the ocean? And on the way to the moon, did you miss the earth? It’s more than OK to take your time.”
I take a deep breath.
On the back of the paper, there is a sentence scribbled in red ink.
“Here are a few breadcrumbs that we would like to share because we know how much you understand that even pigeons need love too.”
With the note clenched in my palm, I promise that one day I will tell the couple that their acts of kindness changed my life.
Imagine when you find the courage. Imagine.
Imagine when I find the courage. Imagine.
The courage to dream a new life.