Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Racing pigeons

In my last post (Rolling rocks) I told you about Iain, how he can’t see any point in getting up in the morning - and asked you how you’d respond to his despair.
You sent in some great Facebook replies and blog comments.  Thank you.
You have a lot of empathy for Iain’s problems, summed up by Natalie’s trying to ‘ballet dance through treacle’. Karl encourages Iain to be kind to himself, to remember that life is precious, and not to be afraid of trying new things, even if they fail. Natalie would like Iain to stop drinking, and get involved in something that gives him a sense of worth.   I agree.
There is something here about being able to look life in the face and – somehow, despite everything it throws at us– carry on. It’s as simple (or as difficult) as the active acceptance of life as it is, the recognition of the circumstances in which we find ourselves and the determination to make of them the best we can.  
This brings us back to Sisyphus, forever straining to roll his rock up the hill before watching it fall all the way back down again. The French writer Albert Camus has a great take on this story.  He tells us that Sisyphus is happy.  Happy because knows that there is no ultimate logic or purpose in what he is doing – and this gives him a sense of liberation. ‘There is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night’. His fate belongs to him. He remains its master, his mind and body fully engaged in his chosen activity: ‘The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart.’
And it reminds us of Nelson Mandela and his favourite poem, Invictus:  My head is bloody, but unbowed... I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul’.
This way of looking at life can help us to engage, fully and knowingly, with the real and specific circumstances we find ourselves in: whether that’s the  daily demands of work; the never-ending responsibilities and expectations of caring for young children; a long prison sentence on Robben Island; or living with physical disability or a chronic health problem.  It brings with it a sense of dignity. Even when life is tough and we appear to have run out of luck, we can hold on to the belief that we are, indeed, worth it.
Back to my conversation with Iain. We sit in companionable silence for a while.  Then I ask him, ‘What do you enjoy?’
I don’t honestly expect much of a response. But I am wrong. Coming from nowhere that I had anticipated, he leans forward and starts to tell me about his passion for racing pigeons. He owns some fine specimens, he takes real pleasure in caring for them, and in how well they race. I realise the importance they have for him, in their freedom of movement, the beauty and grace of their flight. They encourage his imagination to take flight, reaching towards new unseen possibilities.   
Our conversation ends at this point. The next time we meet, Iain says ‘You know doc, I can talk to you’. He still has problems with his feet, and tells me he is still drinking more than medical wisdom says he should (though his binges are less frequent and less severe). But now we have a basis for discussion, and a mutual respect which may - in time – enable us to change a few things together.


  1. I like this version of the Sisyphus story - so much more hopeful. And puts the focus on living life, rather than the reaching a certain goal.

    Much like the story of Dorothy's journey on the Yellow Brick Road...and the realisation that it is her experiences on the journey which matter, not the (ultimately disappointing) Emerald Palace at the 'end'

    Though I do like to think that Sisyphus (and Dorothy) was able to have the odd 'go slow day'. Although unable to opt out of the task in hand (living life), when things got really difficult he could perhaps push the stone a little slower. Maybe divert his attention from a sole focus on the stone and the summit to....I don't know...watching the sun rise, maybe watching the pidgeons fly.

    Little things which give us the energy to keep going when life gets really hard?

  2. Message from Vanessa:

    When we feed the soul or indeed our passion we lose sense of time external... stresses cease to exist. Our heart beats merrily as we nurture our passion. The body follows suit when we allow the healer to enter our lives. In Ian's case its is the love of his pigeons that rekindles his lost love for life, perhaps its is the warmth of the feathers beneath his fingers the birds entrusting him with their care that ignites his forgotten hope.
    Once again we see the power of a small creature enhance a souls yearning to be free , valued and truly alive.
    Ian is not yet perfect none of us are but what he is doing is allowing the healer in.
    I commend him for taking this step. Inside although dim still burns the flame of hope.
    The pigeons are the true healers for when he is with them he is safe free and worthy as he heals doing that which he loves he will naturally decrease his drinking. No longer feeling the need to flick the lid off the medication.
    A good ear and the warmth of a bird in the hand for me they are the true healers in this story.
    Just don't tell the drug companies !

    much peace


  3. You know what... I'm wondering if we should get a dog. Animals are so comforting, loving, beautiful,warm. We miss the presence of a furry being pattering about the house. It feels less homely and welcoming when you get up in morning and come back from being out and about. I completely understand the love of his pigeons Ian has. Animals are good for the soul. I just need to get my head around poop picking up and the fear of losing them as I am still ( we all are) reeling from the loss of Molly the cat coming so soon after my Mum. Better to have love and lost than never to have loved at all!!. Just getting brave enough to do it at the moment...
    I hope Ian goes from strength to strength and would love to read more about him in the future to see how he's getting on ..