As I was walking to Zumba class with two friends, I was arrested by the body of a dead pigeon in the street. Realizing that I was no longer with them, one friend turned around and shouted, “What are you photographing now?” accustom as she was to me stopping in our walk to photograph something that captured my interest. Always with camera, the spirit of the pigeon called out to me and I felt compelled to capture its passing. There was in its posture, the fold of its wings, the angle of its head, a beautiful resignation, well actually acceptance. I sensed no fear in this death.
About ten year ago one of my graduate students introduced me to the beauty of dead animals and insects. I was her thesis advisor and when she first approached me with her topic and project I was skeptical, but agreed to work with her. A skilled painter, she said she was attracted to dead animals and insects and was determined to make that the focus of her thesis. When I went to meet with her in her studio, I was confronted by the most amazing pencil and charcoal drawings of numerous images of creatures in various stages of death, and her final MFA thesis show was a juxtaposition of her drawings and actually decomposed bodies of various animals and insects that she happened to stumble on throughout the course of her day/life, and also gifts from friends who knew of her passion.
We spent many hours looking at and talking about these images, and particularly her attraction to how they might have died and what their death symbolized. Our talks dovetailed to my own memory of the first dog I lost, run over by a car, and the funeral I insisted that he had when I was around seven years old. But more importantly, as a result of working with that student, I realized that I did not need to kill the insects/pests that I found in various rooms in my house on occasion. I could ask them to leave and guide them to the outside.
But these days I find myself stopping to examine and record the passing of these critters. Two weeks ago it was the body a tiny lizard I found on the sidewalk. I picked it up by its tail and carried it inside my yard so I could photograph it. Although there was beauty in its dead flatness, I sensed a struggle and refusal. It passing was not a quiet repose. But not so in this city pigeon, whose every posture said, “I offer my body as an homage to this day.”
Death is not something we talk about openly. In fact we tend to hide behind euphemism. Most of us see nothing beautiful in death, regardless of our religious or spiritual belief in life there after. Perhaps because of its finality, death is often viewed as a thief, an enemy. However, my student was not afraid of it and as a result f her open exploration, as a result of her willingness to delve inside its dark finality, she was able to extract its beauty and pass that on to others and me. So the next time you see a dead animal or insect on your walk, bless its passing, and pause to remember that, like you, it had a life force.
Thank you beautiful pigeon, and may your next journey be glorious.
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