When I was studying I used to go out to the University to meet with my supervisor. This one time there was this bird that was industriously scouring the ground for food. It was winter and the little guy looked a little worse for wear. His feathers did not lie smoothly on his back, but he was a tough little guy. I think of it as a male bird, I am not sure why but it stuck in my mind when I remember him. It was a time when I just wasn’t sure I could complete my Masters thesis, there were many serious flaws and issues with the writing. I took photos of him as he searched for food and made myself promise to be like that bird. That I wouldn’t give up on my research and writing. If the bird could fight for survival, then I could fight for my thesis.
I thought the little guy seemed fragile. He did find some discarded food and it made me wonder if the staff maybe left little scraps for the birds around them. To my shame I never even thought to buy some sandwiches or something to feed him. I even walked past the cafeteria and back, with the bird still searching the ground around the office block when I returned. It never occurred to me, in that moment, to get some food for the little guy.
I attribute my thinking to my current study that focused on images and how some obtain a form of eternal life. In particular, iconic images like those of Joe Rosenthal’s, ‘Iwo Jima Flag Raising” which was taken many years ago (1945). I thought I could promise the bird immortality in the photos, but in doing so I ignored that I could have extended his life by feeding him. I think in this period of study I spent much of my time living in my research and breathing in and through the images I was studying, rather than engaging in other areas of my life.
On a later visit I saw a dead bird in the shadow of the office building and just knew it was him. I felt so bad that I had not given him something to eat when he was engaged in his struggle for life. I did keep my promise. I did keep his photos and two are in my bedroom as a source of inspiration and to remind me to live in the moment. Furthermore, they remind me to question what I automatically do, including reaching for my camera rather than being in the experience.
I find the enduring lesson of the bird to be that accepting what is “normal” or “routine” needs to be challenged to ensure it is still applicable to what is happening in my life. I often think of this simple bird, many of which I still see daily (but now I drop bread as well as take photos) and I still draw on the memory of his determination to fuel my own often lagging motivation.
These are four of the many photos that I took that day: