Monday, June 1, 2009
Don't Let the Pigeon . . . Transform your Life
Pigeons conjure out two conflicting images in my head. I adore driving-mad Pigeon whose persistence hardly ever pays off, but he keeps trying regardless. On the opposite spectrum, there are the “rats with wings” that linger along the city streets by my apartment, who no longer have the healthy fear of humans that allow us to coexist. As I read ’sGay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon by , the winner of the 1928 Newbery Medal, I attempted to open my mind to the possibility that there might be a third way to perceive pigeons, a method from the East that allows all creatures to live in peace, whether they seek buses or crumbs.
Gay-Neck or “Chitra-griva” is raised in India by a devoted owner who truly cares about his welfare. Growing up in the presence of such love, Gray-Neck overcomes great odds against him time and again, including the facing the wrath of an eyrie of eagles, getting lost in the Himalayas, and coping with the effects of PTSD from his service in the Great War. Throughout Gay-Neck’s adventures, Mukerji grapples with sophisticated themes that prove that quality children’s literature does not talk down to children. One of the central ideas is the reverence for all life, man or animal. Grey-Neck himself says it best when he declares: “ . . . I am a soul; why should I be treated as a stone or shard?” (101). Animals are more than just pets; they are beloved friends who share the journey of life with us. Ghond, their “teacher in jungle lore” (27), is the arbiter of this philosophy throughout the novel, going as far to kiss Grey-Neck’s feet when the pigeon successfully brings a message to the Allies. In the midst of so much senseless destruction and death, a generation loaded with “fear, hate, suspicion and malice,” (173) the need to reaffirm life is as important as breathing or eating. No one is untouched by the darkness, and Gay-Neck becomes a shadow of his once iridescent self. It is only through the patience and wisdom of the Llamas, as well as the expertise of Ghond, that Gay-Neck is able to overcome the hate and fear to find the serenity to fly once again. This little pigeon, so seemingly inconsequential, teaches the reader to “live courage, breathe courage, and give courage” (197). By following Gay-Neck’s example, I might be a little nicer to the pigeons that flock on my block. And I just might let the Pigeon drive the bus.