City The Birds: Part Two
posted by November 22 at 13:11 PMon
A fancy friend in New York City decided to help the poor by volunteering at a soup kitchen. It was her first act of real charity. She served food, sorted clothes, and blogged about the experience here. Out of what she had to say, this particular passage caught my attention—it describes one of her three assigned tasks, “bread duty” :
As the line dwindled down, one woman, Sandra, came by with a huge cart and relieved me of all the bread to - you guessed it - feed the birds. According to Sandra, it’s best to hit the lesser known parks, as opposed to Central Park, because the birds in Central Park are quite spoiled when it comes to handouts.
The birds in this picture can be found every morning lining the telephone wires above a food bank on 12th, across the street from Seattle’s youth detention center.
The birds are waiting for the poor and homeless to feed them bread. This is all they have to do to gather energy: the food bank opens, the homeless and poor get free bread and buns, and then feed them the surplus. It is an easy life.
But now we must ask a hard question. Why are homeless people often so kind, so generous to birds? And what is this type of generosity that grows from another, higher form of generosity? Do the homeless feed pigeons as a way of soothing the shame of being reduced to a recipient of pity? The pigeons are, at least, begging from them, the beggars. (The pigeons, however, have no pangs of shame—when generosity comes down to them, it meets its end with their panicked pecking.)
We all know nothing is worse than pity. It is the worst because it is a power that pretends that it is not a power. The rich at least are open about their power and are happy to exert it, to make us feel the full force of it. Not with those who take pity on us. They believe they are doing the right thing by giving help—a help which they are in a position to give. The homeless/broken person accepts the help (“this bitter earth”). She eats some of it and then offers what remains, what she doesn’t need, to the birds. The homeless person feeds the pigeons because it is an exertion from the last position of power in this society—power over the pigeons.