Lessons from Pigeon Man

Some of the most beautiful things I’ve experienced in Chile can’t be fully captured in a photo, because it’s not the image itself that’s important. It’s the way I felt in the moment and the lesson I learned. One of the reasons why I like to write is because it allows me to describe the way things make me feel and build pictures with words.

One of these life snapshots and the respective lesson I took away has to do with an individual whom I’ll call “Pigeon Man.” Those of you who follow me on Instagram will know who I’m talking about. This is an elderly gentleman who sits in an alley-way I pass to and from my apartment building.

He perches on a white plastic chair next to a little cart laden with odds and end items – newspapers, packages of cookies, water bottles – random things that people might want to purchase as they hustle off to work. Plastic bags hang off the sides of the cart, most likely holding his meager belongings, and a giant white umbrella sticks out the top.

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He kindly gave me permission to take his photo

He has a rugged but not un-kept appearance. His clothing is tidy but not fancy, and his head is always topped by a hat – sometimes a baseball cap, today a fedora with a pigeon feather decorating the band.  His dark tan skin is creased with wrinkles and weathered from age and years spent outside. His lips stretch inward over a pair of toothless gums.

From my description, he might not seem out of the ordinary from any other street vendor in Viña del Mar. But there is something that sets him apart.

Every time I pass, he’s always feeding a flock of pigeons. They surround his feet and sit on his knees, pecking chunks of bread from the palm of his hand. His mouth is spread wide across his face in a toothless grin that warms my heart and brings a smile to my own face.

He probably has very little money, and who knows where he lays his head to sleep at night. However, despite his humbling situation, living and working in conditions most would call less than satisfactory, he seems to still find joy in life.

So what lessons are there to be learned from an ordinary old guy who sits in an alley-way feeding birds?

You might have already formed your own interpretation of this man’s life circumstances, but I think Pigeon Man transcends the cliché and far over-preached lesson of finding happiness in the “small things.” For me he’s an example of countering negativity with overwhelming positivity.

Sometimes you have to take what life gives you, but it’s completely up to you what you do with it. There are hard times and negative people, but life is only as bad or good as you make it. Negativity is a bitter weed that spreads quickly. You can be the spreader of the weed, or you can feed pigeons.

It’s your choice.

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