A lesson in compassion from a one-legged pigeon

On my last trip to Los Angeles, I visited the Santa Monica Pier.

At the end of the pier there are two large sets of steps where people can sit and watch people, the sunset or whatever. I sat down with my cup of coffee to enjoy the view.

On the step, at my feet stood a fat pigeon. A normal-sized pigeon flew to it, and stuck it’s beak in the fat one’s beak, shaking it’s head up and down. It looked like a feeding ritual, although the one being fed was obviously not a baby.

After a few minutes of this, someone ran up the steps and both pigeons flew off. As they took off right in front of me, I saw the fat one only had one leg.

That blew me away!

In the animal kingdom, a healthy pigeon will take care of a handicapped pigeon. I’d never heard of anything like that and probably wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it.

I was lost in thought wondering about why can’t people do the same, just extend a kindness to another person.

Not five minutes later a homeless man with a limp came to the trash container at the foot of the steps where I was sitting. I watched him dig around in the trash and pull out a cigarette butt. He picked at it, cleaning it off. Then he reached in again and pulled out a plastic bag with something in it resembling a remnant of a sandwich.

While I watched him, trying not to be too obvious about it, and also thinking about what I had just seen with the two pigeons, he took the sandwich, picked at it and took a bite. He chewed it a bit, took another bite, spit some out, until he salvaged what he felt he could eat safely. He discarded the bag in the trashcan.


I’d never seen anything like that in person, real-time. In one of the richest communities in the country, someone was eating out of a trashcan. He started to walk away. Still in shock, thinking about him and the pigeons, I watched him go around the corner of the building before it occurred to me to do something. But it was too late.

Five minutes later when I’d recovered my senses, I decided to walk around the corner and if he were still there I thought it would be a sign I should buy him some food. I walked over and saw him leaning on the railing picking at his new-found cigarette butt.

I came up to him and said “Hi.” He said “hi” to me. I asked him if it would be okay if I bought him a meal. He looked at me with surprise and a smile, probably not sure if he heard me correctly. I repeated, “You know, can I buy you some food?”

He smiled and said yes. He wanted a hot dog. We started walking to the hot dog stand. I asked him his name and where he was from. He asked me the same. I asked if he wanted a drink with the food. He said no, then taking a big risk, he asked if he could have two hot dogs. I said yes.

He was from China and he told me his name. He came to the U.S. seven years before with his family. He spoke English pretty well and said he hadn’t been able to find work here.

We got to the hot dog stand and I asked if he wanted fries. He said yes. I got food for both of us and we sat and talked as we ate. It turned out he had studied English in school before his family had even come here.

We didn’t talk a lot. I was just trying to be present to another human being. I noticed I felt really conscious of NOT trying to lecture him on how to fix his situation. I didn’t ask if he was trying to find work. I didn’t ask him if he slept on the street or in a shelter. It really was irrelevant. We were just sharing a meal.

After we were done eating, I wished him luck. He thanked me and walked away.

Down the pier, he turned left and I asked the Angels to send him a blessing, keep him safe and let him know that he is loved and supported.

I followed at a distance. When I got to the point where he turned left I saw him leaning against the railing trying to light that cigarette butt, cupping it against the wind.

I continued to the end of the pier, and up the steps again to ponder the synchronicities and lessons that had just unfolded.