Today, as I walked home from a long day of work, in my head a collection of uncounted little episodes of frustration and commonplace annoyances, (most of which could be forgotten after a good laugh or a glass of something stiff), I looked up and noticed a Peregrine Falcon trapped in a fenced-in area of a parking garage. At first, as I am apparently a sort of ornitho-racist, I thought the bird was a common pigeon, and was inclined to move on, careless whether it lived or died. But I quickly noticed that it flew in tight, graceful circles that only a bird of prey could make.
And since, of course, most observational utterances (brilliant or dim-witted) are automatically filtered through recent memory and current mood, I looked at this bird and thought, “You idiot.” As it quickly grew tired, it jumped and flapped against the ceiling and walls of the garage, missing the large opening by inches. Its eyes were opened wide and its little chest was heaving quickly in increasingly panicked breaths. The knocking sounds and hisses of the city seemed to be adding to its stress. All the poor bird had to do was look down and see the large opening it just flew through to get trapped in the first place. In fact, there was more opening than fence. I stood, helplessly, and watched for a while. Then my mood began to change.
I had already been thinking about memory, and the reconstruction of it. Life stories are created from the memory of peers mixed with the memory of the writer, neither of which is fully accurate. Our own memories help us form personalities and personas. And these memories are often hopelessly twisted, exaggerated or forgotten. According to my limited understanding of psycho-analysis, the ego is the part of the psyche that reacts, defends and works to minimize pain and discomfort, a sort of regulator to prevent hurt and grief. The id is the part of us that seeks pleasure at any cost, without logic or reason, like a new-born baby with simple desires related to survival–food, drink, warmth, food. Freud wrote that it “contains everything that is inherited, that is present at birth, is laid down in the constitution [of the mind].” So the ego is a sort of regulatory force to keep the selfish id in check, so we don’t go around eating and screwing every moment of the day (this tends to get one in trouble, from what I’ve heard).
In an obscene presumption to expand on Freud, I would add to the id not just basic drives that we are born with, but other, more complex and deeply rooted tendencies, good and bad, that the grind of life sometimes clouds and represses. For example, I think I was born with an automatic tendency to care for animals and to abhor cruelty (intentional or natural). In a city, there is not much opportunity to save birds with broken wings or cracked-shelled turtles crossing the road. I have to think back, usually with the help of stories from my mom, of the rotating menagerie I kept as a child and adolescent, sometimes bordering on an animal triage. Some would think these tendencies to be strangely maternal, but I embrace them because they represent something unchanged throughout the many phases in my life, no matter the lack of opportunity to act on them. One more thing I truly know about myself. And when I occasionally remember one of these core things, I feel satisfied and happy, a sort of liberation.
I can only assume that our poor trapped falcon is not burdened with the conflict between id and ego, but he seemed to be struggling with memory, and without knowing it, helped me with mine. But this was not a day to save an animal. There was simply nothing I could do for him. I left him to figure out his own predicament and I hope he remembers how to get out of that cage.