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The second year into my bereavement after my brother died, I went on my usual walks that I started since learning of the news. I used to not like to walk much, as I was on my feet between 8 to 10 hours a day at work in a stressful fast pace environment. But I just started to walk and walk and walk like a “walkaholic”. I would often walk on my days off and even after work for another 2, 4 or even 6 hours straight, being on my feet between 10 and 14 hours a day. One day I walked about 30 miles without stopping. It took a while for the blisters to heal, and my black and blue toenails to grow out again.
I lost a lot of my “body”, tears and sweat on the streets of London. In one of those walks on my way back home I was close to home, about 15 minutes away where I walked through the rain with my umbrella and hooded coat. I was well wrapped up and warm, with only my face uncovered. The rain has stopped, the umbrella dangling on my arm, it was dark as it was winter. I don’t know if it was because I was wearing dark clothes, hard to see me, or if the driver had a laugh when he/she drove fast through the huge water puddle that didn’t drain by the pedestrian walk, showering me from head to toe. I had to spit muddy water out of my mouth. I just stood there frozen in shock for a while in the dark, thinking, what else now?! Can it get any “better” than this! Can someone please throw some more shit at me?!! Is this “Pick-On-Me-Day” never stopping? I was too numb to even get mad at the driver, and in a slow pace just kept moving towards home, tears mixing with the muddy water and a long hot shower later.
But on one of those walks in this second year of grief, I passed by under a bridge close to home on a sunny Saturday afternoon. I was shocked to see what later brought me great regret. Under that bridge on the pavement a pigeon was sitting bleeding, not able to move and about 4 or 5 other pigeons stood around that injured pigeon literally picking on it. I understood suddenly where the term “picking on somebody” came from. Here was a vulnerable, broken, injured creature and the strong, healthy creatures of its own “race” so-to-speak, were picking on it while it couldn’t fend for itself. I chased the pigeons away and stood by the bird for a while trying to figure out how to help it.
I had no bags or extra clothing with me to pick it up and bring it somewhere. Where could I bring it? The vet I know is too far away, and having this pigeon in my hands in the bus, would I even be allowed on the bus? And which vet would do something for a wild injured pigeon? I didn’t have the funds for an injection to put it down, as these are quite expensive from my experience with pets years ago. How selfish of me to think about money! What a hypocrite I was!
If I had a bag I could have placed it inside, and if the pigeon was too injured to recover, I could have just “smashed” it with one hard blow, to put it out of its misery. But doing that, I would have gotten into trouble as London is plastered with cameras. There was a newspaper article all over the press years ago of a woman in a residential street walking by a cat that sat on a little wall of a front yard of a house. The woman stopped, petted the cat for a while and than put the cat in the rubbish bin! The outcry was huge of course. What on earth was with that woman?! So, I saw the headline in the Daily Mail already in my minds eye: “Evil woman smashes poor pigeon against the wall” of course completely taking my “charity” out of context.
And of course some sitcom afterwards:
I’m sure my own ill behaviour can fill enough sitcoms! But I was too “OCD” to pick up the pigeon with my bare hands. I had no jacket or extra layer of clothing as it was warm that day. I stood there for a while protecting it while it just sat there starring, probably completely traumatized, in front of itself.
I thought about how my superiors at work picked on me in groups, as I figuratively speaking was lying injured on the ground in grief and trauma, and no one was doing anything about it. No one chased those pigeons away and picked me up to go to the doctor. This time was the darkest and most fogged up period. And later when some support did come in after having involved the CEO, I’d never dreamed to be even writing to the top leadership, not even in a good way, I was always holding my head down, slow to complain to leaders, dealing with challenges by myself as long as possible.
And all the HQ people that got involved, each for their own gain or ego boost or studies picking bits and pieces off me, whatever suited them and they could use. The Head of HR wanted me on a scale from 1-10 to give feedback how it is meeting him, where I needed to meet with my line managers! The development manager who was used at the end “helped” herself to material for her essay. An OPs manager snatched me away from a manger I finally felt had integrity and hard work, just to be in that OPs managers area to raise the standard of one of his shops again. The previous OPs before that being happy for me to bring pages of ideas for improving the Mystery Shopper, promising me incentives if my shop improved, even though we had almost always perfect scores. And then not living up to the promises. … Person after person chipping away from my contributions and using my talents, vulnerability, skills, insights like I was a supermarket! The only thing though, they all forgot to pay! Taking their pick off my table leaving me stranded again. Well, you’re welcome, I survived to write about it.
With the pigeon I did a terrible thing, and any animal rights activist should condemn me. But after standing guard by the pigeon for a while, with my brother’s broken body on my mind, I left the pigeon and am sure the other pigeons returned later to finish it off. How angry I got at myself while I walked away. Why didn’t I just use my bare hands to bring it somewhere?
My heart wasn’t as big as Robert Burns’ heart when he accidentally disturbed a field mouse that was running away from him, while he was ploughing the field when he couldn’t afford to solely live off his poetry which he did from time to time. But back to farming he ploughed right through the “house” of the mouse. He later wrote one of my favourite poems “To A Mouse”, apologizing for having ruined the dwelling place of that little creature. I still cannot write my apology to a pigeon who needed help desperately! I can’t find words that “rhyme” with my hypocrisy.
When I checked back the next day, because I condemned my cowardliness, I couldn’t live with myself, there was no pigeon anymore, not even a dead one or feathers or blood around the area, nothing. And in fooling myself with wishful thinking I thought, maybe someone else was more heroic than I was, and picked it up before the other pigeons continued their picking on a weak one of theirs. Unlike with elephants who come together when one of their own is injured or has died. They grieve in a circle around the injured or dead. A lot can be learned from those gentle giants.
Since then, when I see an animal, certainly a human in trouble, I aim to find a way to see how they can get help. I always tried to protect humans from bullying, back in school, at work, but that day I was frozen again in shock that a metaphor of “picking on someone” was unfolding right in front of me, not as a metaphor anymore, but a real torturous event happening.
Pigeons that I grew up with in my city as a kid, that were raised in pigeon breeding clubs famous in the area in the deep West of Germany. Pigeons I saw flying in huge groups, dancing in the sky, being trained to fly to places and then return again.
I was in awe how humans can train birds who are free to fly where-ever they want to, without borders or cages. And yet, they always returned.
But I lost my awe for pigeons that day. And respect for myself. Trying still to forgive myself.
I worked at Pret A Manger and survived systemic workplace bullying during bereavement that involved HR, the top leadership, HQ and even the now “retired” former CEO Clive Schlee. I declined 4 settlement offers if I am silent about my ordeal. But I rather speak out to help others. For an overview of important blog entries of my experience with Pret, please visit “My Ordeal with Pret A Manger”. The little arrow to the right next to each heading will lead directly to the post.
An incomplete list on what other Pret staff say about Pret’s bullying environment: Caught in the Act Bullying at Pret.
I tell my story for the first time verbally in below audio player interview on a podcast by The Adam Paradox, and wrote two articles in the Scottish Left Review.
Thank you for reading/listening.
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