Question of the Day: “Why does the caged bird sing?”

Maya Angelo wrote a stunning narrative about racism and suppression called Why Does the Caged Bird Sings. This post is not about this book. It’s an honest look at the metaphorical question of why something trapped and caged can still make such beautiful sounds.

It is the book’s title that swirls through my mind because of three different events from yesterday.

Stay with me. I promise. This all comes together at the end.

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Story 1

We sold Tom’s tortoise house yesterday. We met a young couple at the large indoor farmer’s market that is about fifteen miles from home. After the transaction, we decided to walk though the market. It’s a weird and wild place that seems lost in time. We bought penny candy from what seemed like an old Five and Dime. We walked through a video store housing DVDs on floor to ceiling shelves. Classics, 80s, adult films…it had everything as long as it pre-dated 2005. The boys loved it. We walked past the kiosks of stacked up junk, polished and waiting to be sold. So many sites and smells, but it was the Pet Warehouse that caught Jonah’s eye.

“Can we go in?” He asked as he headed forward without us.

“Of course,” I said.

The store was filled mostly with fish and birds. It was huge, and fish tanks lined one side and stocked bird cages of colorful parakeets, finches, parrots filled the other. One rather large and old looking parrot sat on a long stick swing in his cage. When he saw me, he started to squawk and swing. He was not happy.

“Mom,” Jonah said nervously. “Read the sign. No fingers near the cage.”

“I know,” I said smiling. I was not scared of this bird. The parrot reached his beak forward and caught the hook of it on his metal cage. He cocked his head sideways and his one eye made contact with my two. “It’s okay,” I said to him. The bird squawked again and swung backwards.

“Mom, stand back here with me,” Jonah said. He was about two feet from the cage. “You’re too close.”

“It’s okay, Jonah,” I answered. The bird swung forwarded again and caught the bars and stared at me, but didn’t make any screaming sounds this time. It felt like he was getting calmer and he took a bit of food from his bowl. He left his swing and sat closer to the bars on the perch. We just stared at each other, and I felt the wrongness of his condition. I felt the wrongness of all of it. I felt the biological vibration of this being needing, wanting, desiring something so much greater than these bars and this cage.

Story 2

Yesterday, the school psychologist came up to my room to grab a student and watch him in my classroom. It is my student who speaks almost no English who is being evaluated.

At the end of class, the school psychologist asked my how it was going. I was wearing latex gloves and spraying down desks with bleach. I smiled and said, “It’s horrible.” He looked confused and kind of made a motion like “Really?”.

“Yeah, my job is soul crushingly horrible everyday,” I said with a slight laugh.

What am I doing? I wondered. Why am I smiling? Why am I saying my truth with a smile? To make it seem less awful? Because there’s nothing I can do about it anyway?

Because this is always what you do. You persevere. But you don’t lie.

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Story 3

It feels like my spirit animal has changed. At one time, it was the butterfly. A metamorphic creature who knows many stages and rebirth. I have moved past these changes.

Now I feel this strange connection with birds. Maybe it’s the wings. Maybe it’s the singing. Maybe it’s a bird’s possibility for the freedom to soar that draws me to them now.

Do you see it?

Do you see the connection? Or am I just pontificating through three random stories with no correlating theme?

I know why the caged bird sings. Because if she doesn’t sing, she will die in her despair. She will wither and rot behind the bars that hold her. And with the notes of her song, the bird will feel her soul lighten, even if just for a moment, until she is quiet again, until the door swings open and with outstretched wings she will fly.

Love and Light, my friends.

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