“The caged bird sings with a fearful trill,
of things unknown, but longed for still,
and his tune is heard on the distant hill,
for the caged bird sings of freedom.”
Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Zula and I went to visit a friend who had just moved into a nursing home. I thought this visit might be a good service project for Zula so we piled suckers high in a cute bucket for her to pass out to the residents.
As we were leaving our house, Zula saw a robin in our yard and raced down the wheelchair ramp to go to it. She slipped at the bottom and slid onto the patio, skinning her knees and the palms of her hands. I raced down the ramp as fast as I could and we had a sad few minutes crying because of the scrapes, the ouchies, and, most sad of all, not being able to pet the bird.
I told her that nursing homes had birds we could pet. I wasn’t sure, but a lot of nursing homes I’ve seen have had them so I thought it was a good distraction – at least enough to forget the robin and get into the car.
It was a good distraction. Too good. In fact, all she could talk about the whole drive there was the bird she knew would be at the nursing home waiting for her to pet it. Luckily for me, they did have one.
In a lovely library for the nursing home residents was a blue bird in a small white cage. Zula wanted to see him multiple times during our visit and it was hard to fulfill our service project and pass out the suckers or visit the friend we came to see. We ended up just finishing our visit in the library so Zula could watch the bird. She didn’t dare pet it, but loved it when he squawked. “Look mama! Him singing!” she would say each time.
We left at lunchtime and walked (well, you know what I mean) our friend to the dining room. While there, Zula passed out the rest of her suckers. She did pretty good approaching the residents and didn’t seem to be too bothered by the walkers, breathing tubes, feeding tubes, or anything else medically sustaining on any person.
On the way out, we stopped in the library to see the little bird just one more time. It was quiet in the library because everyone was in the dining room for lunch and, for the first time, I watched this little blue bird in his small, white cage.
I watched as he stretched out his wings and wondered if he was frustrated that he couldn’t use them. His small cage was just that, small. Trapped inside, he’d never be able to flap enough to fly. I wondered why we do that to birds.
I couldn’t think of a crueler thing to do to a bird than to put it in a cage.
And I couldn’t think of a more appropriate animal to have in a nursing home than a caged bird.
I shook my head in a vain effort to relieve the pain that had started to spread from my heart into my whole body. I guess there wasn’t room for it because it began to leak out my eyes and I cried.
I guess this caged bird is a mascot for all the residents here, and elsewhere, who are also behind bars – bars of physical trials rendering our own wings, or legs, or lungs, or hands, useless. Not only are the nursing home residents trapped inside a facility with visiting hours, but they, and others like them, are trapped inside cages of deformed, disabled, and restricted bodies. Our own cages.
And physical cages aren’t the only kind. We can have mentally frustrating, socially disabling, or emotionally crippling personal prison walls that limit the access we have to our talents and abilities. When it comes to cages, people of all kinds have all kinds.
And this bird was a visual example of what was happening to each of us. It hurt my heart more than I could almost bear and the tears, though silent, fell onto my restricted, disabled, caged legs. This blue bird and I had oh-so much in common.
The bird seemed to understand what I was feeling because he came as close as possible (which, by itself, was strange as he had stayed very near the back of the cage up until now. Zula got so excited!). He stared up at me with his head angled to one side as if he felt bad for me. He chirped softly as if he was speaking.
He talked to me for several minutes. I don’t know what he said, but I think I felt the translation of his message come through the scriptures the next day as I read Isaiah 26…
In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah; We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks.
I read that scripture over and over. Isaiah writes about a city protected by strong walls, but I couldn’t help but think that walls don’t just keep people out, they keep people in. And though this verse is about a protected city, I read it with the eyes of a blue bird behind bars. Protected, yes, but trapped.
The memory of the blue bird’s soft chirps beat with my heart as I began to focus on the word salvation. Salvation will God appoint for our walls. Redemption. Deliverance. Escape. There is an end, a collapse of these cages. Isaiah goes on to tell us in verse 4 that not only do we have salvation in our walls, but we have strength in the Savior forever, even and especially while we’re imprisoned. It’s through Him that we can endure these cages and it’s through Him that we can learn the lessons we need to learn here and it’s through Him that one day there will be a release from bondage through the Plan of Salvation made possible through Him. There is freedom in our future. Through Him.
Maybe this was the message the blue bird was trying to share. In her book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou writes, “Anything that works against you can also work for you once you understand the Principle of Reverse.” For the blue bird, myself, and anyone else in a personal prison, I think we understand that the lessons learned, the perspectives gained, and the appreciation we acquire as we serve time is worth more than the depreciation of the things for which we’re temporarily left wanting. Isaiah begins by saying “In that day shall this song be sung…” “That day” is while the walls are up and “this song” is a melody of thanksgiving for this time – the time when we can’t spread our wings.
So let’s sing songs of praise for the prisons we endure and songs of gratitude for nonworking legs, breathing machines, and any other wall that keeps us flightless. Because we know there is strength through the Savior. And we know there is freedom in our future. And we know why the caged bird sings.