The first time I heard someone use the comparison between people and birds was when I was in second grade and the teacher taught us a song, something about a nest being compared to Jerusalem, the mother bird God, the vulture as the diaspora, and the Eagle as the Messiah.
I was young and impressionable and I used to walk around singing that song when I was feeling particularly spiritual and/or Zionistic (except back then Zion was something you were only supposed to yearn for during a time when that mythical Messiah would clop by on his donkey).
It is only natural to compare ourselves to birds. After all, we are fragile. We have a tendency to want to fly free. We love to soar to great heights and we love to look down from above. We build nests and nurture our young and we do well both in captivity and when free. We flock to birds of a feather and we also fly solo when necessary. We strive for consistency and yet we spend much of our lives surfing the wind alone because it feels so good.
So let’s put aside the skewed philosophy of my youth and allow me to share with you the updated version of my life philosophy as retold in bird form.
There are two kinds of birds in the world: those that are caged and those that fly free.
The caged bird is generally well looked after. It has no fear of vultures, where its meals will come from or the uncertainty of what lurks around the next corner. The cage provides warmth, security and familiarity and often times the bird is not even want for anything more that its four walls or, in this case, its slats.
Even if the caged bird experiences daily upheaval, it would still need to believe that those annoyances and discomfort are less intolerable than the fear of the unknown by flying free. The caged bird is connected to the same faces and sounds daily and if they are lucky, they are allowed out of the smaller cage to fly around a seemingly bigger cage where they are under the impression that they are free when in actual fact they are only experiencing a taste of birdie freedom within the confines of their already existent captivity.
Those birds in captivity have security and know no other reality. They cannot judge the reality of the bird that flies free and vice-versa. There may be times where the caged bird sees the free flying bird through the slats of their confines and wonder how on earth a bird would choose to live like that and why that bird doesn’t look for a nice cage to feel safe in like they do.
Then there are the birds that fly free.
Those who fly free are able to catch the wind and soar to great heights. But there are many dangers to soaring free. In the wild you many times don’t know who to trust, what lurks around the next corner, and where to seek respite? There is loneliness that comes with freedom not to mention the constant search for community and companionship.
When flying free, a lot of time is spent searching for mere basics that might be considered a given by their feathered friends in captivity: their next meal, a nest, comfort, encouragement and a space to soar freely and uninhibited. They are aware of the uncertainty of their future while being hopeful that they too might one day teach their own little birdies to take flight, knowing oh too well, that there is a great chance that they might not.
Birds who are freed from captivity don’t manage as well as those birds which have been free their whole lives. Some of them feel remorse for leaving the comfort of their captivity, others try to create a semblance of the life they lived before and some of those unfortunate few just get eaten alive.
It is of the utmost importance for each type of bird to not envy or try to emulate the other since it can only lead to unhappiness and disaster but it is important for each kind to know that the other exists and that there are other options out there.
It is not in a caged bird’s best interest to fly free too quickly and it is definitely not advisable to capture a free bird. To let a caged bird experience what nature intended, it would be best to use a form of pseudo freedom without going all out, without putting them in danger and without joining a winter migration to Florida.
And if you are a free bird or you are trying to reach out to one, don’t try to cage it. It is futile and you will only tire yourself out. Instead, try leaving some crumbs on your windowsill and wait for the bird to come when it is ready. Don’t try to capture or hold onto a free bird because it will scream bloody murder or eventually lose the beauty you so admired when you saw it flying free.
And here you have it. Our lives as retold in bird form by me.
So what kind of bird are you?