“A caged bird stands on the grave of dreams” Maya Angelou 1993.
Angelou was protesting the evil of racial discrimination, but there are many ways to snare others. We, humans, have an astonishing capacity to love, and a bewildering facility to hurt others.
“The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still.”
A middle-aged woman sits alone in a crowded cafe. We exchange a few informal greetings as I squeeze into a seat at a small table next to hers. Even before I’ve wrestled my winter coat onto the back of my chair this woman is leaning over towards my table telling me about her loneliness. Without hesitation, she then launches into a well-rehearsed lament about her physical and psychological ailments which no-one seems to be able to help her with.
I feel sorry, helpless and intruded upon all at once.
Natural curiosity and many years spent working as a psychiatrist mean I’ve developed a soft spot for these sort of folk. You know, the ones whom everyone else seems to avoid. People who, five minutes into a conversation, make you feel your lifeblood is being syphoned down a deep, dark hole.
The woman beckons the waitress over to her table, then complains loudly about the quality of her coffee and poor choice of ‘gluten-free’ cakes. I divert my eyes to the steamy coffee machines in a welcome moment of relief and the waitress rolls hers in a barely disguised fit of irritation.
Moments later the cafe manager arrives and takes a seat opposite the complaining customer. This is clearly not their first meeting. I watch the progression of conversation between the pair from stooshie (heated disagreement in Old Scots) to stramash (uproar, also in old Scots) in a few short minutes. The little cafe rocks to the beat of the woman’s anger till exasperated, the cafe owner asks her to leave.
Surprisingly, the woman does decide to leave.
Something within her has turned like a tidal wave. Her words begin to flow softly now as ocean ripples over shoreline sand in the evening light. She ignores me completely but helps an elderly lady get her coat on and cheerily calls out to a young mum with three small children that she is doing a “marvellous job” on her way to the exit.
I carry this woman’s story with me for a bit in my head. Rejection has seeped its way into the depths of her soul. I’m not sure what has become of her dreams. No-one understands. It’s not really her intention that people understand, so long as they feel her pain. Her’s is a bizarre and solo performance, and yes she is an actor all right, none of this is the real her, a caged bird.
Amy is forty, married, lives in a beautiful home in a leafy residential suburb and is at the pinnacle of her career as a doctor. She never really wanted children in her twenties or thirties, but recently she has changed her mind. Life is good, but friends with children somehow have more than she does and it hurts – badly.
This last round of IVF treatment had been her third, and it had failed. It was a blow she would not easily recover from.
Life has always gone ‘her way’. She is pretty, popular, daring, intelligent and has a good sense of humour to boot. It’s true she had made some enemies over the years – the many women she has mocked at work for being either ‘boring’, ‘ugly’ ‘shy’ or ‘anxious sorts’ and her ex-husband whom she deems responsible for their divorce, despite her extra-marital affair, because of his ‘failure to meet her needs’.
Amy throws herself into work with renewed vigour. She pursues management roles with some success, but meanwhile, her second marriage begins to fail.
Subconsciously Amy ‘punishes’ those colleagues who have children with sarcasm and scapegoating. Work is beginning to be a less happy place than previously too.
Amy never discusses her childlessness with others. She runs a slick show and writes the script. She manipulates the cast too. Alongside, however, she runs a daily one-woman side-show. And the role, a caged bird.
The women above are sisters.
One is favoured by their mother, the other rejected.
The unloved one is awkward and fretful.
The loved one is pretty, outgoing and a high achiever.
The unloved one is scapegoated.
The loved one is indulged.
Both children suffer.
“Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble!” Matthew 18,7.