Unlocking the Cage
AS THE UNCLOUDED sun poked through the pastel shades enclosing my bedroom the next morning, I could feel my phone abruptly vibrating on the bedside table. I started to tremble in my lucid dream the moment before my sunken eyes opened for the first time.
Reaching for my phone, I quickly notice the time of 4:40 am. In disgust, I placed the phone back between the four corners of the table. I rolled over on my back to find the strange dream I felt right before my alarm had the nerve to call my name. Lying in bed, the events of the previous day returned to me in vivid detail.
In an instant, my eyes opened, and my feet shifted out from under the wrinkled covers to find their usual place next to my bed. Before I could even think of moving, I had two feet planted firmly on the floor. With my elbows on my knees and my semi-opened eyes pointed toward the mint green carpet I watched each bent finger interlock one at a time.
I didn’t remember setting the alarm on my phone, but maybe subconsciously I touched a button I didn’t realize existed.
My sweaty hands remained connected under my stubbly chin as yesterdays events continued to screen through my mind like a motion picture. I wasn’t just the lead character; I was also the screenwriter. I wasn’t just the screenwriter; I was also the director.
Lights were projecting a camera unexplored without action. I wasn’t going to waste the opportunity lusting for sleep but determined to find an alternate stage I could explore.
I compelled myself down the carpeted staircase in a daze unsure of the direction of my unrehearsed script. Usually, I had a pretty thought out plan for each workday, so the uncertainty felt extremely uncomfortable.
With this feeling gaining strength, I conveniently reach for the remote to perceive the glow of comfort from the morning news. I searched all over my living room but couldn’t find where my wife had placed the remote from the night before. In frustration, I grabbed my coffee and sat on the couch to contemplate what I was going to do with my time. Complete silence surrounded me as the internal cross-examination commenced.
On one side of the courtroom stood the comfort and familiarity of my renovations and on the other end were uncertainty and fear of the unknown. All the evidence was there as I listened to the closing arguments.
There was no jury deliberation in this case, but I had to make a verdict. I placed my coffee cup down on the wooden coaster as it made a booming sound across my living room. I decided that I needed more definitive answers to the questions forming in my mind.
When I moved my right foot slightly, I felt something shift. Looking down I saw my daughter’s favorite book lying halfway under the couch. When I reached for the book to place it back on the shelf, I realized the answers might already exist.
Maybe a bookstore would be the best place to start. With my first significant decision made I was ready to attack a new day.
As my left followed my right foot through the mechanical doorway of the bookstore, my comfort zone disappeared. Besides children’s books for my daughter, I hadn’t bought a book in over ten years.
I stood frozen in front of the stacks of unread books like an unclothed manikin unable to move in any direction. There were two books I heard about the day before but had no idea how to locate them. I was probably only standing there for few a seconds but every second felt like an hour as I remained fixed to the cold tiles under my unresponsive feet.
Looking for comfort, I noticed the sports section and quickly moved towards the aisle not to draw any attention to the look of fear in my eyes. I found myself picking up books at random with no real intention but to look like I belonged. Noticing the self-help section, I knew the books were in my grasp.
Like a child trying to go unnoticed as they dip their hand in the cookie jar, I looked around to see if anyone was watching. I knew what I craved was close at hand, but I didn’t want to get caught looking in the self-help section of a bookstore. What if someone saw me.
Like a thief in the night, I swooped in and quickly found the two books. How to Win Friends and Influence People and the Magic of Thinking Big were the first two books I bought that day; they wouldn’t be the last.
Over the next four days, I would not pick up a paintbrush or cut one piece of cedar. I would spend the remaining days of my short vacation renovating the interior that genuinely needed the work.
I spent the entire week reading everything and anything I could get my hands on around self-improvement and how thoughts and emotions can impact a person’s perception.
From books, online lectures and inspirational speeches, I found ideas presented to me I never knew existed. Some of these ideas were from minds that existed hundreds of years before I was born. Others were from people living today. A lot of the ideas were similar, but the deliveries were all unique.
Hungry for information and new ideas some days I would forget to eat. I started to get up an hour earlier to give thanks for all the great things that surrounded my life. I would put on my running shoes and run for ten minutes every morning. I would sit alone with my thoughts and try to figure out who I wanted to become.
In less than a week I drastically changed my routine from jumping out of bed to the sound of an alarm clock to confidently placing two feet on the ground and controlling the start to my day.
As the weekend approached, I felt overwhelmed with all the thoughts and new ideas tossed at me so that Saturday I asked my daughter to pick any place she wanted to visit. Before I could imagine the destination, we had our bags packed for the zoo.
To be honest, I had no desire to be around anyone that morning, and any other day I would have convinced her to do something closer to home. However, something inside told me to do whatever she asked.
When we approached the entrance with our tickets in hand, the swarms of people recreated the restlessness I was looking to release. Nowhere in this moment could I cherish the anticipation expanding in my daughter’s eyes.
Suddenly I realized it wasn’t about me, so I decided to turn my anxiety into excitement and discover a better part of myself.
I felt my body getting lighter with each step up the concrete corridor. My physical body moved in conjunction with my expanding mind. One hand was holding a cold steel rail, and the other held my daughter. As the automatic double-door slowly opened, I felt the freedom in the hands of the man I wanted to become.
When we walked through the doors hand in hand, a whole new world opened behind her eyes. She didn’t know which direction to take at first, but I assured her that this new playground was hers to explore. She took the lead as I walked silently behind her.
It was such a freeing experience to let go of the pain and overwhelming anxiety that consumed my thoughts minutes before. All I could feel was love as I watched her innocence come to the surface. Her head was on a swivel as she started to notice the adventure and newness surrounding her.
When we entered upon the caged lion, she sprinted and placed two hands on the looking glass. She looked through in anticipation waiting to get a glimpse. Her impatience soon became apparent as her attention shifted.
The lion wasn’t where all the others said, and waiting wasn’t an option. She didn’t know I saw the lion leaning on the rocks between the uncut grass. I asked her to look again and pointed in its direction.
Unimpressed with his lack of movement we moved further down the beaten path. Continuing to walk the path, my daughter said something that made me laugh.
“Maybe they should let the lion out, so he can play.”
I struggled to provide her with an immediate response and chuckled as we continued to follow the others.
Arriving at the next cage, I couldn’t stop thinking about what my daughter said. It was an innocent statement made by an inquisitive toddler but what if the cage didn’t exist. If I removed the walls how would the lion interact with his external environment?
If he was born in that cage would he even know what it was to exist outside of those four walls? The perception of the pen started to change as my eyes shifted to the repetitive movement of the people walking around me in perfect placement.
All I could focus on was their eyes and what they were collectively thinking. I saw a look of total defeat in the eyes of one man right before I felt his resentment brush against my shoulder.
It was the same look of discontent my daughter saw in the eyes of the tame lion, but no cage existed around this man. He was free to move in the direction of his choice. I started to see individual cages everywhere, and each one was custom built with its own double door.
With the day coming to an end, we made our way across the bridge over the shallow water beneath. I let my daughter run a little ahead, but I saw she was getting tired as her tiny hand extended gently against the scattered bushes. She finally found her way back to me and stretched each arm to the sky looking for comfort.
Her weary eyes barely stayed open from the excitement of her new experiences. Gently I grabbed her by her arms to move her closer to my chest as her limbs dangled almost separated from her body.
I felt the love of a father as my whole body warmed from the inside out. I couldn’t think, I could only feel. I tried so hard to keep this visible emotion alive as we made our way to the parking lot.
Then out of nowhere, I saw him.
My energy shifted while my motion stopped. Fear took over as I gasped for air. I didn’t see him coming in the distance nor did I anticipate his arrival. Right in front of me stood a blackbird.
My eyes sunk back into my head and my feet felt broken as I attempted to move forward. I walked ahead in wonder prepared for him to notice me moving in his direction. Before I could make a sound, he took flight.
He started slow but worked to find the air underneath his outspread wings as the threatening clouds opened half way. He soared with so much freedom and grace that time and space seemed to disappear into nothingness.
On the drive home, I couldn’t stop thinking about the sustained flight of the blackbird as my daughter laid sound asleep in her car seat. She would only awake for a second or two when her head involuntarily moved from one side to the other.
Releasing my foot from the petal, I caught a glimpse of my eyes in the rear-view mirror. The cage that held the lion started to form around the reflection in my uneasy eyes.
My foot shifted, and I accelerated. I remembered the moment I decided to release the thoughts that restricted the love I felt for my daughter. If I didn’t let go of the negative thoughts that consumed me, would I have been free to love my child unconditionally?
I looked again in the rear-view mirror as the warm breeze entered through the back window where my daughter rested. I felt the same sudden wind that lifted the blackbird brush up against my shoulders. The mirror was in the same position, but the reflection in my watchful eyes looked completely different. Another question was then presented in my mind that would alter the course of my life.
Are you the caged lion or are you the blackbird?
I didn’t wake up Sunday morning to the sound of church bells. My only instinct was to get behind the wheel. Before my family even knew I was gone, I was walking to my truck one foot blindly following the other.
Walking down the consecutive steps, I saw the most beautiful sunrise over the horizon. It was so inviting I didn’t even check for cars as I stumbled across the street. My eyes couldn’t slide away from the midsummer sunrise as I rested my back alongside the passenger side door.
I am not sure how long I stared at this hypnotic scene but felt a passion for words floating in the complementary colors surrounding the morning sky. Each word that came over the horizon uncovered the warmth of the sun. When I investigated the words the question that started my journey returned.
If this is not who you want to be than who do you want to become?
As the visible sun moved its way behind the clouds, it hit me. My passion for words might hold the key. I found the answer to my question within the colors of the sunrise. My pen was ready to release the blackbird, and I was going to write my first book.