A Question of Freedom
The yellow African lovebird in my photo is now buried under a tree in our garden, killed last week by a thief who crept onto our patio at night, intent on pulling my birds from their cages while they slept. Exotic birds fetch a high price in the Philippines. But really, what kind of person creeps through the shadows and steals birds from his neighbors?? I know who the thief was, ridiculous for him to think I wouldn’t figure it out instantly. The wrong man invited into our home to paint and make repairs, a few days later three of my feathered friends gone. Even more ridiculous to think that accusations could ever bring justice. Not in this country.
Now I could tell you how my life in the Philippines is complicated by the poverty that surrounds me and I could raise the issue of whether poverty justifies lying, stealing, cheating and killing — but that’s not my story, at least not today. Today my story is about the bird who survived, the dead bird’s mate — Lady Grey — and how Lady Grey made me think about freedom.
Lady Grey disappeared the night of the thefts, assumed stolen like the other missing birds. But exactly one week later Lady Grey returned, landing on a fern near her empty cage. Cautiously, Lady Grey edged closer and closer to her cage, even risking the claws of an eager feline predator as she did so. Finally, she hovered near the cage door, and when my partner opened the hatch, she flew inside. Since then, she has been happily singing, dancing, and swinging on her swing — apparently unconcerned that the door is now firmly chained and padlocked.
What boggles my mind is that Lady Grey was free for an entire week, and yet she chose to return to life in a cage. How could this be? Don’t all animals, including humans, yearn for freedom? “Lady Grey, you’re crazy”, I told her.
The obvious answer is that Lady Grey found it difficult to find food in the wild. In her cage, the food bowl is never empty — and that’s a big deal to an animal. Also, Lady Grey never needs to worry about safety inside her cage (except for the thieving two-legged human predator, of course). Bred in captivity, Lady Grey obviously found life in the wild not to her liking.
I pondered Lady Grey’s rejection of freedom. Was she so crazy, after all? Don’t we humans also prefer the safety and comfort of life in a cage over the danger and unpredictability of a life without boundaries? Aren’t we humans also bred in captivity? A child’s life is strictly regulated by parents and educators until he or she attains theoretical freedom at age 18. But do we ever truly celebrate and embrace our freedom? Whether we choose university or a job after high school graduation, it strikes me that pure freedom is rarely our goal. We’re quick to jump at the chance to sit in a cubicle, punching a time card in exchange for a generous paycheck, the males of our species even fastening ties around their necks. Most of us are impatient to exchange our sexual freedom for a permanent mate, with children soon to follow. If the mate dies or abandons us, we are quick to replace them. Mortgages, car payments and credit card debt seal our destinies. Yet most of us are content, if not perfectly happy, to live this way. Like Lady Grey in her cage.
Of course, not every bird would have returned, and not every human embraces economic and romantic fetters. But Lady Grey has made me think about what it means to be free…
Interestingly enough this was a question I found myself pondering a few days ago though with a slightly different slant. I found myself wondering if it could be possible to live one’s life completely randomly; eating, sleeping, going, coming, doing whatever, whenever and wherever the impulse moved us. I raised the question the next day with my partner in life and he unromantically pointed to the biology that apparently keeps us on a more or less 24-25 hour clock. Now that is regimentation of a very basic order and may be at the heart of our living ordered lives.. End of fantasy. Sigh.