Big birds in small cages

Sigh…summer is such a beautiful time isn’t it? And with it comes altered schedules…Carolyn’s writing routine is off and she will be returning to regular writing on the blog soon.  For now, another beautiful blog by therapist and writer, Sabrina Friesen...

I’ve always been a word girl, finding solace in the words of others and making sense of my own experience through writing as well. What that means for me is that I’m also a pretty big fan of music, particularly songs with soul. Not as in ‘soul music’ so much, but songs that embody meaningful story


Basically, I’m a folk music junkie. I am pretty sure I could chronicle my life for you in song, starting with a little Def Leopard, Heart, and Bryan Adams with a side of Sharon, Lois, and Bram. I’d like to think my tastes have improved a bit since I was subjected to the music my mother loved. 

As a girl I would often sit at our cassette player in the living room listening to one tape after another. Now I listen while I run, drive, or in my kitchen as I cook. Now I don’t know about you but every now and then I come across a song that is just so…striking. 


Often the lyrics are a bit mysterious, and they almost always tell a story. 


As a ridiculously unmusical person I appreciate music simply as an uninformed listener. I don’t understand the meter or how harmony works, or what a key change really entails. 


There is something about a good song that stirs up feeling, and sometimes my insides just say yes!

If you’d been in my van at all this summer while driving about, you’d undoubtedly have come across me listening to this song by Patrick Watson: 



Before you think I’m some sort of song interpreting guru – let me be clear, I don’t really get it. But the lyrics have been running through my head for weeks, and I feel like I’m on the edge of something each time I hear it. 


There was a house halfway ’round the world

And I was invited in for a small taste of gin

There was a hallway a thousand birds long

But the biggest one of all was in a

Cage too small


I asked the caretaker cause he was the Maker

Looked at me and laughed, took another sip from his glass and said

Open up your ears and heart

You put a big bird in a small cage it’ll sing you a song


You put a big bird in a small cage it’ll sing you a song…” 

There was something about this picture of a bird stuffed into a tiny cage that, even for this non-animal lover, was heart wrenchingly devastating. The image of this caged creature somehow seared itself on my heart, and the sorrow of that stuck place felt like a weight in my chest. This lamenting bird imprisoned, wedged in, and unable to move in the way it was intended. 


I listened to it over, and over, and over again.


Not able to fly. 


That feeling. 


I know that one


I don’t know if it’s quite proper to call this a ‘universal’ feeling, but I wonder if most of us can relate to feeling imprisoned in one way or another. Maybe we haven’t been physically restrained, but..

  • what about being caged in a relationship? 
  • Or under the weight of someone else’s expectations? 
  • Or captive to our own shame? 

I think this space of feeling like we aren’t doing what we were made to, or living out of our full capacity is something that a lot of folks can resonate with. Sometimes we come up against structures or people or our own thoughts that just. keepusstuck.


And so when caged, we respond. The bird sings, some shut down, others get angry. Some pretend they fit the cage and try to make it work. 

As I ponder my responses to these spaces, I think I’ve managed to do a combination of all of these. And I can’t help but wonder, if the door was opened – does the caged bird even know how to fly? 


You put a big bird in a small cage it’ll sing you a song….


Only the song doesn’t end there.


You put a big bird in a small cage it’ll sing you a song.

That we all love to sing along

To the sound of the bird that mourns.

This part nearly did me in. 

First because it is simply sung so beautifully, but mostly because the contrast between the loveliness of the song and the ugliness of the reality it speaks of is so profound. This part calls to us as witnesses, as those observing the stuck and captive place of another. 

It also suggests something smacking of sinister…that we on some level enjoy the misery of the caged creature


I’d like to distance myself from that thought, of singing along with this lamenting bird and somehow enjoying its tormented tune. And yet as I think of being caged in other contexts I can see all too easily how this just might be true. I think of times I’ve rejoiced the misery of others, or the ways I – because of inherent privilege or position – have both intentionally and unintentionally contributed towards the capturing and caging of others. 

I have been the caged bird, and I have enjoyed singing along with the sounds of other captives

I don’t want to be either. 

I want to be a bird that flies freely, or at the very least one that has freedom to move around a cage that fits. And I surely don’t want to commiserate in the misery of another.


I want to be a cage opener, to run down the long hall and coax caged birds out. 

I wonder how we, armed with this knowledge, could do life differently with those we know and love? 

Perhaps uncaging your teenager means letting them get that awful haircut that they really want. 
Does uncaging an employee mean that you give them freedom to do the project their way, even if it’s not your way? 
Does uncaging your spouse mean that their passion or hobby gets to be included in the family budget? 
Hafiz: The small man Builds cages for everyone He Knows. While the sage, Who has to duck his head When the moon is low, Keeps dropping keys all night long For the Beautiful Rowdy Prisoners. Poster by Bergen and Associates Counselling
And for us who live in cages: I wonder what it looks like to fly the coop. Maybe it means we speak up when we typically back down, or bust out of the cage of perfection by owning an area of weakness or asking for help? Maybe it means giving ourselves permission to open the door and try flying.

What ‘cages’ do you find yourself in? In what ways are you caging others? And what does it look like for us to open up the cage doors for ourselves and others?

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