Why do we find it so hard to respect the freedom of others to be different: to hold different values, want different things, live different lives?
I have a budgie (aka parakeet) named Joey. Got him as a baby and he’s now about 3 years old. He lives in a flight cage – a very large cage for a very small bird – and he’s in love with the bird in the little mirror that hangs near his perch, to whom he chatters and sings gaily every day. He also chatters and sings to me, flies around the cage, nibbles on his treats, stretches his wings in flight and echoes my favorite words to him: “Hello!” and “pretty bird,” “whoa!,” and something I swear sounds like a wolf whistle. He peeks around his mirrored bird-friend to watch me in the kitchen and we play peekaboo. He perches on my hand or my fingers, lets me rub his tummy and his back and lifts his wing for a scratch underneath. So I think all in all he’s a happy bird. But he won’t leave his cage.
I have tried to get him to come out, but he refuses, and when I begin to move my hand toward the cage door with him perched on it he flies off and retreats to the other end of the cage. I gather him in my hand to bring him out, which he resists, though when he’s tired he lets me. Then I hold him gently to my chest, talk to him, and try to get him to perch on my shoulder, but he flies right back into his cage the moment I loosen my hold. Sometimes he flies around the room, down the hall, and ends up landing on the carpet somewhere in my bedroom, but I can tell he isn’t happy and really just wants to get away from me so he can get back to his cage.
I just want him to fly because I feel that a bird needs to fly free. But he will have none of it; it doesn’t make him happy.
He’s had some hard landings, especially when he was young before he figured out how to find the perches I’d put around the room for him. I imagine those hard landings made him want to stay “at home” where he’s comfortable. But I want him to have the joy and the exercise of flying free. So I keep trying to help him get comfortable outside of the cage.
This little daily “dance” with Joey about being in or out of the cage, flying from perch to perch vs. flying free, strikes me as akin to a familiar human dilemma, one I’ve lived with in my own life. I wonder how much it might remind you of something in your life. What seems like a cage to me is safe space for him. I hate being caged and want him to be free, but it isn’t what he’s ready for or wants.
Here’s the thing: he reminds me of me. My mother has told me innumerable times that every pet I’ve ever had has “taken after” me. (I actually can see that.) I’m a lifelong introvert, independent, and not that comfortable stretching my wings and flying out of my comfort zone. By nature I’m not a risk-taker, and I’m peaceful in my own space, in my own company. I was an anomaly in my family growing up. They didn’t understand my introversion, how socializing is exhausting to me, and how I need time alone, so I was always pressured to go places and do things I didn’t want to do. They thought I needed what they needed, that there was something wrong with the way I lived: too solitary. My sister especially used to do to me what I do to Joey now: try to get me out of my space and flying free. It was all well-intentioned, but stressful for me.
My relationship with my beautiful, perky little bird and my memories from childhood raise a consideration worth pondering. It’s important to learn to discern where the boundary lies between being caged and limited because we are afraid or unsure, and being free and glad to fly freely.
Equally important, from the other side: to understand where the boundary lies between pressing for what I want for someone else, and allowing them to define their life in their own way. I need to learn to let Joey live on his own terms, not to force him to fly beyond where he’s willing and ready to go. Encouragement can be good. Pressure and insistence isn’t.