I never liked caged birds until I met Sweetie. She sat near the entrance in Helen’s apartment living room at the retirement place. Helen loved her, spoke tenderly to her as if she were a diamond on a pedestal. But all I saw was a beautiful creature unable to spread her wings.
Helen was one of my favorites. She was cheerful, tiny—she could have been a little bird herself with her small frame and trill voice—and I never had to worry about gripes or criticisms with her. When I saw her approaching my desk, I knew she’d bring me a smile and a kind word. That was what I needed as I was stuck between a job and a career—just someone to talk to me like I was more than just the staff.
Helen called me in a panic one evening. Sweetie had escaped her cage and damaged her wing when she flew through the apartment. I’d never had a caged bird, what was I supposed to do? Birds are supposed to be flying without borders—no wonder Sweetie went for a freedom flight. And this was far outside my job description …but it was Helen.
I put up my “Be Right Back” sign and rushed to Helen’s apartment. It probably took us a good thirty minutes to settle the feathers. Sweetie had cut her wing. I called my husband who had a bird once, and he gave me some instructions on how to treat Sweetie. I found what I needed in Helen’s bathroom and fixed Sweetie right up. “Hope you enjoyed your freedom”, I thought, but Helen gushed over her like she was family. I saw how Helen looked at that little thing. I look at my children the same way when my heart overflows with love for them.
A few years later Helen had to move to the Assisted Living side. Her mind began to scatter a little too much. Her spirits dropped and she didn’t come out of her new place much—but she had her bird. She and Sweetie became inseparable, and Helen took her, cage and all, when she went out for the day, usually with family.
My friend would lose her patience, and eventually her smile, but she kept a firm grip on Sweetie’s cage wherever she went. I’m not sure why she held on so tightly to her bird. But I think she needed someone to sing to her. I think she needed Sweetie to remind her that despite the cage her failing mind wrapped around her, there was still joy out there somewhere.
Maybe when all of us walk through those barred places, all we need is for someone to remind us of the joy out there.
“So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” John 16:22