Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I know why the caged bird sings

This is the cage I found myself inadvertently trapped inside when the locked door slammed behind me.

I was scrubbing my warehouse from top to bottom last weekend when I decided to give the outside of the doors a much-needed washing down. It was going fine until I got to the back door, which is screened in for a makeshift porch that surrounds it. It was built for Madison, one of my cats who has lived here on and off.

One side of the enclosure used to have a screen door. Unfortunately I forgot that the door had been removed and replaced by plain screening after a burglar broke it down last summer.

But that realization didn’t hit until the locked door banged closed behind me.

The screen’s not the flimsy kind, either. It’s the heavy-duty nylon-coated polyester advertised as “indestructible”, designed for pets and guaranteed to be impenetrable. Even against the most determined paws and claws.

Or fingers, in my case. I squeezed them through a small hole in the screen and tried to open it wider to no avail.

In this nearly vacant industrial park, no one could hear my pitiful, somewhat sheepish cries for help.

Standing inside the screened box, I knew how a caged animal feels. Helpless. Nervous. Powerless. And uncertain. About how much time would elapse before rescue.

Some minutes passed before I concluded no one was coming to help. It was up to me to take action. A short 2 x 6 piece of wood used to prop the door open would make an ideal battering ram. Slamming it against the edge where the staples met wood, I was able to pop the staples loose from the beams. I scraped my body through the sliver of an opening. It felt like crawling through barbed wire as the metal points scratched and cut my skin.

But I barely noticed the scrapes in my rush to get out into the open again, where the air seemed fresher.

For a few moments, I had been trapped like a bird in a cage, giving me new perspective on what the animals go through at the hands of human beings. How it feels to be at the mercy of people standing outside the cage walls.

Whether animal or human, there's something we have in common. We all just want to be rescued, freed from the cages that close us in.

Writer's note: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is poet Mayo Angelou's 1969 autobiography about her childhood.

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