There's an old song my father used to sing as a joke when I was a little girl -- "She's only a bird, in a gilded cage..."
"She's only a bird in a gilded cage,
A beautiful sight to see.
You may think she's happy and free from care,
She's not, though she seems to be."
I thought of that yesterday, as I stared through one of the windows of one of the two bird habitats that live in the main lobby of our hotel. The birds in there (you can sort of see them on the branch in this picture; they're fluffy and gray with bright orange beaks) have lots of charming little homes to choose from, and a beautiful plate of cucumbers and strawberries every morning, all carefully arranged arranged in a circle.
But in the end, safe though it may be, this is the only world they know, and it seems somehow wrong that they never get to fly further than a foot or two. There are lots of us, I'm sure -- especially in times like these -- who would love the safety and security of such a life, of a tidy home with a daily cleaning and delicious food, provided free of charge.
But such coddling always comes with a price; a loss of freedom. We Americans get so hooked on creature comforts, but -- at what cost? In order to support our families and our wealthy lifestyles, we work long hours at jobs we don't enjoy, or perhaps, in order to continue in the lifestyle we've chosen, we stay in unfortunate marriages or other unpleasant situations...
Last night we were treated to a long presentation from our younger daughter on the subject of "why I shouldn't go back to college next term." And though I remember well saying that to my parents, and remember equally well being told that leaving would not be an option for me, I was pleased to see that both my husband and I chose to be a different sort of parent. We don't want our children to be birds in gilded cages, and we both understand college can feel like a gilded cage. We are encouraging her to explore her options -- within some fairly strict parameters (including a promise to finish her degree within the next year or two) -- because there will be time enough later on for her options to narrow down.
Now is her chance to fly away from the safety of her familiar nest, to go up and away and get the big picture. What other nests might be out there, and which might prove to be the most rewarding? Or might she prefer a different environment altogether -- perhaps she's not the flighty little bird we thought she was, but rather a lion, or a puppy, or an elephant. Each has his unique abode; what would be the best for her?
It's a little scary for all of us, I suspect. But a little experience of living hand-to-mouth can go a long way toward clarifying our values -- and the gilded cage might eventually seem a lot less trapped if she knows what lies beyond it. Or perhaps she'll build her own unique nest in someplace completely different; who knows. But we've decided to encourage her to explore and trust she'll make good choices. It's a risk, to be sure. But we'd like the choice to be hers.
Perhaps that's how Free Will works: God knows what's best for us, but prefers for us to choose -- and hopes we make good choices. It's in the act of choosing, I suspect, that we become most aware of who it is we were born to be.