2010-03-27 To Do List – Open the Cage

Thursday morning came the realization that I have finally achieved “I am my parents” status, when Davis asked, “Is that what you are wearing to chaperone my (Christian fellowship) group this morning?” I had on a bright pink sweat top, with a clean, unwrinkled pair of black, not too tight, stretch pants, purposely selecting those pants aware that I would be in a room with 13,14 and 15 year olds boys in just an hour or so.

Davis, unlike his father, was not one known for fashion. We had lampooned his choices in our annual Christmas letter, stating that he was now working on Project Runway. The temperature was hovering around 40 degrees Thursday and he was wearing gym shorts and his orange school sweatshirt, which he had worn everyday this Spring, because its his “track” gear.

We managed to buy our donuts and make it to the church on time. I watched hungry teenaged boys walk in, eyes clamped shut, mouths wide open, ferociously consume 4.5 dozen donuts, in a fifteen minute timeframe.

A free bird leaps on the back of the wind
and floats downstream till the current ends
and dips his wing in the orange suns rays and dares to claim the sky.

They came for the treats and stayed for the fellowship and the understanding that they are loved by God, and the other boys in this room. A local father ran this group, meeting every other Thursday morning. He prepares an agenda, which includes a review from the past week’s meeting, highlights about Bible stories relevant for these boys (Sampson, Moses) and throws in some trivia about the NCAA, March Madness and the Masters.

The boys are asked to keep prayer journals, and use them to write their intentions, their questions. Even if they are never voiced, their words have a place that is secure from society.

That morning, prayer intentions included a young boy battling cancer, a school teacher recovering from cancer treatments, sports injuries, the lacrosse team, and another young man, a high schooler, in the same school system, who had committed suicide two days prior. Davis had informed us of this incident the night before, at dinner, where we promptly, but briefly, discussed the topic.

But a bird that stalks down his narrow cage
can seldom see through his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing.

At the time, I asked if counselors spoke at Davis’s middle school, separate from Scott’s (not his real name) high school. Davis said, “No, there wasn’t much talk about it, other than from students.” Even at his fellowship meeting, before the impact of this event on the boys would dawn on them, they seemed content to speak of it  and move on.

I too moved on with my day, feeding the neighbor’s dog while they were in Florida. I finished the last of the laundry, and decided the blankets in the flophouse part of the basement needed cleansing, which thankfully, I did. I found a pair of girl’s underwear (clean) and a men’s adult sized long sleeve jersey shirt. One cannot ponder these items too long for fear of where it might let your mind lead. I assumed the underwear came from a sleepover, and the men’s shirt was left behind during a recent party our kids had with their Mission Trip friends.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn and he names the sky his own.

I drove to meet my sister for lunch, with a stop at Ursuline to drop off paperwork to Shannon so she could order our couch through her Crate and Barrel discount. As I left, I was halted temporarily by the notion that I had selected the wrong color – Mocha instead of Sable. Quickly I ran through the printout of the paperwork in my mind and breathed a sigh of relief.

My cell phone rang as I drove the down the highway. I thought it would be my sister calling to tell me she would be late. That phone call would come, but it was my father, who always calls with a dire tone, asking if I could participate in a conference call with him and his lawyer sometime in April. “Dad, I don’t have my calendar with me, but I am sure, I can do it. I’ll call you after lunch.”

“Oh, my mom, interjected, “You are having lunch with your sister? That is so nice. Your father never wants to go out for lunch. We have all these restaurant cards that we never use.” Sure, I wanted to be in the middle of THAT conversation. I switched gears to talk about the weather. My mother always felt better when I told her the weather was as equally dismal here in Cincinnati as it was in Cleveland.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
of things unknown but longed for still
and his tune is heard on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom.

I have amazing and talented sisters. This one had been valedictorian and started several businesses during her working life. She was in the process of “becoming unstuck from a bad story” and “creating her new story” which has been my buzz line these days, thanks to Donald Miller, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years”, and Jim Loehr, “The Power of Story.” Having been a writer now for 13 years (I use Davis’ age as a benchmark, since my first poem I wrote was about becoming his mother), and despite having penned my memoir and several anthologies of poems, and facilitating writing workshops, I never equated the word “story” with the word “life.” But today, I kept driving the point home with my sister. Either she finally heard me or was sick of me!

After lunch, rain continued to pound on the roof of my car, but I drove out to Benken’s for my annual pansy purchase. I spent an hour in the greenhouse, mixing and matching colors and sizes to achieve the look I wanted for my outdoor pots. I stayed a little long, because breathing in the oxygen created by those plants was certainly the closest thing to heaven here on earth.

I completed my rounds with a stop at Petmart for pizzles and Nyla bones for Enzo only to receive a text from Davis that Track was cancelled and he would be home shortly. I texted him back, “I will be home at the same time.” Then he responded “There is a video on Youtube about Scott. Can I watch it?”

Clunk. That was an imaginary sound. I did not really smash into another car at that moment, but it was my fears slamming into my insight. I did not know what was on that video. But if I didn’t allow Davis the space to open up about this, to grieve whatever loss he may be feeling, I would slam the door on an opportunity for him to grow in wisdom and compassion.

“Yes, but wait for me,” I typed back.

I arrived home first, let the dog out and welcomed Davis home with my presence. He could not drop his backpack fast enough, which is not usual, and ran to my office breathlessly waiting for me. “Davis, why don’t you search for the video and I will be right there?” In seconds, he called out, “I found it.”

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing.

From the kitchen, I took a deep breath and dragged my feet and heart into my office. He clicked “play.” The video was approximately four minutes in length and had been posted a few days prior. I will paraphrase his plea:

Scott was a junior, hoping to pursue teaching and photography, but now, he says, he was finding it hard to be interested in anything. He had been to counseling, took medication, but nothing seemed to keep him from this darkness. He went to sleep in class during the day, and stayed up all night. He could not understand what was happening. He used to be a good kid in school, made the honor roll, was a good kid at home. Now, he feared his girlfriend leaving him, he felt isolated from any friends, and felt that he was in cage he could not get out of.

Scott concluded with a cry for help. “If there is anyone out there that can help me, let me know what you have done to get through this”.

Scott presented all of this with a sense of practicality. His life was a problem he was trying to solve. I wept throughout the entire video. Davis sat stone silent until he could no longer keep his tears at bay. We remained in quiet for a few minutes after the video concluded. He did not have the words for this moment, so I began:

“Davis, it sounds like everyone was really trying to help him. We know so little about mental illness, except that there is a change in brain chemistry that alters that person’s perception enough to keep them in a cage.”

“I know because I’ve been there during some challenging times in my life, taking the medication, then gone off because I think I am better, sliding back into my lonely self.”

“But sometimes, a person gets so far down inside of himself, they cannot find the way out. And there is very little we can do to help them at that point.”

“Its so sad Mom.” I understood this to mean that he is a lover of life. Davis will go to school, enjoy track practice, sign up for classes at his new high school, eat a plateful of tacos, go to baseball practice, take out the garbage, and then come home and sigh, “Finally some me time,” and then we all laugh!

He cried a little while longer that afternoon then promptly announced he had to take care of the neighbor’s dog and walked out of the house.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
of things unknown but longed for still
and his tune is heard on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom.

I understand about cages, and how one can feel imprisoned, despite all the air that enters and exits between the bars, despite all the good intentions, therapy, friends and prayers. At times, I have been locked in my own pen. I have visited with others who are fenced in because of the law or their choices. Even our homes or diseases for which we are diagnosed become cages if we let them.

I pray God grants Scott the freedom from his cage that he so desperately deserves. And may we be reminded that healing begins in our own lives when leave the cage door open or hold it open for someone else.

* “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou.

* The video has been removed due to its content which may or may not be good. What Scott said has a lot of relevance and could someday be used as an educational and emotional tool for others. While I deplore the use of social media for some to “showcase” their work, I cannot ignore the fact that for the next child, a posting such as Scott’s, just might save his or her life..


One comment

  1. Just lovely Aunt Net:) Your writing is so powerful and in this case tells a powerful story. Thank you so much for sharing…as alwasy I enjoy reading your thoughts:) glad you enjoy teh book from Donald Miller….all thanks to Jury Duty! I always ask my Z is he is happy……(of course i get the Sroka surly answer…but I have to ask).


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