The Cage

There’s an eagle that lives at Bonnie Falls.

As I write this, I am not particularly inspired. No great urgency of greatness rests upon me. I desire to do more than I am presently, though. I want more out of my life than just existence and survival. For many years I have driven two hours to a job in a cube where I stare at a screen all day and make the cyber realm keep on working. I just make it survive. I just make it exist. Some days I get satisfaction from this, most days I do not. If it weren’t for the people that I work with, I would soon go bat-house crazy. I pay my mortgage. I drive a ten year old vehicle. I am moderately in debt just to have a few comforts. Pushing fifty, and having worked hard since I was fifteen, I think that I should have a few by now.

So one day I’m driving past Bonnie Falls, and as soon as I pass by I see this bird fly over the top of my Ford Escape. I look up, and it’s got a wingspan almost as wide as my vehicle. He’s just hovering above the windshield about fifteen feet up, riding the airwave that my car is creating while moving down the road. I kept thinking that he’d swerve off and fly into the woods on one side or other, but he didn’t, he held his course and stuck with me. There was something very deep in this, it was like we were bonded together. I felt my spirit soaring with him. We were together doing this thing, me on the ground moving along, he in the air soaring along on my wave. The more I looked at him, the more I realized this was no raven, no vulture, no gull. No, not even a hawk. It had to be an eagle.

He was beautiful, magnificent. His feathers ruffled in the wind, his strong wings set straight out catching all of the wave that he could. He was having fun, and I was having the time of my life. Like a boy and his dog out playing frisbee, or watching a colt kicking it up in the field while you hoot and holler, l was part of this thing. I was reveling in the bird’s strength, his beauty, his joy, his intelligence. I shared the experience, and I felt lifted up, schooled, educated. He was teaching me something, and I was learning. Learning to be like him, wanting to be like him. To soar, to be free, be lifted up, to do what you were born to do. To leave the confines of the earth and stop being restrained. To stop from being held back by fear of the heights, and to make the leap of faith and plunge out into the air like a baby eagle who’s never flown before.

This straight stretch of Vernonia highway goes on for about a mile and then hits a curve where the creek makes a tight bend. I followed the road and the eagle went straight. He flew for a large Douglas fir and landed on a stout branch. It was then that I saw that his head was white. It was a large bald eagle, and he looked straight at me as I passed by. It was like he was saying, Don’t forget what I just taught you. Don’t go back to your cage.

For weeks I rode the emotional wave and boost that this experience gave me. I wrote like the wind. I dreamed and wrote down my dreams. I published and soared—I worked hard. But eventually the memory faded some, and I got mired down in the day to day. The drive, the job, the bills. I went back to my old ways. I went back to the cage.

The Pictures of You

When I was fourteen we made a self portrait in art class. The teacher gave us a little mirror, told us to look at our face, and draw what we saw. I sat down and went to work. I used my eraser a lot because it was a just a pencil drawing. At first I couldn’t get the hang of it. I had never thought of myself as having any talent at all in the drawing of things. It just looked like a bad cartoon, but then something happened. I kept looking at that mirror and making more lines. The more I worked at it, the better it started to look. Each day we’d spend a little more time on our portrait, and after awhile it started to look good. I kept looking at it and thinking, I don’t look half bad. At the end of the quarter they graded us and sent us out with the finished work.

I walked out of the class and rode home on the bus. The other guys asked me if they could look at the drawing, so I thought what the heck, I ‘ll let them look. It’s just me on the paper. One of the kids looked up at me after checking out my drawing.

“Is that really what you think you look like?” He smirked and the others laughed.

I took a long look at the drawing. I couldn’t see anything that looked out of place. It was my nose, my hair, my eyes. It wasn’t a photograph copy by any means, but I thought it was a good representation. I took it home and showed it to my family. They made appreciative noises, but something about the way they responded told me there was something very odd about the portrait that only others noticed. I took it downstairs with me and hung it on my bedroom wall.

There came a day when it was time to move to another house, and I packed up everything I owned, even the portrait. Someone was standing in my room as I took the drawing down and rolled it up.

“I probably don’t need to have this picture of myself on my wall. It’s not very good,” I said, fishing for an explanation for the reactions I got from the drawing.

They said. “It’s probably good to take it down.”

Something in that voice bothered me. It said things that weren’t in the words. The drawing looked fine to me. It looked good. I looked good. Me, the real me. The way I saw myself, not the ugly way people treated me. No, it was the me that I could have been. The way I should have been, if I’d been allowed to be me. But some people can’t let you be that. They feel the need to beat you down until you conform to something that they want you to be—in the name of correction. But what ends up happening is that you just lose who you were. They take that away from you, and sometimes you never get it back, and indeed, that portrait somehow never made it to the new house after that move. It was lost forever.

I got through that part of my life, and went on to the next. I married and had children. I loved and I lost, and through that I lost even more of myself. Pieces of myself, good wholesome parts that made me happy went missing because I had allowed others to take what was mine. It’s not fair that they do it, but it’s also not right to let them. That’s the risk you take when you trust, and trusting is something just as precious as those pieces of yourself that you loved. You don’t want to lose the ability to trust or all is lost. And there are the things that you’ve done to yourself: the mistakes, and the stupid things that you’ve never forgiven yourself for. Those things mar your self-image until you can let them go, and realize that you have to go forward.

One day, many years later, I take my pencil and I look in the mirror once more. I’m making the lines of my face. It’s a lot different than it was at fourteen. Older, aged, faded. The outline of my face takes shape. The strokes of my pencil now fill in the missing things: the innocent smile, the crystal blue eyes unclouded with concern, the brow uncreased with weariness. I’m reshaping the me that was, that could have been—that can be. And when I’m finished drawing, I set my pencil down, I pick up the paper and I hold it up in the sunshine. I see me. I see me, and I look good. I’m happy in the picture. And I notice something else, I’m happy inside me. I’m smiling, and it’s a very good day, because I know that I’ve got all the pieces back into place and I’m going on to be what I was meant to be. I’m seeing myself not only as what I could be, but as what I actually am. I realize that I could have had that all along because how you see yourself is who you really are, and all the things that people try to put onto you are just the lies, that if you believe, erase the picture of you.

So get out your pencils, class. Pick up your little mirror, dust it off a bit, and set to work restoring that old picture of you. Look real hard and remember that person that you loved, you know, that innocent child with the wonder of the world in their heart. That person is still inside of you, and no one can ever take them away. When you’re done with your picture, hang it up on your wall, look at it every morning, and remember who you are.