Saturday, 5 May 2012

Even Caged Birds Sing!

I've been thinking more this week about the nature of grief, and about just how much those of us with severe chronic illnesses, especially those who are housebound & bedbound, actually lose. How much I have lost. How our dreams are smashed, our health, friends, careers are gone, our lives are torn apart & the path of our lives has been irrevocably diverted against our will. I believe that each of us, (and our close family & friends) having lost so much, goes through a process of grieving - one which may in some cases take years, or even be a constant presence in our lives - because each month, each year, more things may be taken from us, starting that process all over again. This grieving process can be made that much harder by the fact that so few people outside of the situation can really understand what we're going through, so a positive support network can be difficult to find.

This grief & loss is so extreme - it affects every single corner of our lives, and our hearts. There are so many things that we each, desperately, miss - and miss out on. It goes so much further than the obvious losses like our health, financial security & careers. We lose friends & family - and our relationships change drastically with the few we do not lose. We are locked away inside our houses, missing out on the fun activities, outings and holidays that our loved ones are able to go on. Some of us may not even be able to see the sun or feel the rain for years on end! We may begin to come up against ignorance & prejudice. Our love & sexual lives change, or sometimes are completely gone! For those who become ill at a young age, childhoods and educations are lost. Conversation becomes difficult or even impossible, meaning we may lose closeness with the people we love. Years disappear for us in almost a vacuum, whilst the lives of our loved ones carry on. Honestly, the list is endless - our bodies really do create a prison within which we are trapped!!

But You are Not Permitted to Leave - by Meredith Farmer - Click here to View her Flikr Photostream

For many of us, especially those with neurological diseases, the things we've lost are now just distant, unfocused memories. Often hazy and difficult to remember or recall. To me, they seem like worlds away from my bed, in my bedroom, where I've been caged for so many years. To me, it literally feels like my past was lived by a completely different person!

The thing is, I believe that, that very grief - that endless depth of pain & suffering, and the daily battle we have to fight to survive it, gives us something very special in return: A deeper understanding of & connection to hope.

Maya Angelou's poem, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings comes to mind. (You can read this poem in full, below) Reading it again, when I began writing this post, I resonated with the bird in her poem so strongly that it brought tears to my eyes and a slow, painful gasp to my chest! The poem is an analogy for the desperately painful, chillingly lonely, yet also forever hopeful plight of black people at the time of the author's childhood. It is about dreams squashed, and dreams as yet unrealised.

Little Bird by Rubyblossom - View her Flickr Stream here
'Little Bird' by Rubyblossom via PhotoRee

This poem is heart-rendingly sad ... but I don't believe it's about pain, or injustice quite so much as it is about hope - & the strength that we have hidden within us, enabling us to survive whatever comes our way! The hope of gaining freedom from binding circumstances. The hope that dreams will come true. This is the kind of hope and the depth of strength & courage that would move heaven and earth to gain what it most desired!

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that
within me there lay an invincible summer.
~ Albert Camus ~

This poem, too, corresponds so strongly to the Emily Dickinson poem for which I named my blog, a poem which has meant a great deal to me. 'Hope is The Thing With Feathers' very much conjures up a beautiful, soaring, never-ending hope, whilst 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings', evokes a much more frustrated, desperate hope - but is all the more powerful for it! The hope of freedom surely is one of the most powerful of all hopes!!? It certainly is for me!!

I feel, very deeply inside my soul, a desperate voice dreaming of and hoping for freedom. That voice has never let me down, no matter how hard my struggles or how sick I've become - I still have the hope that things will get better. That one day, I'll ramble easily through a forest, or a meadow full of wildflowers, the sun shining on my face and my dogs at my feet. That I'll walk along the beach, the waves gently lapping at my feet, the wind blowing through my hair. Be able to venture outside in the snow, catching the snowflakes & watching them melt. I dream of falling in love & building a family. I want to adopt some older kids who are struggling in the foster system, or perhaps do emergency fostering. I even dream of having a baby, though age & infertility make it all but impossible now. (I think pregnancy is one of the most beautiful, interesting, amazing & challenging processes we can ever go through in life & I want to know how that feels!) I wish I could play in the sandpit with my nephew who I've barely seen more than a few hours in his two years of life, & easily hold his baby brother in my arms. I hope for days spent with family & friends with no restraints on my energy and no pain holding me back.

As it stands, statistically, I have little chance of a full recovery unless a breakthrough is made in the research of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis - but despite that, & like the singing caged bird, I do have the hope that somehow my life will change and that I will find freedom from the grips of this terrible illness. I accept the possibility of being severely ill for the rest of my life, but I hope for better - and no matter how hard the fight gets, I don't intend to give up on that. The point isn't in whether I ever reach my goals, or whether I recover from M.E. The point is that I need the hope that I will get there. It gives me the courage to continue, and helps me to find some level of contentedness & happiness in my present. I have goals & dreams, and no matter how scared I am that those things won't come to pass, I don't want to let go of them, & I'll fight for them! Simply put, I believe that there is no point to life without hope.

We Must be Free by Nanda Correa - Click here to go to her website,
'We Must be Free' - By Nanda Correa
(Posted with Permission & Much Thanks!)

I know why the caged bird sings
A free bird leaps on the back of the wind
and floats downstream till the current ends
and dips his wing in the orange sun's rays and dares to claim the sky.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

~ Maya Angelou ~

Susannah's Signature
I'd love to hear your reply and I know it'll be valued by other readers too! I always try to respond, please just be aware that it can take me some time to find the energy to do so as I've been particularly ill recently and struggling to get online. Thanks for reading! :)



  1. That poem says it all, doesn't it? That's why we "sing", or speak up and write so much. It's all we've got left.

    I've been struggling with the many losses this illness brought these days, too. How can you ever get over something when it just doesn't stop? Every day with this disease is another day lost that we could have spent living a life. Not just the basic structure of life, but a life with flesh and bones and skin, from the fabric that dreams are made of.

    I'm not saying I don't have happy and beautiful moments. I do, and lots of them. But I really miss making new experiences, going places, achieving and failing, and most of all, dealing with obstacles and overcoming them.

    I hope we'll all get a part of this back some day.

  2. What a beautifully-written post. Thank you.

  3. I studied Maya Angelou's book at sixth form college in the mid-1990s, and the poem is simply called "Caged Bird" (the first line is used as the title of the first volume of her autobiography). I actually think the poem is about Black music and why it engages people - not only Black people - after such a long time - if you consider how influential jazz and blues music and, later, Motown and other soul music, was far beyond where it came from. There was also a stereotype that real passion was to be found in Black (American) music rather than White, since Black music came from a place of oppression and the struggle for freedom (rather than just dire poverty as was the case for most white Americans).

  4. Beautiful post and beautiful poetry. I hadn't come across that one before- and I shall have to look up the Emily dickinson one too.

    I only started writing and blogging since being housebound with ME. It certainly provides fertile soil for creativity - but I think I'd swap it in a second if I could be better!