I rang my Dad recently. “Hang on!” he said, “I’ll call you back. There’s a bird trapped in the kitchen.”
“Heh,” I laughed, “I know the feeling”.
Birds regularly find themselves lodged in our family home. A robin, almost always. He nonchalantly flutters in. Within moments, the red breast is darting across the kitchen, knocking down last season’s Christmas cards with a force far greater than you’d expect of his dinky body. A frenzy ensues as we rush about to open windows and doors. “No!” I plead, “We’ve lost the key to that window. Look at these great double doors, little birdie!” But he ignores me and continues to headbutt the glass.
Eventually, after both parties have suffered sufficient grief, the robin finds his way back to his avian pals outside, and on the inside, we clean up the remnants of loose feathers and panic poo.
We all breathe a sigh of relief.
Many of us can empathise with the trapped bird. During lockdown, we paced about frantically from project to project; hopping from sourdough, to cross stitch to hair-cutting. Evenings spent headbutting computer screens, which like a broken window, allow us to see the outside world, but not enter it. Virtual conversations only leave us wanting to see our loved ones but cannot reach out to touch them, or perch on the couch beside them.
I have often empathised with the trapped bird. Periods of illness have seen me stuck inside for long stretches, desperate to escape. Like the Lady of Shalott, I am under a curse that forces me to stay indoors, watching the world go by through the mirror of social media. “I wish I could join them,” I think, “and see my own face reflected in these convivial images”.
I dreamt years ago that I was on Dollymount Strand with my friends. They were all high in the sky laughing together. But no matter how I tried, running and flapping my arms, I couldn’t reach them. “No, no,” an adult turned to me, “you can’t fly. You’re sick”.
Funnily, the robin has been a great friend throughout these times; sitting beside me on the garden bench as I read, cry or crunch my toast. When I worked in elder care, the robin again would appear to keep company. Always a favoured topic of conversation, “Look he’s back again!” we would say, smiling. The robin is a great companion of the lonely. Maybe, I thought, they just came inside to check on us, before quickly becoming stressed by the unfamiliar surroundings.
I told a lovely man in Rosstrevor about my robin theory. “Ah,” he smiled, “that’s a common misconception. The robin is an extremely territorial bird. They are merely defending their patch”. I’ve heard this explanation again since. But I prefer to stick with my own story.
During the period of lockdown, this trapped bird felt a solidarity. We were all in it together. The curse was not just mine. Instead of frantically butting about the house trying to escape, I settled. There was nowhere to be anyway! It felt like a weight was lifted. I was just grateful to be safe.
Many people with chronic illness suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out) and a fear of letting others down. These symptoms were eased throughout the lockdown period. Pubs were closed, socialising was off, late nights forgotten. There was less evidence of the life I was missing. More space to focus on and enjoy the life I was leading.
Lockdown was a different experience for everyone, for numerous reasons. For me it was gentle. Pleasant, even. My wings were not clipped; I just finally allowed them opportunity to rest. I breathed a sigh of relief.
Lockdown is beginning to lift, though we are not yet free birds. My family meet for a socially distant dinner in the garden; “we missed you,” they text. I see videos of friends online eating baguettes on picnic blankets. My red breast begins to burn bright.
Once again, I feel trapped.
Perhaps, I’d do better to spend less time looking at the screen, and more time enjoying my own patch. And when opportunity allows, like the robins of my tales, I’ll make a socially distant visit to someone who would enjoy a little extra company . . .