The Man Who Lived in a Cage

There once was a man who lived in a cage. It was quite cramped but he made the best of it. He did not know that there was anything outside of the cage. He had good days in the cage and bad days in the cage. He invented games to amuse himself. It was often uncomfortable and confining to live in the cage, but since the man did not know he was in a cage, he did not know why he felt confined.

One day a little bird flew through the bars of his cage and sat at his feet.

What are you doing here, he asked it. I’m here to get you out of this cage, the bird said. What do you mean, out of this cage? The man said. I’m not in a cage. Beyond this cage there is a whole world of forests and mountains and oceans, all flooded by a brilliant light, the bird said. That’s ridiculous, said the man. Stop telling lies. You don’t have to believe me, said the bird. You can see it for yourself. But there is nothing outside of this cage, said the man. Maybe not, said the bird. Then the bird flew out of the cage and disappeared.

At first the man was very angry. He did not want to know that there was a whole world out there that he was missing. He had grown accustomed to his cage and he wanted to stay there. But a part of him was captivated. He began to wonder if there really were something outside the cage.

One day he was resting in his cage, not doing anything in particular, and he thought, if there really was a way out of this cage, where could it be? He began to examine the cage and discovered that the bars were actually wide enough for him to slip between them. He had never done this before. With a deep curiosity overcoming his fear, the man slipped through the bars of his cage and began to stumble through the darkness. He grew terrified. He was about to turn back, when he saw a light ahead of him. He went towards the light and came to the opening of a cave.

Out before him stretched forests and mountains and oceans and it was all flooded with a brilliant light. Being so accustomed to the dark, the man could not see any of this at first; he could only squint as the light flooded his eyes. But gradually his eyes adjusted, and he saw that it really was just as the bird had told him.

This is enough for today, he thought, and went back inside the cave to his cage and slipped through the bars again. He sat in the cage and thought about what he had seen. It was not cramped or confining. It was big and wild and free. But he had no idea what it would be to live in a world like that. And so he decided that for now he would stay in his cage. It was comfortable and he knew it well.

Yet his cage no longer felt like it used to. Knowing now that it was indeed a cage, he began to find it constricting and even painful. He returned to his games, but they were not amusing anymore. Yet even though the cage was no longer a comforting place, he could not get himself to leave. He stayed, hoping to return to his old life, but every day he spent in the cage he felt worse and worse.

To make himself feel safe, he kept checking whether he could still fit through the bars of the cage. And one day he found he could not, and was terrified. He tried sawing at the bars and hacking them. Now that he really wanted to leave the cage, the cage had trapped him. Exhausted and in deep despair, he leaned his head against the bars to rest and found that they had miraculously opened again. He slipped through them and went through the dark cave to the opening. He walked into the wide world of forests and mountains and oceans, and let the brilliant light envelop him.

He still came back sometimes to his cage, but every time he went back he felt worse. He began to be kind with himself for his longing for the cage, and tried to remember that the cage too was part of the whole wide world, and so was not really a cage after all. And when he began to realize that, he gradually stopped returning to the cage, and began to live in the whole wide world, one day at a time.

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