Memory is a hard thing. You never know if its real. Or I don’t anyway. It seems that most people I know think their memories are video files stored on a micro-SD card in their brains. To me, they are more like creations of random event generators that our consciousness tricks us into thinking are real. Still, I have this memory of being at the San Francisco Zoo when I was perhaps six years old. And there was this panther in a small enclosure, walking back and forth — pacing the cage.
The third song of Bruce Cockburn’s album The Charity of Night was “Pacing the Cage.” I asked him once about the song — or I reflected on it. Regardless, he said it was about feeling trapped. I hated to hear that because its such a trivialization of the song and the metaphor. As I remember back to that panther, it wasn’t feeling trapped or looking for a way out. It had more been driven mad by living a life it could not understand. And Cockburn knows that. The song starts off:
Sunset is an angel weeping
Holding out a bloody sword
No matter how I squint I cannot
Make out what it’s pointing toward
If he’s trapped, it’s by his own mind. He’s lost. You don’t have to be confined to be at a loss of the way forward. In fact, not being confined can be the problem. And there is a pointlessness of life that causes all human activity to be nothing more than pacing the cage. In such circumstances, death is a release. Because your other choices are to pace inside the cage or pace outside the cage. There is the appearance of freedom only — no actual freedom. Until you die, you will find yourself pacing the cage.