The caged bird sings freedom’s long-sought song

I’ve never met Tobi Brenneman Goldfus but still I feel that I know her.
She’s the daughter of my college roommate, Helen Good Brenneman. Helen was a spectacular roommate. She was upbeat, bubbly, and vivacious, always smiling, and polite to a fault.
Arriving at college before I did, she left the best drawers and the best closet space for me.
She showed me the sights in her hometown of Washington, D.C., and took me to visit her aunt and uncle in Charlottesville where I was fascinated by Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson.
Because of Helen, my sophomore year of college in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia was one of the highlights of my life.
Helen was already a writer when I met her, having served as a junior correspondent for the Washington Star. She went on to author her first book at the age of 28. “Meditations for the New Mother” was a hit, selling more than a half-million copies, and you can still order it from
In all, Helen wrote nine books. The last, “Morning Joy,” was published after her death at age 69. A remarkable feat because Helen was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and declared legally blind at the age of 38.
The last 20 years of her life were spent in a nursing home.
Tobi, inheriting Helen’s gift, penned a beautiful poem on her mother’s death. She wrote of her grief, “How long we watched you struggle so/And distant to our yearning needs.”
But she also celebrated the freedom that her mother’s spirit now knew. “The caged bird finally sings her freedom’s long-sought song.”
I was especially touched by that line as I celebrated the first anniversary of my stroke last Friday. We had a wonderful party with some of the people who helped us through our difficult year. A party complete with balloons and bright lights, hors d’oeuvres, an ice cream bar, and lots of conversation.
My friend, Cindy, was unable to be at the party but she sent a card of congratulations on my remarkable recovery from my disabling stroke. On the front was a birdcage with the door open and a bird flying free.
Inside, the card had just one line, “Enjoy the freedom.”
Three centuries ago, William Blake wrote, “A robin redbreast in a cage/Puts all Heaven in a rage.” A year ago, I knew the frustration of a bird kept in a cage, and I longed for freedom and flight.
But finally last Friday at the party, I no longer was a caged bird. I was able to converse with the guests. I could walk to the food table and was able to carry my own plate. At last, I was released from my prison. I was free.
Everyone feels caged at one point or another in life, either emotionally or physically. You break a leg or you are confined to a hospital bed with a heart attack. Your arthritis impedes your speed of walking or chemotherapy drains your strength.
You lose your spouse or you lose your job. You have to give up your spacious house for a small apartment.
But whatever comes, you must always have hope. And trust that a day of celebration will come again. The day when “the caged bird will once again sing freedom’s long-sought song.”
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist.

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