There was once a young teenage girl who lived in a small town. She was curious and not always good at following the rules. She loved her family, but they were often afraid of her because she was constantly questioning their ideas. She lived in a very religious family and went to church each week, but something in the pit of her stomach ached when they spoke constantly about her sinful nature and her unworthiness to experience the divine. She felt at odds with this because often she felt great joy. Sometimes she believed she could feel the divine within herself and within all things but the priests damned these remarks and eventually she stopped sharing them.
This young girl tried to distance herself from the church, but her parents were very strict with her. They threatened her with fear of eternal damnation and excommunication from the family. She feared she would lose all of her sources of support if she failed to worship the divine in the same way that they did. She was just a teenager and could not yet support herself. She felt trapped in the prisons of fear and guilt, a prison with thick cold bars. In her an inner fire burned fiercely, but she had no where to let out the smoke.
At this time her grandmother began to pass slowly over the rainbow bridge from heart failure and was on hospice care. The young girl visited her grandmother often through the process. A few days before her passing the old grandma shared with her a story about her church that the girl could sparsely believe.
The dying grandmother shared with her granddaughter, “There was a time many years ago when I volunteered cleaning the church. Deep in the basement, I had come upon a locked door. The door was covered with signs that threatened eternal damnation to any who opened them. I was younger and more foolish then. Curiosity had gotten the better of me, and I opened the doors. I discovered the church had locked in this room a large bird. It was almost 7 feet tall and larger than any bird I had ever seen. Its feathers nearly glowed a brilliant red. It was trapped in a steel cage with large bars and its feet were tied to the floor with large grey chains. The bird cried at me loudly and I ran. I was never able to return to that room ever again. “
The young girl spoke “Grandmother, surely you are delirious, the church would not be locking away such a magnificent creature.”
The grandmother spoke “My dear, there may be many things in my life that are now unclear, but this I remember as if it was yesterday. This bird came to me in a dream just a few days ago. It begged me to set it free, but I am now sick, and can not complete this task. The bird glowed in my dream with a light that was so bright I almost feel as if I can walk again.”
The young girl asked, “So who will set it free grandmother?
The grandmother coughed and then began to speak again, “You will my dear, I see something in you that is different from the others in the family. I have kept the key to the room all these years. Check my clothes dresser, its hidden in the third drawer down. You will find the room in the basement of the church, just look the for the signs as I described earlier. “
The girl walked slowly and cautiously over to the dresser and pulled out the key. It was a small brass key and engraved in black on the key was the picture of a sheep. The girl looked back to her grandmother, “Why does the key have a sheep on it grandmother?”
The grandmother replied “I don’t know my love, I trust that you will know in time. Please free the bird, it is my deepest regret in life to leave it chained there all this time.”
The girl considered this for a moment and slowly added “Yes grandmother, I will try.”
The young girl returned home and grabbed a few of her fathers tools, a large pair of bolt cutters and a saw. With her tools carried over her shoulder in a purple satchel, she entered the church in through the nave. To the right of the alter she found a door unlocked that could lead her to the basement. It was nighttime, and no one was to be found. The basement was cold and damp, and her footsteps echoed down the corridor. She found the door her grandmother described, and pulled out the black sheep key.
With some hesitation she brought the key to the lock. The lock unlocked. and the old wooden door creaked open. What she saw was both perplexing and shocking. A beautiful red bird was in a cage in the middle of the room. In a plume on the top of its head were feathers that were the color of the rainbow. It was the most beautiful creature she had ever seen. It preened and spread its wings wide, and let out a powerful squawk. She was mesmerized but scared, and she took notice of the sweat that was beading on her palms. The creature’s feet were chained to the bottom of a steel cage that surrounded the bird.
In another corner in the room, there was a dimly lit candle. On the far wall she noticed a mirror. The candle in the dimly lit room caused the birds shadow to project against the mirror. The shadow was large, monstrous, and fierce. She noticed there were people in the room and they were kneeling on their knees before the mirror. They watched the birds shadow in horror and watched their own shadows cast in the mirror. They took notice that the girl had entered to the room and spoke to her in a dark and foreboding voice “Do not free this monster! You will cause terrible harm to us, yourself, your family, and the entire world if you let it out. Do you not see its monstrous form upon this wall? Do you not hear it’s terrible cries?”
The girl was startled but she answered, “A monster? I see a beautiful red bird, it has the most beautiful colors and feathers I have ever seen, how can you call it a monster?”
The people kneeling now became angry, “You are blinded by your youth, you do not see its form like we do. You leave that creature be or you will pay!”
The young woman sat frozen. Unsure of herself what to do. She could feel the birds pain and anguish chained in that cage, the pain welled up and a tear fell from her eye. Despite the obvious pain of its capture, the bird began to sing the most beautiful song she had ever heard. The girl was overcome by a strange feeling, she had heard this song before. Her grandmother had been humming it in the weeks leading to her death and she swore she had heard the song before in a dream. The brilliant red bird took notice that she recognized the tune and ducked its head, almost bowing to her.
The ones who knelt before the mirror screamed in response to the song, “No! Do not unleash this beast!”
The girl dug deep within herself and let out a primal scream. She took the bolt cutter and began to cut the bolts at the majestic birds legs. When she freed its legs, to her surprise, the bird burst into flame. She jumped back in horror, the bird now sat burning wildly in fire. As the flame burned bright, those that kneeled before the mirror stopped seeing their shadows in the mirror. They became terrified when they saw their true faces in the mirror. Their faces were filled with warts and their skin had become so pale it was a ghostly white. For just a moment the kneeling ones saw the brilliant form of the bird and not the monstrous form projected in the shadows they stared at in that basement dungeon. After a few moments, the light become too bright for them, a few knew to avert their eyes but many of them were blinded by the birds light. The bird was now gone and there was nothing left in the cage but a pile of black ashes.
Suddenly those that stared into the shadows became a mob and ran for the girl. Those that were blind could not find her and those that could still see began to realize that they had been locked in a dungeon their whole lives and stopped pursuing her. No longer being chased, she snuck upstairs and out of the church. She sobbed the whole way home believing she had killed the magnificent creature she sought to free from the cage.
A few days later the girls grandmother passed on. The girl was overcome with sadness over the death of her grandmother and felt great guilt that she had apparently murdered the brilliant red bird. Her mother gave her an envelope that was left for her by her beloved grandmother and in the envelop was a small diamond shaped like a teardrop and a note with the words, “Thank You” written in an elegant and brilliant script.
The young girl was always an avid dreamer. She often went on brilliant adventures while she slept, but several weeks after her grandmother’s passing she had a dream that was beyond anything she had ever experienced. Her grandmother came to her in the dream and thanked her for accomplishing what she could not. By her side appeared the brilliant red bird. The bird could now talk and bowed. This time the creature sung the words, “Thank you. You indeed have freed me from the prison they had built for me in that dungeon.”
The brilliant bird gestured for the girl to climb upon its back and she flew throughout the dream time sky on the back of the phoenix. As they flew the bird explained to the girl that she could use the dream time and her imagination to explore whatever she liked. It also taught her that her dreams and imaginings were real. She learned she could use them to escape the restricting environment of her family until she could be on her on. Her new dream time friend implored that as she grows in age, these imaginings would become the foundation for her life and reality itself. The young girl felt the truth of these dream words echo throughout her heart. The girl and brilliant red bird landed and once again the bird burst into flame but this time she felt nothing but warmth and love. The flames surrounded her whole being with light and acceptance. That light condensed and settled in her heart. She awoke from the dream with largest smile she had ever experienced in her life.
Even though her parents silly rules continued, she realized from this new place of power, that they were staring at the shadows and projections of their own dungeon. The young girl now realized from the teachings of her friend the phoenix, that her imagination was real and that her imaginings would someday become her reality. She afforded herself this freedom but would keep her adventures from her parents, waiting to discuss them with her grandmother and the phoenix in the dream time. She realized these limitations placed upon her were shadows on the wall from the dim candle and she grew secure and deeply creative in the womb of her imagination. As an adult she left her own shadows behind and travelled a sometimes lonely path. The light inside her, helped others to see their own inner shadows, and as she grew, she became a great teacher. When she taught she always carried within her pocket the key from her grandmother, and it was many decades before she understood the engraving on its hilt. She was proud of what she was, the ever questioning, always curious, fiercely courageous, black sheep of the universe.