When I was a youngster, my grandparents were always good at gift‑giving. Somehow they could anticipate what my sister and I would like and enjoy. One year, on my sister's birthday, they brought us two parakeets. I was enamored with the birds' antics. Besides making a racket and tossing seeds out onto the kitchen floor, they really didn't do much, though. Kind of like tropical fish, they were basically just fun to watch. Fish simply swim back and forth, and really don't do anything in particular; but I always enjoy watching them, nevertheless.
My mother was careful as she taught us to change the newspaper, add birdfeed, and change the water without letting the birds get out. I will admit that I was very careful to follow the bird maintenance protocol to the letter. My sister, on the other hand, was less diligent. One day she accidentally let the birds escape. Chaos ensued as we all ran around frantically trying to capture the creatures flapping crazily around the room. Finally, they both perched on the highest object in the neighboring dining room – the art deco china cabinet. My mom recommended that we just leave them alone until they calmed down. Unlike cats and dogs that can be enticed by food and treats, the birds just sat up there, chirping rather happily. We closed the door and went away. When we returned, both were perched contentedly on top of their cage.
As an experiment, I propped the cage door open, and sat back and watched as they voluntarily went back inside! They had a few seeds, fluttered around in their plastic birdbath, checked their appearance in the little mirror, and otherwise went back to their little bird lives. I guess that while they felt stressed being confined, the big wide world had its own uncertainties. I never locked them in again, and most times I found them either inside or on top of the cage. Sometimes they did get really adventurous, and took a vacation atop the china cabinet, but the cage was good enough for them.
Later I read that cats and dogs follow similar patterns. Cats – I came to learn, after talking to a most interesting bloke at Pets R Us – like freedom to go outside and track around a familiar territory, but rarely stray more than a certain distance from the cat food bowl. Dogs, likewise, like freedom, and whine to get out of confinement, but generally follow a pattern as well. But dogs can get sidetracked and wander. They like to get into trouble – usually with other dogs – but the call of the dog dish is still a strong motivating factor that keeps them from really launching out into a new world of self‑discovery.
Horses can work hard all day, but genuinely look forward to putting their hoofs up at the end of the day. The boredom of the barn really doesn't seem to bother them at all. Cows, on the other hand, really subscribe to the old notion that the grass really is always greener on the other side of the fence. They get out constantly by pushing their heavy weight against fence posts that finally yield. Then, instead of wandering off to seek fame and fortune in foreign lands, they are usually quite content to eat alfalfa from the neighbor's field.
So, what do humans do? Actually, they do all of the above. It seems that individuals respond to confinement and freedom in different ways. I guess each of us is genetically hardwired to seek one or the other, preferring either the comfort of the home, routine, and family values ... or wanderlust. In my lifetime, I have experienced both.
Our nest is called the United States of America. It is quite comfortable for some, and painful and distressing for others. Sadly, there are always some of us who are satisfied with the nest as it is, even as others desire to change it; which might be okay if it were not for some natives constantly telling others that there is no room for change or improvement. It is the best nest in the world, and if we don't like it, well, we can just leave! Love it or leave it is their oft‑shouted slogan.
Oh sure – like, how can one just leave it? Where would one go? How would one live? What of preexisting conditions and obligations? It is true that some people are literally driven out of their nests. But we tend to be a lot like most creatures – preferring the familiar, the known, to the unfamiliar and uncertain.
One cannot be so inclined without encountering many who bellow out that phrase: "America! Love it or Leave it." I often feel like the little parakeets. I know that the door is open, but I realize that I can't just fly away because the nest is fouled and the big birds get all the food. I have family, friends, obligations. Can I just run away? Some dogs and cats actually do just that. They blow the scene at the first opportunity. Some make it and go on to greatness or at least better accommodations. Others get lost in the tumult of life around them. Some just don't make it.
The religious and political bullies around us like to identify with eagles. They are the top of the food chain. They eat other birds for lunch. Those of the Eagle Forum and all the other Eagle organizations really think that God specially blesses America. We are the best. Our cage is better than everybody else's. We have the biggest, the highest, the fastest, the fanciest and – above all – the strongest of everything. We should be grateful to just be born here. They are outraged – incensed – that anyone would question pure superiority when it is staring them right in the face.
I have been shouted down so many times by jingoists who never seem to run out of unflattering, insulting names to call me and mine. They preach against me, make laws to restrict me, and turn up the volume on their media machine to drown me out. Love it or leave it is their infuriatingly annoying drumbeat. Alas, I cannot. At least, not now. I am responsible, obligated, and I like it here. I can turn off the radio, the TV ... and block their obnoxious internet sites. I can ignore them. Or can I? Not always, alas.
Note: From one who has lived outside the bird cage, I must note to readers and the "love it or leave it" crowd, that leaving the US and relocating to a new country is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Most desirable places that one might wish to make home likely would not allow one to just move there for free. Most have government programs that are available to local taxpayers only. One cannot simply move to a socialist country and freeload or piggyback on their superior system of municipal services, health care, free university education, and retirement plans. One has to earn the right to these services, and countries that provide such programs to their citizens are not clamoring for Americans to just move in and take advantage. Years ago, this was the case – particularly in Europe. During the "hippie" era, American youths simply made their way to places like Holland, Denmark, and France, and became permanent squatters. Leaching off the labors of the locals went only so far until laws were enacted to prevent freeloading. It is extremely difficult for one to relocate to a foreign country unless he or she can prove that they either have a fulltime job in the host country, or are independently wealthy. So, next time you hear "love it or leave it," ask: Can I afford to?