As someone who teaches English and American literature to high schoolers in a private school, I stress the identification and use of similes and metaphors to my students.

That’s because recognizing such comparatives increases their understanding of their reading and enlivens and adds comprehensibility to their writing.

But metaphors aren’t limited to literature. Sometimes life provides them, too.

A few weeks ago, when the weather was warmer, I was standing at the workbench in my garage, with my back to the open door, when I heard a quite loud tapping-flapping-scraping sound behind me.

Turning around, I saw a medium-sized brown bird beating against a window on the side wall (if you asked what kind of bird it was, I would reply that it was brown and medium-sized).

It had flown in through the open door and, seeking an exit, had turned to the window, where it could see the grass and the trees and the liberating sky, and was desperate to return to them.

Though it was only 6 feet from the wide-open garage door, its attention was entirely focused on what was directly in front of its beak, and since the glass was invisible to the bird, it simply couldn’t understand what was keeping it from finding the freedom it was born to inhabit.

I briefly contemplated grabbing it and tossing it out the door, but feared I would harm it – or get my hands pecked to pieces – so I had to do something else.

Then I saw the broom. I picked it up and put it up against the window on the side away from the open door, and slowly moved it toward the bird, which fluttered to the side to avoid it. When it passed the edge of the window, it looked around, saw the open garage door and – boom! – darted like an arrow into freedom.

I stood there for a minute or so, leaning on the broom and feeling proud of myself for having liberated the bird without harming it, when the thought came to me that birds and people aren’t all that different.

How many times have we (myself most certainly included) allowed ourselves to be blocked from the freedom we were born to inherit by things that, while they may not have been invisible to us at first, come to be so familiar and routine that we no longer see how they limit and constrain us?

For some, such obstacles are serious addictions, but they can also be mere practices or busyness or small habits that we have allowed to become huge obstructions in our lives.

That’s why this time of year is so important. As the calendar rolls around to Christmas, we have a chance to be reminded that there exists a big broom wielded by an even bigger hand that can sweep us out of our futile banging of our beaks, wings and feet against the constraining habits of our lives toward the wide-open reality that was prepared for us before time began.

At this point, I know I’ve lost some readers. Those who don’t think anything exists beyond what they can see, feel or touch have likely turned away, saying they have no time for such nonsense.

But if any such are still around, I would remind them – and those other readers who know exactly what I mean – that there is a medium-sized brown bird flying freely around my neighborhood today that has no idea what a human is, or a broom, or for that matter a window.

And that bird was still liberated from a potentially deadly captivity – a captivity of its own creation, remember, for it could have turned its head at any time and discovered the open door of freedom waiting for it just a few feet away – by things that it does not understand and never can fully comprehend because of the limitations of its nature.

To my mind, that is a perfect metaphor for what is offered to us by the birth of a baby 2,000 years ago in a distant land, where wiser men than I could see a newborn king heralded by a mysterious star in a time and place where others saw – and still see – only a helpless infant.

But those wise men believed that baby offered them – and still offers us – liberation from the prisons we have designed for ourselves by building invisible walls that keep us from becoming the men and women we were (quite literally) created to become.

If we cannot turn our heads to find the open door, then perhaps we will encounter a big hand with a big broom that will keep us from dying in our self-created cells.

Perhaps all we have to do is ask.

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]