The Freedom to Be Me: On Choice and Privilege, and the Rights of an American People.
Go to school, get a job, go to work, get married, have kids, pay your taxes, pay your bills, watch TV, listen to the news, obey the law. Now repeat after me: I am free.
They taught us that freedom isn’t free. And the older we grew, the more we knew that they were right. When we look at the men who come home with haunted eyes and cannot sleep at night. When an acorn dropping along the asphalt sounds like a gunshot.
When fireworks have lost their awe and colored splendor. Those colors gray, become mottled with a red we only recognize in a nosebleed, in a split lip, for women, monthly. We don’t know red in the dirt mixed with soot and dry wall ash. Mixed with flesh. Freedom is hard-won. Freedom is the only thing worth dying for next to love.
Now define freedom.
You see, I always thought it was a driver’s license in my wallet, the steering wheel in my hand, and miles of roadway paved out in front of me. But even that is a privilege, and can be taken away. The freedom we find in things can just be taken away. One wrong move, and the ability to do as you please is simply rescinded.
What is freedom?
Amendments in a constitution, a bill of rights? Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, right to bear arms? These are governed by someone dictating who’s allowed to have those rights. How long did it take for blacks and women to be included? Not only that, but a gun in your hand doesn’t make you free, it will make you a killer. Whether the murder is self-defense or not, you need to be okay with being a killer.
Personally, I know I would choose my life above all else, but just like those soldiers in a war, you will not be living a life that is the same one you recall. And journalism is not the same heroic career Edward R. Murrow made me want to have when money controls the content you read. And facts are muddied by opinion and laws are enacted to prevent reporters from proving anything.
How information is obtained is just like evidence in a courtroom, how you got it matters more than what those facts can prove, often that powerful men have lied to you. And what good is the freedom to speak your mind if there’s no one to listen to or believe in you?
It’s an unbalanced wire we walk. Debating freedom when others cannot. Passing judgment when we didn’t cast a vote. Seeming ungrateful when we have so much. Yet the fact remains, there is still so much work to be done.
America is like a woman reinventing herself each new decade of her life. We are not the same as we were last year, and isn’t that the hope each New Year’s Eve celebration brings? That at the bottom of a bottle of champagne, we will be brand new? The slate wiped clean, our past erased?
We keep forgetting that our past is what brought us to this place. Forgetting our ghosts does not make a house less haunted. Forgetting does not heal a wound that wasn’t closed properly to begin with. And forgetting often means we’ll repeat the lessons we haven’t learned.
Freedom. Hear it ring out. It comes from inside your lungs, like air exhaled. It is a state of mind, not some wild thing to be contained within parameters of laws and rules and regulations. “You’re only free if… you are free but…”
These are false shackles. The ones we place on our hearts. We lock ourselves in a prison of the mind. Freedom is what we believe.
And I believe in humanity still. That the whole wretched lot of us are still trying to figure out what good is. That the globe is not really on fire. That we aren’t spinning off our axis to be lost somewhere in space known only as that planet that used to be alive.
We are alive. And the same life that pushes a flower through cracks in sidewalk cement is contained in us. We are multitudes. That we have the freedom in our hearts to choose who we are despite who the world tells us we should be, despite what feels like the whole world rising up against us, we can choose what we live and die for. That is true freedom. That is the freedom hard-won, to choose.
Our choices define us and create our legacy. So choose wisely. First for your own happiness, and then for your neighbor’s. Choice is freedom realized.
Our human experience is a gift, not a right, our life is a privilege to lead. Will we follow blindly or live freely? Your power is that you can decide.