What Freedom Means to Me

It’s a tough question, isn’t it? Defining something so personal, I mean. There’s no chance that my particular brew matches the flavor of yours. Mine may be acidic, and yours sweet. Maybe mine is born of aspiration, and yours from frustration. Maybe it’s the reverse. What do I know? It’s just how I see it from my seat.

The definition is more fingerprint than blueprint.

Most of the time I cringe when someone uses the word freedom in a patriotic sentence. Usually it’s smashed into conversations with a carelessness that emits a stench of national defiance and insecurity that the world can smell like a fart. And don’t get me started on this ‘Murica fad.

In our everyday political debates, freedom operates as a wedge, a way to define the One True American and make contrasts between what is free and what is not.

In other words, it acts as a divider.

I hate that. I think it’s the worst way to use the word. Wielded like a cudgel, freedom bonks our opponents into submission while whacking the moles of our own fear back, back into their holes. It’s a national humble-brag, an insult to itself and to the generations of wild and ordinary people who had the courage to wrestle it thing from theory into being.

To me, freedom is space. It’s an unshackling, like leaving high school for the last time. Like hearing good news from the doctor.

Like a national holiday.

It adds to your person. It fills your chest with that really good air and you’re suddenly filled with a twinkling inspiration to rest, ponder, and tinker. Freedom reminds us that anything is possible. For a few moments, rationality and realism don’t hold top billing, and they too find the courage to marvel and wonder at what could be.

Freedom is letting-go. How many times have you had to let go of something in order to move on and turn a page in your life? It might come in the form of forgiveness, or acceptance, or faith. It almost always comes with some price to be paid, either at the expense of our vanity or our fear. That’s how you know, by the way. If you’re debiting fear, you’re probably free. Credit forgiveness, acceptance, and faith, and get ready to breathe in that really good air, friends.

Freedom is giving. It is the antidote to Scrooge-ness, anathema to miserly living. In giving, you slip goodness directly into the lives of others while reminding yourself that this stuff wasn’t really yours to begin with. If the blessings of life are one giant loan, what better way to pay tribute to that than by dispensing it freely to others? Clutching it tightly starts the clock on the half-life of happiness. Mix it up, bet big, and pay attention. Life is about to get interesting.

Freedom is the good fight. Free people feel less of a need to posture and are therefore more ready to share themselves with others. Perhaps it’s the old alcoholic who stands with the first-timer as they introduce themselves, declaring who they are for the first time. Perhaps it’s the now-old felon who writes a long overdue letter of apology to the family of someone they harmed. Perhaps it’s telling a friend something difficult that may cost you the friendship. Perhaps it’s letting your cashier know they gave you too much change. It comes in all sizes, and lives in nearly every moment.

For me, American freedom isn’t the best freedom (can we dispense with superlatives here?), but it’s my home, and a great example of what freedom can be, a wonderful offshoot of a much deeper concept that pledges no national allegiance. Ironically, it required an appreciation of this for those early American patriots to abandon their nation and build a new country with no promise of success and no guarantee of safety. More than we can comprehend, they counted the cost of harnessing such a beast, and in the midst of what must have been a perpetual fear of failure and death, did what they needed to do for the sake of what they believed was a better future.

It’s the hearts of those explorers, scholars, lawyers, silversmiths, and soldiers that inspire me today. They remind me to remain true—not simply to images, icons, and borders, but to my family, neighbors, and faith in the idea that freedom is a wonderful burden worth shouldering well and sharing with others.