It’s a rather strange concept. We talk about freedom in such glowing terms, as if it is a goal to be reached, as if it is the ultimate answer.
At first thought, the idea is quite straightforward. But as I tried to define the term I was left confused, and had to resort to the internet.
Google has defined freedom as “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint”.
That’s pretty hard to argue with. Who would want to? Of course freedom is important. More than important, freedom is beautiful. Something to cherish. Something to aim for.
But what exactly do these ‘hindrances’ or ‘restraints’ refer to? What can they refer to?
Often the term ‘freedom’ is thrown around in everyday situations. Freedom from school, freedom from work, freedom from children, freedom from parents and, of course, freedom from responsibility.
Empty days, days with nothing to do, no obligations, are lauded as ‘free’. And they are greeted with joy filled possibilities.
Of course, no one is ever truly ‘free’. There are elements to all of our lives that shape how we act, speak, and think. At the very least there are personal needs to attend to. Food, water, and shelter. Then there are laws and social norms to contend with. Usually financial and familial obligations are layered on top.
But still, freedom seems to be the ultimate objective and the closer we move towards it, the more excited we become.
When I think about it, I have been as close as one can be to ‘freedom’. I had no school or work obligations for nearly two years. I mostly lived alone, away from family. I had food delivered. My days were completely open, from morning to night, free to fill however I chose.
And, although I was physically unable to take advantage of the time I had in many ways I would have chosen to- although a majority of that time was spent in pain, worry, and fear, there were some lovely moments. I could see my friends whenever it was convenient to them. I was always available. I could watch movies and listen to music. I could go to sleep and wake up whenever I felt like it. I could wear whatever I wanted to.
I was also bored. Extremely bored. Sometimes I was bored because the music hurt my ears, the movies moved too quickly, and no friends were available. Sometimes I was bored because I was too ill to get out of bed, and had been lying there for hours. But other times I was simply restless, edging on miserable. I had too much time to fill, without the ability to fill it.
And instead of the blissful release from stress that had been promised with a lack of responsibility, I felt ever increasing stress. I grew teary at the slightest provocation, felt the tell-tale signs of anxiety at the mildest trigger.
Now, however, I have gained enough strength to attend school. I am only taking two classes, but that is a huge leap in my level of responsibility. I am also tutoring students two days a week. I live in the same city as my family, adding to activities switching between obligatory to desirable.
I am moving in the opposite direction from the defined embodiment of freedom. Hinderances and restraints are being placed over my time, forcing me to act in ways that may not be my instinct or choice.
And yet, I have never felt more free.
In all the time that I sat alone on my couch, dreaming, I didn’t feel free. I felt limited. My dreams existed only in my head.
Now, I am making concrete travel plans. The added infringements have made me more aware of the time left available to me. Of its value and potential.
I am researching internships and jobs, I have signed up for volunteer experiences, and I feel unlimited, despite my numerous limitations.
It’s not that I’ve had a surge of good health. In fact, this week may have been my worst week in months. Aches turned to severe pain, dizziness turned to a loss of vision, and level 2 headaches multiplied at alarming rates.
But still, I feel free.
Maybe it’s because I have still managed to accomplish everything I had to, despite my body’s protestations.
Or maybe it’s because, like a lone individual in the middle of a field emphasizes its vast emptiness, the addition of responsibility has opened up a whole new world of availability. Of possibility.
Freedom is important. It is essential that human beings are allowed their independence, their ability to live their lives free of oppression and persecution. It is something to strive for, and it is worthy of glorification.
But perhaps, sometimes, we misunderstand it. Perhaps sometimes we make it too simple.
Freedom is not synonymous with nothingness.
If it is, it cannot be a goal.
If it is, it is no longer positive.
It is true, that the accumulation of responsibility, however enjoyable, can create a burden. A burden that can weigh heavy.
And temporary relief from that burden can be just that – relieving. Someone else to look after children for a while. The end of the day at work. The break between exams and the start of classes.
But a temporary respite is very different from a state of being.
Nothingness does not bring relief. It brings nothing. It brings paralysis.
Perhaps to be free, we must be restricted.