Yesterday’s bright blue sky, streaked with long and thin white clouds, the shimmering sun, and the slight cooling breeze were such welcome gifts after days of ponderous grey air and pouring rain. With the clinging fog and veiling clouds evaporated from the mountaintops, there was a vaster and more distant horizon.
I felt freer and less hemmed-in; seeing farther distances helped me to imagine further possibilities. After a long season in which my internal landscape seemed cramped and confined, I was and am grateful to have a bit more room for my spirit to ramble and my mind to explore. It’s good not to be, as Bruce Cockburn puts it, “pacing the cage.”
I know, however, that freedom–real freedom, honest-to-God freedom–doesn’t finally depend on the conditions in which we find ourselves. There’s something free about freedom, something which eludes our categories. escapes our definitions, and transcends our circumstances.
Most of the time, of course, it seems that freedom has to do with the ability to call our own shots or the right to say what we want to say and do what we want to do. Such autonomy and independence are certainly invaluable.
Sooner or later, though, life takes us into experiences which strip from us our illusion of complete independence and unmask our charade of absolute autonomy.
We lose control. The conditions of life prove stronger than our ability to resist them. Illness incarcerates us. Grief locks us up. Tragedy traps us. Crisis confines us. We feel chained.
What does freedom mean then? Victor Frankl famously wrote out of his experience in a Nazi prison camp: “Everything can be taken from a [person] but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” (Man’s Search for Meaning).
I have more growing to do before I can steadily experience this freedom which does not depend on the weather of my heart; but I have had enough experience of hope amid desperation, wholeness while broken, praise alongside lament, and joy in sadness to trust that freedom can find us in the tightest, severest, and most inhospitable places.