With Apologies to William Wallace
It's not easy being free.
I'd not like to have to make that case to a large tattooed gentleman locked in solitary, mind you ... or to someone who, by accident of birth or circumstance, has never enjoyed a day of freedom at all. But it's true nonetheless.
How so? Because being free means making choices; every minute, of every day, for a lifetime. And then living with them.
Most day-to-day choices, of course, if not always "easy," are certainly manageable. The kind we are unlikely to find ourselves, at 85, rocking slowly on a veranda somewhere a little unclear on how we got there but pretty sure someone will be along shortly to wheel us back inside for tunafish, regretting.
T-shirt or polo?
Turkey or pastrami?
Left lane or right?
Seinfeld or Science Channel?
Other daily choices don't register as important in the moment, but laying in the dark later, waiting for sleep, you find your conscience whispering about sitting on that veranda someday, unaware there are tear tracks on your face.
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, or Nike's and sweats?
Work on the web site, or Lion King viewing #47 with the kid?
Another chapter of Crichton, or asking the wife about her day, and listening?
But it's the Path-of-Life choices that really put us to the test. The ones we spend a lifetime making--not always consciously, not always admitting to ourselves we even have--but always hovering around the edge of awareness.
Football, music or law?
Is "I do" really forever?
Am I ready for children? Do I want children?
The Bible, Koran or Demon Haunted World?
To thine own self be true, or "Don't be so damn selfish?"
This is the challenge of freedom. The choices, big and small. All to be made while maintaining, as best we can, an aura of competence, control, confidence, contentment. Any man who tells you he doesn't care what others think of him is a liar.
Please don't misunderstand. I love my lot in life. I'd not trade places with my counterpart in ninth century Scotland, old at 37, bent to the soil and praying m'lord might see fit to grant a second sack of grain this harvest season. Or with my Ethiopian brother who woke this morning hoping only to keep his three starving sons alive another day. Or, when it comes right down to it, with anyone else who has ever lived.
And I understand, as best one can, the incomprehensibly profound price paid by all those who have come before, and those who stand on that wall today, all to create for me the chance to fret over these choices. They are a treasure beyond calculation, by any sane measure.
But I admit I do wonder, sometimes, in quiet moments alone with my dreams and dilemmas, whether or not my brothers and sisters across time, living lives without freedom's blessing, would be able to accept, or even understand, the one unexpected side-effect of freedom ... that those who truly try to grasp its full meaning inherit a responsibility to honor it, to use it. And how, for the average man, that mission is not always an easy one.
As much as any human who has ever lived, by accident of birth and circumstance, I am master of my own destiny. The freedoms granted me are without a doubt the greatest treasure our species has handed down to a select few of her children. They are the culmination of a thousand centuries of individual sacrifice and social evolution, in all of their glorious and brutal beauty.
And yet, too, for those who look deep inside and see a less than perfectly formed entity, they are also a trust--and as such responsibility. And as such, sometimes, in dark, unguarded moments, perhaps even a burden.
Intelligent Design, or Happy Accident?
Peace Corps, Bourbon Street or Wall Street?
Paper or plastic?
I wonder if William Wallace would understand.