Tomorrow the Jewish holiday of Passover begins, so I’ve been thinking about freedom and about love.
Passover commemorates the time when Jews were enslaved in Egypt and then Gd, through Moses, led them to forge a path toward freedom. Moses didn’t want the job — he felt unqualified, incapable… uncertain and hopeless, but he chose to say yes.
It was a terrible journey — both the journey of enslavement, the journey of release, and then the period of cleansing in the desert. At Passover we do not celebrate a defeat of Pharaoh and his people, instead we express our sorrow at the suffering and our gratitude that so many before us have accepted the struggle for freedom.
Freedom does not mean getting to do whatever you want. Patty and I were talking about what our kids would say — they seem to think freedom would be growing up so no one would tell you what to do. And we might imagine freedom as being eight and getting to come home from school and play ’till dinner. But neither is true or possible.
Freedom means taking responsibility to walk in the path of what is right. It a process of ongoing effort and care. It is a terrible burden, but also a joyful one. It is terrible because when you accept freedom, you can no longer take the easy path of blame. You can not ride along and then be mad when someone takes you to a destination that isn’t what you wanted!
There are so many ways to give up freedom. Being on “autopilot” and blindly following patterns. Being a victim. Being a dictator. Deluding yourself. Breaking your own integrity. Letting yourself be seduced by superficial wants — or maybe confusing “wants” and “needs.” Compromising your values, or devaluing yourself to seek approval, status, affirmation, or power from the outside.
But at the same time there are so many gifts. Not just gifts of freedom itself, but gifts from the struggle to be free. Perhaps without the struggle there is no real freedom — or at least none of the heady bliss of finding it. In the struggle we have the opportunity to confront ourselves and one another. To question what truly matters. To challenge assumptions and the status quo, not changing for change’s sake, but changing for the sake of liberating our highest and best selves.
In the struggles there are an abundance of difficult feelings. My dad (stepfather) is struggling w cancer and it’s brutal. On one hand I am feeling so sad and afraid and hopeless — and on the other hand these terrible emotions feel good. They feel “right-but-hard” and are reminding me of our love and the gifts he’s given me and our whole family. So the pain is really love in disguise.
Recently Max was in struggle because he left his “best Pokemon cards” in his pocket then put his jeans in the laundry — they did not fare well. On the one hand he was helpless, a victim of bad fortune. On the other it was an opportunity to receive loving support from us, and to take action, to take ownership of the future. To be free.
While I was in the midst of struggle post-emergency-knee-surgery I was feeling pretty low. I felt helpless, powerless, dependent, stuck. But at the same time I was able to receive so much love and care. I thought a lot then about what it meant to be free. Did it mean being able to put socks on myself? (that felt like great liberation!) Or did it mean being able to choose to be grateful for the care? Even grateful for the pain? (because it was a sign of the process of recovery)
I’m struck that freedom is so much about feeling. About feeling despair versus hope. About feeling unworthy of and unable to love versus abundant in it. So many people are afraid to love and to be loved. They are so hurt that the hurt itself becomes a kind of shelter. They make walls of rage to barricade their fear, they keep their hurt close at hand in a desperate attempt to prevent it from overwhelming them. Maybe this is the ultimate slavery, the self-imposed slavery of denying that we are worthy and capable of love.
This is a prison whose wall grow thicker each day. The more we see ourselves as unworthy of and unable to love, the more depleted we become. We become more and more closed to love from all around, and less and less able to love others. Paradoxically the door opens by giving; it swings open outward from self acceptance.
The good news is that no matter how thick we make these walls, freedom can come in the blink of an eye. So impossible, then so simple. It can feel like betrayal of a promise, though, because we do not stay free.
We must choose again. Each time it feels impossibly hard, then suddenly, miraculously, easy. Then we find another challenge; this is the journey of freedom. Without the opposition we go back to autopilot, back to coasting. So the walk toward freedom is embedded in struggle — we find jewels among life’s travails. While there will be struggle, there is also choice — a balance that is a process.
Freedom, then, is decision made over an over; a string of choices. Not choices of circumstance and power, but choices of heart and will. Love and effort. Made over and over, strung together on a necklace, each bead buffed to luster by the challenge inherent in the decision to be free.
Does this perpetual struggle sound grim and dark? I don’t see life that way. I see it as beautiful, part of the abundance and wonder of our world. Each time we choose freedom we become stronger, deeper, and brighter — contributing, as have so many before us, to the vast pool of liberation.