What is freedom, really?

I have been mulling this after getting a haircut this week. As I listened to the story of the woman who cut my hair, what I got was a feeling of ultimate impermanence. She had been raised between two places, shuttling back and forth whenever her current parent lost their luster. She was in St. Pete for a little over 4 years, probably as long as she had been anywhere, and she sounded ready to move again. She has three young children but no romantic partner. She was upset that the school system requires her oldest to wear uniforms and proud that as a pre-k-er she had gone all year mixing and matching new combinations every day. She had no idea what the natural color of her was and hadn’t known in many years. She wasn’t 30, I don’t think.

Nor did she seem to have any joy in her. All the choice in the world, but no joy. Just low level dissatisfaction and wistfulness.

I get that we are all wired differently, and that one person’s hell is another’s heaven. At least relative to most of the people I am close to, I seem to have a bias for change, and I’m not afraid of shaking things up or trying something new. But that’s not really ever been a source of freedom for me.

The Jesuits have a term, disponible, I think, which is Spanish for something like “available.” It isn’t the full-throated detachment of Buddhists, exactly; it’s not a renunciation of the goodness of the physical world. It is, though, a surrender of will and choice, a willingness to accept whatever assignment they are called to. It sounds like the opposite of freedom, or at least it used to sound like that to me, unless you buy into the old lyric that “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

For me, I think freedom is more the precursor to this ability to be disponible. It is the freedom of knowing who you really are with surety. The certainty of knowing you are infinitely valued and loved as you are in a way that “even you” can’t screw up. To the extent I accept that, I’m free to be the person each moment calls me to be, not without care for what people think, but without depending on what people think to validate my worthiness. With that kind of freedom of self-recogntion, self-awareness, acceptance of who we are, good and bad, I experience what most seems like freedom to me.

And I guess the caution I would give is this: you can’t give yourself that kind of self-validation, as far as I can tell, and no other human being can either, I’m pretty sure. I have the most awesome wife in the world – her friends posted as much all over my Facebook profile that week, and I concur – but I’ve learned that not even she can come close to providing that level of validation that brings freedom, because she’s just another human. And I am keenly aware that I can’t do the same for her.

So there’s a big part of the Christian story that points to how the divine fills that role, and if you’re one of my friends who is a believer, you know that, and I don’t need to drag everyone through it. And if you’re someone of another faith or someone who rejects traditional religion, I hope you find that freedom in whatever understanding of the Transcendent holds your heart. I wouldn’t begin to presume that there aren’t other ways to get there; I just know mine. You do yours, if it gives you that freedom that comes from being fully loved.

Because life seems pretty unsatisfactory, in a whole bunch of ways, without it.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been mulling. I have to get back to that marathon blog post on the Benedict Option now.

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