In this time of a novel coronavirus wreaking global havoc and the equally novel responses to this crisis, I have one of the least novel thoughts in the history of thoughts to share with you today.
A cliché even.
But as Terry Pratchett once said: “The reason that clichés become clichés is that they are the hammers and screwdrivers in the toolbox of communication.”
They’re basic and rudimentary, but essential instruments in the construction of our reality. Especially in such strange and uncertain times.
So, the thought I want to share with you today is this:
Only when it’s been taken from us do we truly appreciate our freedom.
Or phrased slightly differently: only in retrospect do we see how truly free we were and how – in very many cases – the constraints we thought had been imposed upon us were really self-inflicted.
As the world ground to a halt and we all suddenly found ourselves cooped up inside, the past five weeks have held up a mirror – sometimes reflecting clear and unclouded images of our past and present selves; but often presenting distorted visions of who we once were and may someday become.
If I had to call my distorted moments by a name, it would simply be this: regret.
And if I had to hone in on a specific slice of time, it would be my early twenties. Those heady years of learning and discovery, of falling in love and having your heart broken (sometimes deciding to fall in love just to have your heart broken, because nothing interesting has happened for a while), of finding your way in the world, of making arms full of new friends and losing just as many along the way.
While there are a few things I did and said that I sure do regret, it’s the things I didn’t end up doing that weigh more heavily.
For instance, I was lucky enough to study at TWO world-class universities – why didn’t I do a semester abroad? Why didn’t I join the mountain and ski club, pursue my creativity more relentlessly? Why didn’t I study harder and make better use of the resources available to me – from library books to conversations with professors? Why didn’t I work two or three jobs and save up to travel during my vacations (or pay for my studies, for that matter, so I could lighten my parents’ load and wouldn’t have to slowly settle my lone after)?
A crazy hamster wheel of why-why-why-whys. (All highly privileged ones, I know.)
The simple answer, I think, is this: I was scared.
Scared of missing out (on what was familiar to me). Scared of looking stupid. Scared of rejection. Scared of feeling lonely. Scared of getting hurt. Scared of failing. Scared of not being good enough. Scared of wasting my time. Scared of not having enough money.
Now, as I scoop the weight of my regret up gently into my palms and hold it up to the light, I can see it for what it is.
Righteous anger at my younger self for taking her freedom for granted.
Actually not even that.
Rather this: righteous anger at my younger self for not realising she was free. For not realising it was up to her to set aside what scared her in favour of what drew her.
But there is some good in all of this too. The things I see when the mirror stops contorting and clarity prevails.
The realisation that I’m getting better with age. That half the things I used to fear, no longer have any kind of hold on me. And that the other half better be ready for a fight.
The realisation that, in our lifetime, the world may never be that wide open and welcoming again, but that fortunately, our freedom doesn’t depend on this. Because we are always, in every moment, free to choose.
My wish for you on Freedom Day, then, is this: may you never wait for retrospect to reveal how gloriously untethered you are right now. May you see it, embrace it and make the most of it.
Featured image: Taken at Enjo Nature Farm – see more pics here.