It’s Saturday, July 7th.
The nighttime skies are silent once again after several evenings of firework displays. The parades have come and gone, and nary a crumb of cookout leftovers can be found. The millions of fluttering starred-and-striped flags honoring our past and present patriots now rest, awaiting their next collective emergence for Veterans Day. The ubiquitous ads for Fourth of July sales events have ceased, giving us reprieve for about a month, when they’ll reappear as back-to-school bargains. Come Monday, we’ll return to a full, 5-day work week.
What remains when the dust of all the Independence Day festivities settles? Freedom. It’s still there, inspiring us and teasing us at the same time. Why is this so? How could it be that something so precious to us is simultaneously, covertly, and constantly nagging us? The answer, of course, lies in the well-known factual mantra, “Freedom isn’t free.” Rather, it’s a responsibility. Moreover, freedom isn’t out there for the taking (i.e., “to fight for”), it’s ours for the making. The more we focus on external threats to our freedom and external battlefields to wage war against those threats, the less we realize that freedom is an inside job.
According to my favorite online etymology dictionary, the word “freedom” comes from the Old English word freodom, which means “power of self-determination, state of free will; emancipation from slavery, deliverance.” The oldest known root of this word is a verb that means “to love,” and the dictionary offers this explanation for the association between love and freedom: “The evolution from ‘to love’ to ‘free’ is perhaps from the terms ‘beloved’ or ‘friend’ being applied to the free members of one’s clan (as opposed to slaves. Compare Latin liberi, meaning both ‘free persons’ and ‘children of a family.’).”
I offer to you an additional interpretation: love and freedom both reside in and are activated by the heart. “Heart” comes from the Old English word heorte, referring not only to the muscle which is responsible for circulating blood, but also referring to “breast, soul, spirit, will, desire, courage, mind, and intellect.” Therefore, our cardiac anatomy locates the battlefield for freedom squarely inside of us, at the very core of who we are as human beings. As long as human beings shall exist, freedom shall linger . . . still.
If freedom means the power of self-determination and the state of free will, then we are called to create freedom for ourselves out of our own power, our own courage, our own wisdom and intellect. It starts with questioning ourselves, “Where am I directing my power? To whom or what have I relinquished it? Am I allowing someone else to determine who I am more than I’m allowing myself to do so?” And it continues with a second line of questions regarding our self-inflicted chains: “What am I carrying that is holding me back from being whole and free? What outdated beliefs am I operating on that keep me enslaved? Just how healthy is my sense of self-worth?” The more questions we ask ourselves, and the more intention and attention we dedicate to this internal battle, the sooner freedom’s lingering, nagging voice will turn into a personal pep rally.
Freedom doesn’t await us on the winning side of physical and psychological weapons of massively destructive warfare. It never has. It has always courted us from the inside. And there it lingers, still.