Home of the brave, land of the free?

I originally wrote and published this piece in January of this year. It was a bit “off brand” for me and I didn’t necessarily understand why I was writing it or why I felt compelled to share it. Sometimes things can only be understood in retrospect. I’m re-blogging this now as the relevance seems more clear. Thanks for reading!

Citizens of the United States have been indoctrinated by a collection of myths, one of which is the idea that we live in the ‘land of the free, home of the brave.’ Every country encourages cultural ethea, ideas to consolidate a shared identity. And we often accept these ideas as our lived experience until confronted with contrary evidence. Even then, we sometimes dismiss the dissonant notes, preferring to hold on to an ideal, sometimes framed as love of country. We are tempted by convenient untruths to avoid the discomfort of meaningful change.

Disparagement is not my goal here. I, too, am tempted by comfortable illusions. In particular, I want to avoid any hint of criticism towards our military troops, who stand honorably in their commitment to serve. I am grateful for the freedoms I enjoy, the relative privileges I have as a US citizen.

Even so, I think it’s time to have an honest conversation about whether we are actually living in the land of the free. We may indeed enjoy relative freedoms, but at what cost to ourselves and others with whom we share this planet?

On some level we’ve accepted our lot. We pay our taxes and take our shoes off at the airport. We go about our business without thinking too much about war. We are a nation protected from others. Except we don’t really feel safe when we allow ourselves to look beyond the barriers we’ve erected, when we truly absorb the state of our global and domestic fragility. 

What if we aimed for universal prosperity? What if instead of building walls, highlighting differences, and creating wars, we actualized our shared humanity? 

But this isn’t possible! Or is it?

Heck if I know! But I believe we need a new level of honesty about whether we are behaving in ways that are life-sustaining over the long term. This includes conversations about climate change, but much more. How can we move beyond conditioned fears, along with false notions about who we are? How can we do the right things, even if they are difficult and inconvenient? What are the right things? 

We live in an international world, more connected than ever. What happens in one area of the globe affects us, whether or not that is immediately apparent. I could be wrong, but it seems to me we will never be able to ‘Make America Great’ if we do not find solutions that benefit all who share this planet. Independent of politics, don’t we ultimately want the same things, chief among them safety and freedom?

I believe when some of us feel imperiled, none of us are truly safe. Or free. True freedom requires safety and prosperity for ALL, not only the people we like.

I don’t know how we’ll get there. But if we don’t look honestly at ourselves, I know we never will.

Can we be brave enough to begin?

Freedom: The other side of loss

Freedom, 16×38 on plywood

Change can be difficult and is often filled with associated grief, but freedom can also be found in the process of letting go. Major life transitions offer a special opportunity to find freedom in change, but it’s easier said than done depending on the details.

We just sold our house. And truthfully, nothing about the related details over the last months have felt close to positive, except the knowledge that we would eventually conclude the stressful parts and be another step closer to our goals – a simpler life, fewer possessions, reduced financial obligations, to name a few.

Anticipated freedom on my mind, I noticed the plywood board sitting on the side of the road – FREE in bold marker written across the surface. Instead of unwanted junk, I saw a new canvas for the old house paint I’d not yet discarded. This idea was so compelling, I actually turned the car around to retrieve the board after initially passing it by.

I’d already made two other paintings with house paint, which turned out to be highly therapeutic, as well as productive. See an example here. But those paintings were made on canvases already in my possession, the benefit of using them more immediately obvious.

In the middle of a move, the last thing anyone needs is to accrue anything new. Nevertheless, I found myself putting the board in my car, unable to resist the symbolic reference and the therapeutic value of a new creative project to soothe me between the packed boxes.

Although I understood FREE would be erased by whatever painting I made, I imagined I’d know freedom in the layers of the painting. I was right.

Freedom is a mindset, not only a consequence of release from unwanted circumstances. Freedom is found any time we allow ourselves to move beyond preconditioned responses. Freedom comes when we let go of expectations.

I am free. You are free.