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Freedom To vs. Freedom From

Freedom is what everyone is talking about these days. Freedom to hug, freedom to walk without a mask, freedom to go into other people’s homes, freedom to plan a vacation.


But what we don’t talk about so much is what we may have found in the absence of all of these freedoms. Pre-pandemic, my life often felt like a dresser drawer stuffed with commitments and obligations. These last twelve months have offered many of us a freedom from unconscious busy-ness and forced us to invent new life-sustaining experiences.


For example, we created an amazing back patio with string lights crisscrossing an imaginary ceiling. We hosted friends covered in blankets and surrounded by the warmth of roaring propane heaters. We went to different people’s homes to talk around their firepits made from salvaged rocks and bricks. We took walks and sat outside in the park. We were free from planning big meals and cocktails because it wasn’t safe to eat or drink around each other.


I started volunteering at a food bank and then at a senior center preparing meals for people, both for the experience of being around people. As a result, I met people I never would have encountered in my life before. In the hours where I wasn’t filled with business as usual commitments, I found new friendships and interests.


When you google images for “freedom” you’ll find pages of people standing on a mountain or a cliff or a rock in the middle of a river, arms extended into a “V.” And in these images, the person is almost always alone. This quintessential image for freedom-- arms outstretched, face to the heavens, joyful to be alive in one's own body in the presence of nature-- says it all. Freedom doesn't necessarily involve any other people or creature comforts.


As we move at what seems to me like breakneck speed towards the land of freedom to (fill in the blank), I invite you to think about what in your life you have had freedom from in this last year.


I will miss creative communing. Just today I texted a friend about having an outdoor Seder for Passover and the very idea made me so happy. We’ll have to figure out how to configure ourselves around a table, how to stay warm, and how to manage the vaccinated people and the non-vaccinated people. We’ll take nothing for granted and be grateful for everything we create.


One of my favorite parts of COVID communing is that the event always ends sooner than indoor socializing did. With outdoor socializing, it becomes cold or buggy or dark and the night naturally ends. I love this organic winding down. It’s so easy compared to the relentless social cue analysis — constantly monitoring who looks ready to go, who’s hunkering down for another piece of cake or one more round of Balderdash, whose had one too many and might say something awkward.


This last year has offered me a freedom from the obligation to keep up with social gatherings, cultural events, even school functions. It’s easy to beg off saying, “I just can’t Zoom one more time.” When we return to freedom to (fill in the blank), I fear that it will seem unkind or ungrateful to decline an invitation. After all this time, who in their right mind would say no to dinner with friends?!


This topic is on my mind a lot. It’s important. This great world shift has been a struggle that invites us to examine where we have been in the last year, where we were before that, and where we want to go in the future. It’s a rare moment in history, to experience a pandemic where our lives come to a screeching halt. We have all learned something profound. It's worth spending some time thinking about what these lessons are and taking them with us into whatever comes next.

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I remember many years ago when my younger sister tried to teach me to drive stick shift. She had a new white Ford pickup truck and we were driving to Iowa together. A very late bloomer, I had recently

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