My greatest moments of freedom came as a child on a warm summer night playing with my brother and sister, Two Eyes! Two Eyes! We invented the game with such fluid rules, I still can’t remember them. It was total abandon, our freedom, until our mother called us into the house for our baths. Then our freedom ended.
I was free as a teenager riding up and down Fourth Street with my friends, radio blasting and lobbying cat calls to the guys in the cars next to us. That abandon ended at midnight, sharp, or my father would ground me for a week. Freedom ended.
Though I had freedom during these times, I had no independence. As a child I couldn’t go to the store on my own. I couldn’t purchase anything, and I couldn’t drive to my grandmother’s house for a visit.
As a teen my independence grew. I had a part-time job at Kroger’s which allowed purchasing power, but my father refused my learner’s permit. I couldn’t drive to my job, and permission was still required to go out with my friends.
But nothing illustrated the difference between freedom and independence until many years later. A single mother, I lived in a low-rent apartment complex with my infant son. When we first moved there most of the occupants were young families with their first child, but the landlord began accepting Section 8 applicants and things began to change. I would come home from work with a brief case over one shoulder, a diaper bag over the other and my son on my hip. I realized all thirty-two apartments were now occupied by single mothers. Yet, I was different; I worked for my living.
I was friendly with the other mothers, but I envied their freedom. When I came home their children were splashing in kiddy pools. The mothers sat on lawn chairs kibitzing while their dinner smoked on hibachis. Night after night, I watched their freedom from my second floor window while cooking dinner, washing dishes, bathing my son and getting ready for the next day of work and day care. I began to think that I was the fool. I could quit work and be a stay at home mom. I could be free, but I soon realized – I would not be independent. To accept their lifestyle, I would need to give up my car, my retirement account, my benefits package and my choices on where I live. I choose independence and vowed that I would get out of that apartment complex some day. I planned how to get out, and I did.
Our founding fathers did not send a Declaration of Freedom to King George. They weren’t asking George for a gift of freedom that may one day be taken away. They wanted Independence. They desired the independence to stand or fall, succeed or fail, to make their own decisions, to make their own way. They knew what we forgot. Freedom can be given to you, but the payment for that gift may be a slice of your independence. Independence must be earned, step by step. If you want independence stand up; earn it!