The age old saying that “freedom was never free” seems to roll off the tongue and fall upon half-listening ears oftentimes. We hear the phrase and nod in agreement, glossing over the fundamental undertones of the expression.
Freedom was never free and it will never be free.
Native Americans were conquered by Europeans and told that their religion, their land, and their culture was savage as they were unequivocally assimilated into “proper” society. Slaves were taken from their homeland and placed in basement cargos of ships, chained to one another for months as they lay in their own fecal matter, menstruation, and the decaying remains of those who had died from starvation. A century later their posterity would sit at countertops in public spaces as hateful people spit in their faces. Every war waged or fought by this country cost lives on both sides, leaving holes in families that will never be complete because the farewell to their soldier was the ultimate last goodbye. The transgender woman who was beaten to death on the street for the way she chose to live her life also paid the ultimate price to be “free.”
You see, freedom is more than “not free”… freedom is oftentimes the most expensive burden we bear.
The struggle for freedom is ubiquitous these days. The Supreme Court recently ruled same-sex marriage constitutional in every state. Fast food workers are still headlining the “Fight for 15” movement to raise the minimum wage to $15 across the country. A nation racked with grief after nine innocent lives were taken at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina is in the midst of a heated debate over the “warranted” display of the confederate flag. It’s impossible to free yourself from the entanglement that is this notion of freedom.
All of this has got me thinking about the complexity of freedom. Is it the same for each person? Can it be wholly obtained? Am I really free?
In many ways I am free.
I am free to worship as I want and to do it publicly. I am free to wear the clothing I desire without being stoned. I was free to receive an education without retaliation from government officials. I’m free to marry who I wish regardless of ethnicity, social class, and now gender. In many ways I am free. America has made all of these things possible for me and future generations.
But what has it cost me, my peers and my forefathers for this freedom?
Both of my grandpas served in the military. I have one grandmother who is an immigrant, an Iroquois grandfather who was part of a long legacy of the nation’s first people, and African ancestry. While this illustrates the beauty of America’s melting pot (that of which runs through my very veins), it also lends way to a heavy conversation about the price that was paid for me to be sitting here as I type this.
What I am not free of is my responsibility to leave this country in a better state than when I was born into it. I am also not free of the obligation I have to those who gave so much before me, to openly discuss and/or fight for what I believe is virtuous and just.
You see, the complexity of freedom does not revolve around what we as individuals believe to be morally right or wrong (that’s only part of it) – it lies in how we treat those who may differ from us but who are seeking after life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness just like you and me.
America the beautiful is beautiful because we are beautiful.
Happy Independence Day. May we all remember the complexities of our individual and collective freedom.