Free at Last! Now What?

Last week, the Egyptian people set themselves free from 30 years of repressive, dictatorial rule.

I have to say, I can’t relate.

Growing up in a free country, my experience with any kind of oppression has been — well, I was going to say, minimal, but compared to what many people around the world, including the Egyptian people have gone through, I’m not even on the chart.

Heck, my first grand adventure into freedom was going to college. My Midwestern upbringing was worlds away from the multi-cultural Bay area of San Francisco. I was nervous, and so were my parents.

My dad offered to follow me all the way there, but the thought of showing up on campus with my chaperone trailing behind in his station wagon was too embarrassing. So as my first symbol of independence, I decided to go it alone. With a cooler full of tomatoes and sweet tea in the seat beside me, I watched as the corn and soybean fields slowly faded away in my rearview mirror.

For sure, the trip was exhilarating as well as beautiful. But, as I neared my destination, anxiety took over and I began to question my ability to follow through with the first of my life’s decisions. I was free — free to do whatever I wanted to do and to be whatever I decided to be. But now, what was I going to do with my newly found freedom?

I’m sure that if we took a poll right now we would all come up with different ideas about what freedom means to each of us. Everyone wants to be free. Free to feel how we want to feel; to express ourselves however we want to express ourselves; to “Live free or die,” as New Hampshirites say. Some of us want to break the chains of an oppressive relationship. Some want financial freedom. Some of us just want to be free from the tight belt around our waistlines.

But becoming free — whether in body, mind or spirit — means making changes, moving into a new way of being and stepping into a more expansive image of ourselves. And most often, we don’t know how to do that. It’s like in the movies, when the old guy that’s been serving years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit finally gets released. We watch him walk outside the prison gate for the first time. You can tell that he’s thinking: “Ah, freedom! Ah, now what do I do?”

If the only way of life we have ever known is slavery, so to speak — being imprisoned by our thoughts, beliefs, or outward circumstances and situations — how then do we learn to live in freedom?

Well, there are two things that my exodus from the heartland and similar leaps into the great unknown have taught me about personal freedom. The first is that it’s in our interior life that our experience of freedom really begins — where, in our dreams and imagination, we can be whatever and whoever we want to be, do whatever we want and have whatever we desire. Nelson Mandela is a testament to that. So was Stanislavsky Lech.

Secondly, true freedom necessitates letting go of the past. Don’t let yourself entertain thoughts of repression, oppression or suppression in any way, shape or form. Keep your eyes only on the road to freedom before you. You don’t need a rearview mirror because you’re not going back. The past? Forget about it! Slavery? What’s that? Don’t even go there.

No, I’ve never toppled a dictatorship or torn down a divisive wall, but I do know that even the smallest steps to freedom can be frightening and somewhat intimidating. So, just like nervous parents sending their child off on a cross-country trip, we watch as the Egyptian people set out on a new adventure. We’re pulling for them because on the world stage they’re playing out our own desires for freedom. Let’s raise a glass of sweet tea to freedom — theirs and ours.

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