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Archive for July 10th, 2008

Okay, okay, I know, you thought you were going to have to live without my wonderful thankfulness this week, didn’t you? Admit it – you’ve been sunk in depression all day at the thought, unable to function. But never fear! I’m here, just really late. 🙂

So today, I’m jumping on the Independence Day bandwagon a little late, because I’m feeling particularly thankful for my freedom. Maybe not quite the way you think I mean, though.

There’s a song by Faith Hill called “Free” that has a lot of meaning for me, or used to – mostly when I was in therapy and going through major life changes. I hadn’t listened to it in a long time because frankly, the meaning it had for me then was all about being angry and standing up for myself and not being the terrified idiot I had been so long – and I don’t really feel any of that righteous anger or indignation anymore. So I sort of stopped listening to it…but when it started playing this morning I just let it play. I was surprised to find that while the old meaning isn’t really there any more, there is a whole new one.

Those of us in America tend to go on a lot about being free – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and on and on ad nauseum. It’s a big deal for us; we’re very proud of it, and rightly so. An awful lot of people have given their lives to make it so, and we’d be pretty ungrateful if we failed to appreciate it. (So many of us do.) But at the same time, we make a regular practice of complaining about all the ways in which we are constrained, all the things we can’t do or have to do. We’re only free to a certain extent; we are free to live within the artificial boundaries we create for ourselves and call “society”. Does that make our freedom an illusion, a pretty story we tell ourselves to make sure we keep choking up when we hear the national anthem or see the stars and stripes?

I thought about this a lot this morning, and the conclusion I came to is that we are all a lot more free than we realize. I kept thinking about a post by Lynn and a choice she made as to what was best for her for a lot of reasons, rather than what would make everyone in the world happy. And I have to say, “Bravo”.

How many times have we found ourselves in situations where we feel that we simply do not have a choice? How many times have we caught ourselves saying, “I just didn’t have any good options,” or “I ate (x) because it was the only thing available.” How many times have we excused a bad choice on the grounds that there weren’t any good ones?

But there are always good choices. To quote the late and wonderful Marion Zimmer Bradley, there is always an alternative. It might not be one we like – it might be going hungry all day or looking like a freak at the company picnic or board meeting – but the choice is there. When we say we don’t have a choice, what we really mean is that we don’t have a choice we like.

There are parts of the world where people really don’t have a choice. There are areas where people eat what is there or literally starve to death. (You don’t generally find them blogging about weight loss.) There are areas where people have no choices at all and do what they are told to do or die. This is not one of those parts of the world. We really are free to choose to an enormous extent – the constraints upon us are constraints of our own making, boundaries of social acceptance, expediency, and appropriateness. We are limited to some extent, I will grant you – by financial means, by geographical availability, by what will keep us out of divorce court or family court, by physical limitations like food allergies or intolerances or disabilities – but those limits are not, most of the time, what stop us. Most of the time, the choices we make aren’t to keep us alive or out of jail; they’re to keep the peace, to keep us from being ostracized or criticized or to keep from being uncomfortable.

And that’s okay. There is nothing wrong with that – as long as we are honest with ourselves about it. When I choose to skip walking because I need to do laundry and clean house, as long as I admit that I’m doing it not because I or someone in my family will die if I don’t but because people will be unhappy with me, then it’s fine. That’s my choice. And the beauty of my life and my world is that I have that choice. It is mine, and no one else’s. And I can make it on any basis I want. I am free to do that.

I may not always make the right choices. Okay, I don’t always. I often make the wrong ones in terms of health, weight loss, and personal dignity. 🙂 But I always, always am the one making the choice. And honestly, there is no greater freedom than in admitting to yourself that you chose. Because then you know that you can choose again, and you can choose differently.

So today, listening to that song, I realized that I really am free, but in a way I didn’t expect to be when I used to listen to it daily. Today, I am free of feeling like I have to make the whole world happy and be something I’m not. I am free of being angry and resentful over choices I made, but that I told myself were limits imposed upon me by others. I am free of self-imposed smallness of mind and paucity of character, and I am free of the unhappiness I carried around for so long, not even realizing that all I had to do was choose to put it down. (And at least partly as a result of that realization, I’m also free of about 50 or 60 pounds I was choosing to carry around, as well.) And I am so thankful for that freedom.

Where did that freedom come from? In reality, it came from me finally recognizing the freedom I already had, that freedom of choice. So I am thankful for that freedom as well. I’m thankful for the freedom to decline the bagel at the morning meeting. I am thankful for the freedom to accept the invitation of a friend to walk. I am thankful for the fact that it is I, and no one else, who ultimately determines the course of my physical, mental and spiritual destiny. I am free in so many ways, and today I’m making it a point to recognize that every time I make a choice, and be thankful for it.

Happy Thursday!

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