My youngest woke me up this morning by waving a set of tiny American flags in my face, exclaiming about how it’s going to be a happy day. And it is. We have the day off; it’s my favorite ninety-degree-and-humid weather, and I scored some fabulous steaks from our local rancher. I’ll probably fill the stock tank so the kids can cool off in the water, and if I’m feeling like working up a sweat I’ll ignore the heat advisory and scythe some hay, the old-fashioned way: freedom, right?
I refrained from saying “I wish we had some UK flags instead” because it’s pretty obvious that the UK has its problems, also, both in its shameful imperialist history and in its political choices today. But it feels wrong to be celebrating America. It feels like surrealism to be celebrating freedom in America, particularly. If I have any freedom, it’s a freedom that is only possibly because of chance, and because of privilege. And within narrow parameters. Yes, we have a transcendent freedom, an existential freedom, as humans, as spiritual beings. But we almost seem determined to ignore and abolish the transcendent within.
I don’t mean that I feel like nihilistically divesting myself of the genuine goods in my life – but, we have a responsibility to think beyond what is immediately available to us. We must consider also our obligation to those who are deprived of these goods we so carelessly enjoy.
How precarious our happiness is. It hangs by a thread. And if that thread should snap, would we be able to count on others to spare us a moment of mercy? Or would others not want to be made uncomfortable, by thinking about anything beyond the immediate pleasures of a bourgeois existence? “No man is an island” – the famous quotation from Donne reminds us. But in order to enjoy our pleasures without troubling ourselves about those who are suffering precisely because of our unjust regime, often precisely because of wealth and privilege we personally enjoy, we have to slice ourselves off from the great body of humanity, and wallow in an illusory independence. And this has always been the case. This is our history.
My friend Miles Woodfield captured what I was thinking perfectly, in a Facebook post today:
During your brews and barbecues today, please take some time to remember the immigrant toddlers separated from their parents by U.S. officials, the children left fatherless by police violence, the middle eastern and Muslim brothers and sisters banned from our freedoms, and the massive discrepancy of people of color incarcerated by our government.
Please take time to realize that while you get to spend time with your family, see the ones you love, and have some time to relax by the pool today, many families do not have that luxury for no reason other than injustice in the system, racism, and religious intolerance.
While you are watching the fireworks and smiling and clutching your kids close because you’re so thankful for the freedoms you have, don’t fool yourself.
We are not free.
Or, perhaps, we are as free as the least free among us. Whatever one’s fleeting individual experience of freedom to pursue the pleasures of the moment, this freedom is illusory so long as our brothers and sisters are in chains.
Remember to call your representatives, join protests when you can, support humanitarian organizations, donate to fundraisers to raise bail and hire lawyers – and VOTE.
image credit: www.maxpixel.net/Chains-Feet-Bondage-Prison-Freedom-Sand-19176