28 days of walking: day 18

Day 18 was July 4th. Independence Day in the US.oregon woods

On that day to celebrate independence, I walked through a woods. I chose paths. I could always backtrack and choose different paths. I could also continue down paths I had started, or that I mistakenly wandered onto. I could say hello to the people I passed or I could ignore them. I was not afraid for my life. I was not worried about my next meal or having a place to sleep. I have full use of my legs to take me places. I could stop and take photos. I could walk as long as I liked, and I could stop when I was ready.

I walked with a lot of independence, a lot of freedom.

I thought about all kinds of independence as I walked – and how really, there is no independence without interdependence. Trees and moss and rocks and birds and bugs all need each other – they are limited and stunted without a whole ecosystem. Likewise, I can’t live, much less do all the things I do, without a network of support from family, friends, and even strangers. What we call independence is really interdependence; it only works because of each other.

Generally speaking, my independence (mental, physical, spiritual) is reliant upon farmers, police officers, teachers, construction workers, writers and book sellers, road builders and path makers, doctors, foresters, water quality inspectors, a lot of people I don’t know, and a whole slew of people who love and support me in various ways.

Conversely, I believe that my independence (and my privilege) comes with responsibility. I want as many people as possible to enjoy the same freedoms I have – freedom of movement from place to place, freedom to seek a fulfilling life, freedom to feel generally safe and healthy, freedom to love and be loved.

As I read about the tens of thousands of Central American children currently arriving in the US, and as I learn more about the immigrants of many different ages and backgrounds who come to the US from other places, seeking freedom to pursue a better life (and/or escape an oppressive one), I wonder what happened to “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” or even (for those who are Christians), “I was a stranger and you invited me in,” many other Biblical references to welcoming those from other lands, and “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me.”

If these people are not able to pursue a life free from violence, a life where they might be able to afford to care for their children (and themselves), none of us is truly free. “There but for the grace of God go I,” is a refrain that has played in my head a lot lately.

I feel the same way about anyone who is not paid a living wage. Or who is not legally free to marry the person they love. Or people who are caught in neighborhoods of poverty and crime, often there because of centuries of oppression, racism, and – yes – limited freedoms. Or people who used to roam this land freely, but have since been limited to reservations where they have little access to the natural resources and riches they once used to have. Or anyone who is belittled, abused, neglected, ignored, or attacked – and therefore not able to live fully and freely.

We live in a relatively free country, it is true. But we have a lot of people in this country who are not truly free. And we live in a world with a lot of people who are not truly free, in part due to actions of our ancestors and government, and even, when we dig a little deeper, some of our own choices and actions. Our independence sometimes comes at the cost of others’ lack of independence – financially, politically, socially, or interpersonally.

4th of july viewWe also live in a world that does not always encourage us to be free. We do not have easy freedom to grow and change mid-career. We do not have easy freedom to expand beyond what is expected of us, to live with joy and fulfillment. We do not have easy freedom to connect with each other, to have time for children and grandparents and friends. We don’t feel the freedom to leave situations that are bad for our bodies or souls. We don’t give ourselves the freedom to grow and learn and make mistakes and change our minds.

We limit our perceptions of what we can do – and we limit the perceptions of what others can do, individually and as a society. We attribute motivations to other people that fit with our idea of the world, and in doing so we limit their freedom to be different people from us, to have different stories – or, conversely, we limit them to being just like us, forgetting that in similar circumstances we might make similar choices.

My Fourth of July walk was a meditation of gratitude for the people who support my independence and make it possible; and a contemplation of how we can make room for more freedom – for ourselves and others. Freedom to make mistakes, freedom to grow and transform, freedom to be whole people with individual stories, and freedom to nurture communities (ecosystems) that support those freedoms for many kinds of people.

Independence without compassion and empathy is not independence at all; interdependence is what truly makes us all free.




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