Sunday, September 9, 2012

What does freedom mean to you?


 My father had controlled my teen years, and after high school graduation, I thought, “Freedom at last!”  For me, freedom meant doing whatever I wanted--in agreement with Ayn Rand’s principle of rational self interest, though I’d not seen her novels.  

 Dad paid my tuition at the Colorado School of Mines, the all-men's engineering school he had attended, and away from home, I spent the next four years on a rational treadmill: eight semesters of problem-solving science and engineering courses, each with twenty-plus semester hours. I had no freedom during the week and stopped going to church on weekends because religious do's and don'ts also felt constraining.

 After graduation in the mid-sixties, I was unexpectedly drafted into the U.S. Army’s rigid discipline. I spent six weeks in Basic Combat Training, the antithesis of freedom. My remaining twenty-two-and-a-half months, the army assigned me to Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, where my freedom was again inhibited, this time by the low pay.  

A discharged, frustrated twenty-five-year-old, I joined a conservative, top-down managed oil company, where I was again on the bottom rank. Although constrained by corporate convention at work, my income supported wild away from work. When transferred from Houston to Chicago in the early seventies, with women's liberation in full swing, I rented an apartment designed for sexual freedom: “singles-only.”  Doing whatever I wanted on weekends lasted almost three years, while my mind remained focused on succeeding at work.

Dad had taught me work was a man’s identity, best done with suppressed emotions. Engineering and  military trainers agreed with him, but a four-day encounter in my twenty-ninth year trumped them all. Chicago social directors organized a week in Hawaii, where I wandered onto Waikiki Beach and met a Montreal beauty in a blue and white bikini. Before I returned to Chicago, I was hopelessly in love.

Mance LeGuerrier and I found ways to stay together, married when I was thirty and had two children, Tristan and Katherine. My roles as husband and father began transforming how I defined freedom. But at work my competitive corporate drive versus other men to provide for my family remained for over fifteen years. Into midlife, still primarily work-oriented, I encountered an identity crisis, however, events conspired to correct my imbalance: an early retirement offer secured our financial future.  In the following years, I turned to nourishing my relationship with my family, then began exploring my spiritual and emotional life—efforts that taught me I was more than my work and dissolved my ultra-competitive stance against men.

During these transformative, sometimes messy years, freedom as doing whatever I wanted shifted  to doing what would move me closer to God and Mance, my children and others. That brought my freedom into a new role of choosing, or not, to act from love rather than my rational self-interests.  

 I still struggle trying not to express my anger in the moment I feel it. But redefining freedom has changed my life. Rather than feeling frustrated not getting what I want, my new freedom now fills my everyday life with joy and love, going amiss if I act from a feeling of superiority to other people, or, imagine myself totally self-sufficient. 

Before I began finding meaning in my second half of life, an anthem to my once stand-alone rational mind could have been "So Much To Say," by the Dave Matthews Band, wherein Matthews sings the closet that he is stuck inside is his hell, that there is no light there, and he begs someone to open his head and release him.