The Bark of Freedom (2/11/11)

Any dignity I may lay claim to…any real pleasure I can trustingly savor: these depend upon the degree of freedom that I can justly claim for myself. Isn’t that true? And my conception—rather, my experience—of freedom has undergone many significant transformations over the years, has it not? It may very well be a much more compact and fragile possession now than ever before, but it is also more authentic and more fully within my limited power to maintain—if I so choose—than was the case before. Instead of conceiving freedom as the ecstasy of being swept powerfully along by a gigantic wave of passion or emotional zeal—by merging with that wave—I now see it as the tiny, handmade boat I employ either to stay on top of the waves that come upon me, or to get out of their way altogether before being swallowed up and compelled to move where the waves take me.

But alas, it is an unpopular pursuit. We often look about in vain for other boatmen. What we more commonly encounter are poor souls who are either merged helplessly with the waves or we see them huddled on the shore, determined to never again venture out into the sea.

It may be true that the genuinely free man has always been left pretty much alone to enjoy his freedom—and not only because of its rarity as a laboriously constructed, delicate vessel that transports him for a short while over the many forms of unfreedom which generally prevail—but because we are obliged to create and inhabit our own boats. We cannot be given the little boat of freedom. And because it is little, there is only room for one—its owner and maker. We may encounter another navigator upon the waves from time to time—and we may even travel alongside him or her for awhile—but it must never be forgotten that they are not precisely in the same boat we’re in, and vice versa. And eventually, the very freedom we prize so heartily compels us to bid a friendly adieu—or an au revoir—to our companion. Perhaps muffling a sigh of commingled sadness and relief, we move on in the sweet melancholy of our familiar solitude towards new tracts in a boundless sea.

****

In the past few years I have done much ‘diving’—perhaps as a corrective or counterbalance to all the (puer) ‘flying’ I did earlier. Eventually, I hope to live meaningfully and calmly on the surface where the sea meets the sky. This is the hidden sense behind my ‘bark of freedom’ image: the boat moves rather freely and securely upon the plane (or membrane) of connection between the sublime heavens and the profound watery depths. Without a boat that is equipped with sails, a rudder, compact cargo deck, and a strong hull, we are much more exposed and much more limited in terms of mobility and safety. With our sails we can harness the wind from the heavens. But our constructed vessel also allows us to travel more safely and securely upon the seasonal currents when the wind dies down. Below deck we can store provisions and fresh water for long and extensive journeys—a benefit not enjoyed by swimmers.

 

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