Ah, my friends from the prison, they ask unto me “How good, how good does it feel to be free?” And I answer them most mysteriously “Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?”*
by Odelia Bitton
What a bother it was. Deadly, even. In the heat, its starch went soft, and it stuck to my skin. In the winter, it preserved the cold. It hid me like full-body armor; it exposed me like a stuttered word. Though I hated it, though I desperately wanted to shed my high school uniform at every moment I donned it, I could never rid myself of its cumbersome layers, even years after I should have been free from them.
Many relate independence to freedom and both to a lack of external controls. But that’s just the beginning of it. The party isn’t over until the beer stains the carpet. The uniform isn’t cast away until I wrestle the shadows left in its wake.
Each holiday, the party begins just as the shadows converge. And they aren’t always friendly ghosts. Some of them re-visit you in the flesh, like crabby Aunt Marsha whose laser-sharp sneers pulverize the doves flying around you. Others come in the form of murky memory bubbles knotted to your tender heartstrings. “Don’t play the harp,” your forehead reads. “These strings hurt!”
Suddenly, like a silent plague, your world is blanketed with nostalgia. Old feelings and passions are back and graced with a vengeance. We’re not talking about the good old guests of yore who knew how to make their presence unfelt. Nay, we’re talking about guests who’ll have you violently scrambling to make an impossible version of eggs, and have you searching for a quilt thick enough to muffle their intrusive sounds.
You thought you were ready. Well, we’ve all been duped. Though we learned how to handle the rough stuff like increasing rent, burly bosses, and the bad breakups, it takes something like little Sammy’s waffle-head comment to topple the small but effortful structure otherwise known as “my new life.” In circumstances like this, he’s more than just my little brother. He’s the collective voice of challenge (irrespective of gender, of course). Unpredictable and annoyingly persistent little Sammy can lift a facade with a puny pre-pubescent breath of air. There, the wiring’s exposed.
Sammy is not the undoing, though. He’s the blessing in disguise. You couldn’t find a more pure blessing (granted, it’s a heavily concealed one) if you were to dig into the globe’s recesses. You won’t find your greatest challenge – and resultant strength – four thousand miles away on the tranquil Cote d’Azur or in the bustling city a train stop away. You might have to deal with bad sunburn, or panhandle to feed the hungry meter, but, shucks, you won’t find Sammy peeking out from the alleyway with a verbal slingshot in hand. There’s only one place, one context which will truly make you stronger if it doesn’t kill you. La bella famiglia. Welcome home.
But, when we make the choice to part from our parents, we draw a line between the past and present. Somewhere along the years, our concept of ‘home’ became distorted. It came somewhere between our first date, our first car and our first year in college. In essence, freedom came piece by piece. It was once defined by our ability to choose, but now it’s become much more – our responsibility to choose.We need and want to sing loud and make sure the world hears. It isn’t yet that strong voice of independence – but a voice that’s still crackly with lyrics still being pieced together. But tangible elements of independence are there: the little light fixture in your new living room, the morning jog through the park and the good taste a winning argument leaves on your tongue.
Yet, our first few tastes of freedom are only temporarily satisfying. Packing our bags to leave our home, are small steps we all inevitably have to take, in one way or another. But eventually, for some, physical independence becomes nothing more than a daily routine. We begin to fight a war with monotony, when we should be searching for the rock-solid base of emotional and mental independence. We’re pushed to go beyond the confines of comfort zones and borrowed habitats because we won’t find freedom at any fixed destination. For a self-made nest to be mobile, it needs to withstand time and changing circumstances – and be bettered by it.
We are constantly striving for a taste of physical, mental or emotional independence, but what we need to realize is that we will never ultimately achieve them all. We don’t earn independence by making mundane societal strides. But we take a larger leap toward it when we realize our home is actually in our mind and heart. Upon this realization, we establish an internal system of influence, the most objective of its kind.
* Words by Bob Dylan