I know the exact moment when I understood the priceless value of freedom. It was 2004 and I was on an aircraft carrier, on my final Navy deployment. We were somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I felt captive. I couldn’t go home, I couldn’t hug my loved ones, I couldn’t drive my car, go to my favorite restaurant, sleep in my bed…I was confined with thousands of other Sailors on a floating city called a ship.
Now don’t get me wrong…I had been on other deployments. Actually, I had been plenty of places I didn’t want to go to, had been told to do many things I didn’t agree with. This time was different. I was waking up to the realization that I didn’t belong there anymore, and yet I couldn’t leave…I wasn’t free. I knew at that time, “The thing I want the most is my freedom, and the thing I’m giving up serving my country is my freedom.”
I’ve learned a lot more since that day about freedom, probably the most important is this:
I can have no greater freedom than I want for and desire for every other human being, regardless of who they are. Anywhere I believe I am entitled to more freedom and better rights than others, I’ve lost my freedom. If I’m attached to “keeping them down,” I stay attached with them…I am not free.
You see, freedom is a “state of being,” an independence, the ability to enjoy liberty. It gives you the power to exercise choice and make decisions without constraint, from within or without. It lets you determine your own actions and mannerisms, your own speech, where you go, who you surround yourself with. Freedom provides autonomy and your ability to self-govern. Much of this power to “exercise choice” was unavailable during the time I served in the Navy.
Freedom isn’t confinement, physical restraint, external control, interference, regulation, bondage, slavery, or obligation. Anyone or any institution subjecting those things onto other people, cannot and will not be free because they are attached to controlling others in order to rise above and project “power.”
If you’re American, tomorrow you have the freedom to vote…the freedom to choose. You get to honor your rights, a right was not always available to all of us, by taking action. Many of those who came before us fought and died for this right and some countries still don’t allow their citizens the right to vote. Many are still serving to protect that right so that you have the right to freely live your life in the manner that you choose. I consider it important, fundamental to who we are as a nation.
I’ve been out of the Navy for many years now and the word “freedom” has remained central to how I live my life. Today I understand that creating the world I desire is a step-by-step process, externally and internally. I have freedom of speech, which I’m pretty sure you know I’m using right here. I have the freedom to act in a manner that honors my beliefs and values. I have the freedom to make choices that best serve my life. I also have the awareness that accepting, not necessarily understanding, liking or approving that others want different things than I do, gives me internal freedom by helping me let go of trying to control or change them.
All of that, just to say this. The world you’re looking for is right here, waiting for you to co-create with it. But you can’t sit on the sidelines and expect it to magically appear. You have to do your part and then surrender and accept…there are invisible forces working behind the scenes…many times the higher purpose is not obvious until years down the road.
I wish I could gift my confining deployment experience, and many others, to you as I’ve been fortunate to personally witness life in other countries, some progressive and some not-so progressive. Although I do believe there are things in America that need work, I am a firm believer in what we stand for and the beauty of this country and it’s people.
Lastly, if you still don’t know what to do from here, I’ll leave you with this: You have the freedom and can never go wrong when your choice is in the direction of LOVE.