Last night I witnessed the ills of freedom. Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for rights and democracy, and, yes, God and country. All that. I’ll even join in a “USA!” chant if the situation merits such. So let’s move that objection out of the way right at the start. Viva America!
However, like I said, freedom is not free, and not in a cliché way. What I mean is that true freedom is not, as many would define it, doing ANY OLD THING I WANT. Freedom, in its purest form, always exists within boundaries.
Last night, I played soccer—well, sort of. I went to a field, and we kicked a ball. And by “we” I mean about 40 guys. Yep, usually soccer is 11 versus 11, but this game was anything but usual. One team had about 22 or 23 guys (really who was counting?) and the other had 18 or 19. They were from all different backgrounds and countries united around the single ball on the single, well, field? We’ll call it a field, but certainly not a soccer field. The clovers were dancing at our knees and with every step was the potential for ankle catastrophe. It was a mess with no defined boundaries. The field was easily 30 yards longer than a conventional one, and there were no sidelines at all. Under duress, a player with the ball would just push wider and wider, so that soon a teammate was no longer left wondering if he’d get the ball played in to him, and instead weighing the probability that the fellow with the ball and his defender might play their way straight into the park’s lake.
I held my spot in the center of the field and touched the ball fewer than a dozen times in a two hour span. Passing was infrequent; communication, non-existent.
Make no mistake though, it was freedom. No refs, no rules, no consequences, no real score. It was a free mess, and easily the worst soccer “game” I’ve ever been part of.
And so it goes with freedom. Freedom was never to be an absolute thing that trumps all else, but a thing that exists within a larger governing body of thought, of syntax, of moral, of philosophy. Freedom is not an end in itself.
The illustration I’ve always liked is the one of the fish—a creature absolutely free, so long as it stays bound to the water. It can swim deep or shallow, dart and dip, find mates and food where it will. But attempt to do any such thing on the land, fleeing the confines of the water, and it will suffocate, done in by its own misconception of freedom and its bondage to the notion of it. Lack of breathable oxygen is what directly kills the fish, but it is freedom that provides and tightens the noose.
There are restrictions in my life, in my marriage, in my friendships. These welcome boundaries give the game a sense of purpose and a predictable joy; it is in them and by them that I actually am free.
Freedom is not the ultimate thing. It is the thing that properly exists only within the parameters defined by the ultimate thing. When we reverse the order, we ruin the game. Sentences bad, we create. Marriages go awry. Societies decay. Violence erupts. Reason dissolves. And we are left picking up pieces of our abandoned lives, flags freely waving over rubble, as if saying goodbye to some long lost thing.