Reflections on Life: Freedom of Choice
When I was born my life expectancy was about 60 years. Along the way many others my age died, thus I am first of all a statistical artifact. With each passing year my life expectancy has inched forward a bit. Now in my mid 70s, I am the member of a much smaller group who could make it to age 85. I should be able to use more lively, if not more convincing, language than “make it to.” But this morning I am also in an energy conservation mode, and that is nearly synonymous with in a dreary mood.
With that dreadful introduction, here is my first observation of note: Our “countdown” clock is wrapped in a paradox: The shorter its duration, the less meaning it has. Put another way, I don’t care whether I live to age 78, to age 88, or to age 108. I expect to die when my energy level drops below the threshold of that of a life worth living. Put still another way, we all very likely reach the realization—sooner or later—that “this moment” is more important than “how many more moments do I have left?”
Observe an old timer sitting quietly on a park bench. By the standards of society, he is wasting his life away. By his standards he very likely is living his life to the fullest while enjoying the sights and sounds that remind him of his youth, his loves, and his passions. In his reverie he could be enjoying himself more intensely than you ever imagined. Stop and say “hello,” and you will likely find that he is kind, gentle, and smart as a whip. If he shows none of those characteristics, move on. He’s just an old grouch. Otherwise, listen with your heart and you could also learn something very profound. He cannot transfer his experiences to you, but you can learn something about its effects later on in life. It’s called wisdom. This much I know for certain: We all can learn much from each other. And we learn the right things from those who are the nicest. Yes, I have a kinship with that old timer; I just don’t care to join him—not today.
And that brings me to my second observation: Those who believe they need to join a lot of clubs, and organizations, and social networks are stuck at the “need to belong” level in life’s hierarchy of needs. It reflects a dependency, not unlike that of drugs. All such groups have a purpose and they fulfill a need. But they should never supersede life’s purpose, and that is to experience it. How can anyone experience life while tethered to the needs and demands of a group? Or too many groups? Once you have acquired the skills or satisfied the needs that your group offers, move on. You should have become a little more independent, not less, and you need to show it. Groups also have many rules that tend to stifle creativity, that limit your freedom, and that circumscribe your behavior. Here’s a better explanation:
All good song writers are good poets. And all good poets are good philosophers. One of the best was Cole Porter. He could dazzle your senses with word play that somehow shifted right into a song like magic. Porter wrote more than 800 songs, most of which became American classics. He was a very sophisticated guy who moved in wealthy, ritzy circles. But he wrote one song for Roy Rogers, the simple, straight-talking cowboy and the hero of kids everywhere in his day (I know I’m dating myself). The song was called “Don’t Fence Me In.” On the surface it sounds corny and very simple. But it tells the story of freedom a lot better than I know how:
Oh, give me land, lots of land, under starry skies above
Don't fence me in
Let me ride thru the wide-open country that I love
Don't fence me in
Let me be by myself in the evening breeze
Listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever, but I ask you please
Don't fence me in.
Just turn me loose and
Let me straddle my old saddle underneath the western skies
On my cayuse
Let me wander over yonder till I see the mountains rise
I want to ride to the ridge where the west commences
Gaze at the moon until I lose my senses
I can't look at hobbles and I can't stand fences
Don't fence me in.[i]
Life is about freedom. The more of it we experience, the more we learn to love it. And the more we learn to love it, the less likely we are to abuse it. And I am referring to life in its broadest context—to the trees, and the meadows, and the mountains, and the rivers and oceans, and to all the animals, and to the air we breathe, and to the skies overhead, and to the earth beneath us. Think of it all as a living, breathing spirit and you can never want to spit on it. And you will not.
[i] Lyrics are the property of its owners, and are presented here only for informational purposes.