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Can Freedom Be Defined?



In a week’s time millions of Jewish people, devout and otherwise, will be celebrated the holiday of Passover around the globe.  Independent of your personal values and belief system the juxtaposition of this particular holiday with the current COVID 19 era raises some introspective questions and the opportunity for meaningful lessons for all of us.  Allow me to explain.

Brief background

Passover is an annual Jewish holiday focusing on the Exodus and freedom from slavery in ancient Egypt several thousand years ago.  It is a time when that experience is embodied and re-experienced.  Without getting into all the fine details some of the primary themes of this holiday are; belief in something beyond ourselves, purpose in life, and of course freedom.  Let us focus on the latter theme of freedom.

Subjective definition

Every year around this time I find myself circling back to the same question, “What is freedom anyway?”  Years ago, I had the privilege of directing the pastoral care services for a nursing home whose population was predominantly Jewish.  The Seder (Passover meal filled with rituals, prayers, and food-duh!) was the most popular day of the year.  Experiencing the Seder with 100+ once vibrant individuals confined to wheelchairs, unable to choose when mealtime was, when to bathe, some with cognitive limitations, many with medical ailments gave me pause.  It also was the impetus for this question.  Are they free? 

The more I thought about it the more I realized that while the Webster family has valiantly tried to put words to freedom, freedom has more of a subjective definition than an objective one.  Is it physical freedom?  Freedom to vote? Democracy? Financial freedom? Would you consider someone struggling with addiction free?  Someone feeling trapped by anxiety or depression?  Living within a certain socioeconomic stratosphere that comes inherent with limitations?  Terrified in an abusive relationship? The list goes on. 


The COVID era has brought with it tremendous pain, loss, and adversity without discrimination.  Some are hesitant to acknowledge it yet, but there is a flip side to this coin.   This era has also created the opportunity for reflection and deep, meaningful lessons for each of us.  Among the many stressors COVID 19 has bestowed upon us, the question of lack of control and freedom has taken up (a squatter’s) residence in people’s minds.  How many of us are limited in our mobility, socially isolated, unable to work, and cut off from family?  A painful, but necessary reality.  Perhaps in the post COVID era, our appreciation for what we do have will deepen.


Back to the question at hand.  Freedom.  What is it?

One of the most impactful books I have ever read is ‘Man Search for Meaning’ by Viktor Frankl.  He was a mental health professional who lived through the hell of the Holocaust and shared his human observations from that time.  Another solid, more contemporary, read with a similar theme is ‘The Choice’ by Edith Eger.  To paraphrase Dr. Frankl ‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.’ In essence, no matter the circumstance, really really, we always have the freedom of choosing our attitude, our approach, our perspective. It is impossible to take that away from us.  This left a deep impression on me. An empowering message.

A recipe

You are invited, each in our own homes, to develop your own ingredients to the freedom ‘recipe’.  I humbly share ingredients I personally would include and exclude, from that recipe.

Freedom is NOT trying to control the uncontrollable.  Trying to change reality.  We exhaust precious time, brain space, and energy in that hamster wheel.

Freedom IS accepting the risks and uncertainties beyond our control that every human must live with.  Freedom IS choosing to focus on the things within my control.

Freedom is NOT getting stuck in the blackhole trap of negative thinking, lamenting the shoulds in life, and getting weighed down by helplessness (a daunting task for sure).

Freedom IS choosing our attitude.  Choosing to connect with our beliefs, our values, what we DO have. All within the finite human framework.

Freedom is NOT getting the results we want.

Freedom IS choosing to embrace the present moment we have.  To squeeze every drop of opportunity from that moment. Choosing to get in the ring, stay in the ring, and grow from every experience we have.

Freedom is NOT denying the experience of pain, suffering, evil, and other tribulations.

Freedom IS making a choice of how we are going to respond, internally and externally to those tribulations.

How do YOU define freedom?  What will your choice be as we collective experience a global challenge to one element of freedom?

You are encouraged to reflect, discuss with your loved ones, and share your thoughts.

Be well, safe, and healthy.