Is There Such a Thing as Being Too Free?

In the last few years, I have more freedom than I know what to do with.

It started with the “nest leaving”.  Within just a four year time span,  I experienced more than my fair share of it to include four graduations (2 daughters receiving a Bachelor Degree and a Master Degree each ), the wedding of my older daughter and- sadly – a tragic and premature death of my beloved dog.  It crescendoed with the “career leaving” – then ending after close to thirty years.

What exactly do we mean when we talk about being “free?” anyway as there are a number of nuances to its meaning.  As defined by Webster’s the word “free”  can either be a feeling – “the enjoyment of personal rights or liberty; to be exempt from external authority, interference, restriction etc. on a person’s will, thought, choice, action etc”.  or – it can also mean that something you want costs nothing, that it comes without a price.

The logical conclusion then should be that ‘freedom” by definition should be free, that there is no price to pay for it, that it comes at no cost etc.

But that’s not true is it?

We don’t get freedom for free – conversely, we hold onto to it tightly, die for it, live for it, maybe even compromise for it?

How could any state of being, of existence that is so universally coveted be attained without putting other things at stake, without fighting for it?

I think whoever decided that free also means “costs nothing” made a mistake. I think there was supposed to be a different word for something that costs nothing. Like worthless or valueless or meaningless or something like that.

Because being free definitely has a cost, it is not “free” as I was to learn the freer I became.

The summer that my oldest daughter went off to college and three years before her sister followed her, I was serendipitously led to adopting a sweet and loving little puppy. Aflie, my precious Shitzu became my third child, my constant companion who filled the empty space after my other two “babies” left the nest.

He died  – fairly tragically – four years later, just a week or so before July 4. His death and the way he died catalyzed my departure from my job of twenty years.

Freedom had always been a strong and primary personal value of mine and now here I was perched on it’s precipice, the very thing I had been seeking for so long now within my grasp.

After Alfie died , and I no longer had my job, and with my kids already gone off to school, I suddenly found myself surrounded with so much freedom that I was lost, utterly bewildered by what to do or how to be now that roles, structure and responsibility no longer defined my daily being.

I was free at last.

Free – from daily obligation and responsibility (other than to myself). Free – from titles, status, endless meetings and bosses telling me what to do. Free – from early morning and late night dog walks, from not being able to spontaneously go away. Free – from car pools, and having to leave work early, and from child rearing as a first priority.

Yes, I was “free” from all of that.

But I was also free from the sounds and laughter and hugs of children, my children, from the camaraderie of co-workers, from the financial comfort my paycheck brought, from having a reason to get up and get dressed nice everyday, and from having a nice office to go to and interesting people to interact with.

I was free from the joy my little puppy gave me.

I was so free that I was staring down a wide, open abyss without a clue where to go, what was next or how to get there. In place of the structures and routines I was used to, there was a loneliness I had never known, and an emptiness that left me breathless from the shock of no longer being needed by anyone or anything.

Suddenly, all the things that gave me a reason to get outside of myself were gone. I was left with a daily dose of love to give and no one to pour it on.

After my doggie died so close to the day we celebrate freedom, I found myself pondering “Would I have wished for freedom it if I knew the extent of the loss that accompanied it? If I had understood that it required such painful letting go of that which defined me and gave me something to love and care for?

Be careful what you wish for as they say. Because if you are not careful, the price of freedom could very well be more costly than the very freedom that is being sought.

 Yet, I still simultaneously pursue and resist freedom. And I still want to be both free and safe at the same time. I have no conclusions except that perhaps living in conundrums and questions is precisely what individual freedom is all about. And, if that’s the case, I have more than my fair share of it.

And on that note, Happy Independence Day

With Grace,



Graceful Under Fire

candlelightI named this blog “Graceful Under Fire” about two weeks ago.  Little did I know that if ever there were a time to be that it would be now.

I’ll make this one short.  And serious. Here’s what I think at 3:37 a.m the night after our children were massacred.  The night after this happened something like 15 times this year.  The night after “its one too many” (please God), and  the night after this time it really, really is  “WAY too young and innocent”, too much for us to bear anymore.

I think we need to be careful.  We need to be outraged. But we need to be careful.  We can and should feel anger but we need to be careful.  We need to be shocked and also to grieve.  We definitely should be disgusted and sad.  What do we do with all this anger?  Punch a pillow, shake your fist at the sky, at God, or whatever.  Its important to allow our feelings first.  Then allow it to be transmuted to love.  And do I dare say, even for the guy who shot them.  Because if he had felt any kind of love or connection, there is absolutely no way in the world that he could have done what he did.  Love is the antedote and the cure.  Love is the way out of hopelessness and despair.  I listened as newspeople labeled him a “monster” and a “madman” and it made me wonder how many times he might have been called one or felt like one in his life, until he just reflected back what he felt inside.

It’s incomprehensible to us that one of our own species can do the unimaginable because as humans we know we never, ever could.  And so we can only make sense of it by calling him names that dehumanize him.  It just doesn’t seem like humans should have the capacity to do this.  Because we are human and that is not like us.   Yet we know we do.  History shows us this. The current times shows us this.  Then again, perhaps he was just plain “sick” or maybe even evil.

And so, in either case or whatever the case –  beyond turning our rage into love – for God’s sake,  let’s do something in this country about the guns and the mentality that goes with it.  So when there are people who have lost their way in this way they cant get their hands on one.  So our culture stops viewing violence as an ok way to solve problems,  So we can stop feeling like we have to be so defended all the time.   So we don’t lose one more child to the actions of a child already lost.  And so maybe, just maybe, we can actually keep a child from becoming lost.

A Time to Pause

My 24 year old daughter is a second year choir director and music educator at a small, rural middle and highschool in Southwest Virginia.   During the same time I was attending a workshop on neuroscience and coaching last week, talking about and personally experiencing transformation, three young students at her school also experienced their own version of it.

In two separate car accidents over three days, this life of theirs on the  Earth plane ended.

This was not the first time senseless, incomprehensible tragedy struck so close to my daughter’s heart.  On April 16 2007 as a freshman at Virginia Tech she was eerily close to the massacre that occurred there.  She was one floor above the room where two people were killed in the dorm;  she lost two dear friends she knew from her high school; and she (and her friends she lost) also attended the same school as the boy who was responsible for all of it.

Yesterday when I spoke with her, she said she felt she was right back there at April 16.  Her usual effervescent demeanor had diminished to something beyond sad;  She sounded numb.  Like she had just received a shot of anesthesia to her soul.   Perhaps having reached a sort of “tipping point “ in the compounding of young lives lost close to her and her ability to process all of it.  The emotions become so overwhelming that is becomes hard to know what to feel or how to feel it.

This time she is one of the “adults” in a position of stewardship over children’s broken and bewildered hearts while unsure how or even if she should make room to tend to her own.

I read once that from a spiritual viewpoint it is a fallacy to say that people’s lives are “cut short” when they die so young. That from this point of view we all are really only here a short time in relative terms anyway, that each of our souls have come to do its work in whatever time its here, and that our life is fully lived for this lifetime no matter how long we inhabit our physical form.  In this regard, “time” is really irrelevant.

Yet, even if we buy into this notion and understand our true nature as spiritual beings,  we are still having a human experience. In that experience it is so hard to comprehend the death of a young person that seems so random and to us as humans – so senseless.

I have wondered if the purpose of these souls who come to Earth and leave soon after is simply to remind us.  Without them, we would forget.  Or we would just not have the context, the alternative view,  to understand whats really important.  We would forget-  that all there is really-  is love; that we are all community and family and need each other;  that we are more alike than not; and that when there is loss we feel and we feel deeply.  And in doing so, we see in each other what is inside of us.  Without this “reminder” , the vortex of chores, and petty gossip, and worrying, and comparing and competing with one another would sweep us away into an illusion that this is what life is and all its about.  We would not have a reason to PAUSE…..  And it is in this space – this pause – that we sometimes, often, more often than not – create something from loss that has a countervailing gain that would not have been created otherwise.

So I do not think it is any coincidence that it is during Thanksgiving week that this tragic loss has occurred.  It is the quintessential timing to PAUSE.    Time to pause and let these souls that have passed on in this way serve to remind us about GRATITUDE.  I mean the kind of gratitude that we need to PAUSE to take notice of.  Gratitude for the sheer privilege of having the experience of being alive and of the gift of Life itself.  Of knowing what a sun looks like to rise and set and for my eyes to have the ability to reflect the beauty of the purples and blues and orange that paints the sky when it does.  Of being able to bear witness to the changing phases of the moon – each phase with a beauty and mystery all its own.  Of watching the cycle of a leaf turn, then die, then be reborn again.  Of knowing what the cool grass feels like under my feet.  Of knowing what the sky looks like in its clear blue purity and then when its being rearranged by puffy clouds and in other times when it mother nature feels more dark and stormy, I get to see that too.  Gratitude.  For my heart that beats and knows how to love and how to cry, for my brain that thinks and creates and for the “Programmer” that has programmed it to perform the miracle it does.  Gratitude for a human spirit that brings me to my knees in awe –  in the knowing of the resilience of that spirit, in its oneness,  and its ability to make meaning out of what in the moment seems senseless and beyond repair.

When we pause….  like this…..    sorrow can be transmuted joy, to the kind of joy that still honors and celebrates the preciousness of these three lives and the meaning they can give to ours and that allows us our sadness and pain to co-exist alongside our reverence.  In doing so, I think it helps to make it seem less senseless.  I thankful to these three souls for teaching me this, reminding me and mostly – for making me PAUSE….