THE FREEDOM TO NOT
About fifteen years ago I learned an important lesson about freedom. It came in the midst of a failing marriage. In one of those hard conversations that absolutely gut you, I had a moment of clarity. Though I was in pain and there was a sad unfairness to the pain, I realized that I had a choice. I was justified in my anger. I was justified in my indignation. I was justified in my desire for raging retaliation because I was so very wronged . . . and yet I had a choice. I was praying as we argued. Seeing the choice was the answer to that prayer. Suddenly I was just as calm as could be. Not that psycho calm that happens before the bunny gets boiled, either.
Just a quiet, peaceful understanding that I had the freedom to not. The freedom to not respond in anger. The freedom to not have the pain define me or our conversation. The freedom to not get down in the dirt and fight but to take the high road. It sort of shocked me.
Imagine. I was in the throes of a fight for my marriage and the words were loud and accusatory and the blows to my ego and dreams and sincere love were deadly. But in my head was this new paradigm--a freedom. As I said, it was shocking and also oddly refreshing. A far away light at the end of a dark tunnel. It shocked me because I always thought freedom was about permission and being able to do something. Who knew it could be about what you didn't do?
The marriage ended. That moment of freedom, though? It grew. Slowly but surely. Years later, I could point you to the other moments when the awareness of that freedom would sort of descend on me. The freedom to not. Embracing the freedom to not became tremendously empowering. Understand. It wasn't a giving up. It wasn't apathy--which can be it's own kind of death grip and manipulation. It wasn't an abdication of responsibility. It was freedom and required more responsibility at some level. It would show up at work. In relationships. On stage.
So grateful for that answered prayer--the lost marriage notwithstanding. Because it applies in almost any situation. We always have that option to NOT. To not do what we've always done. Not spend our energy the way we always have. Not engage with those who don't deserve our respect. Not keep a record of hurts. Not hold a grudge. Not respond in fear or anger or pettiness. Not think small. Not choose addiction, even. Not let someone talk us out of our dreams or into theirs. Not let our past mistakes define us. Not listen to gossip or even the negative self-talk that creeps in. Not take the bait from online trolls or from the internal conflicts of family dysfunction.
Today, in the last few minutes of our collective day of freedom, I have a new prayer. That we, as a nation, could embrace the freedom to not. Because it is a true freedom. It is the other side of freedom. It is the fullness of freedom. It is a beautiful empowerment. And as much as it calms the waters?
It's also a damn good reason for a sky full of fireworks.