This week was Freedom Week here in the United States. Early Monday morning I went running and I saw the hot air balloons already floating in the sky in honor of this week. There was ice cream in blue, white and red and everywhere clothing in these colors was being sold. There was a running competition called "The Run for Freedom." Many of my friends participated in it. Every house was dressed up with the American flag colors, especially in the suburbs. The BYU stadium was ready for its big event, “The Stadium of Fire” in which the biggest fireworks in Utah are displayed. In all this ensemble of events and colors, it is hard to avoid thinking of the meaning of freedom. What is freedom?
Today, freedom has a different meaning for me. It has a profound significance that is different than in any other years. I learned that freedom is a God-given right and no one can take it away from us. I am born with it and I die with it. The principles freedom is based on are not from this earth. We are the only possessors of this eternal gift. Freedom is more than not being in prison. One can be freely walking in the streets and be jailed in spirit, in mind, and emotion.
A long time ago, I heard someone say that if a person is poor here in the United States, it is because they want it that way. The reason for this, he explained, is because there are so many opportunities to succeed here. To succeed in the U.S, one only needs education and to work hard. The U.S has opportunities for both, he said. I was thinking a lot about this as I was coming back to my apartment this week when I saw a beggar walking in the street. He looked very tired. He was young but his steps resembled the steps of a very old person. They were so slow that it felt to me that he was carrying a bigger burden than the bags he was actually carrying. His face displayed tiredness; not a tiredness after a long day of work but a tiredness of life. My mind returned to what my friend had said long time ago about people being poor because they want it that way here in the United States. If this is so, what happened to him? What happened to this young person, a citizen of a country like the United States? He was walking freely in the street. He is a U.S. citizen. He has all the rights and freedoms that Barack Obama and Bill Gates had when they were that young. What made the difference? What is his "prison" - the jail that prevents him from flying like anyone else? Is he really free? I will leave the answers to you.
My mother loved the book by Henri Charriere called Papillon. It is the story of a felon and a fugitive trapped in the penal colony of the French Guiana. The book is the story of his many attempts of escaping the many prisons he was put in. The determination of this man to be free was something that my mother admired. One of my mother's favorite parts was when he was sent to solitary confinement as a punishment for trying to escape. He spent more than two years in a little dark cell with almost no sound and no company. Many of the other prisoners went insane with this type of punishment, but Papillon was determined to keep himself sane by using his mind, his imagination. Even as a prisoner, Papillon was free in his mind and that was where his real power came from.
Nelson Mandela, former South African President and a great thinker, is another person my mom would mention. He was also in jail, but he was free in his mind. He did not let the opposition of the world get in the way of his calling, of the mission he was supposed to accomplish. He was strong because of this. He treasured and valued freedom. He understood its principles. His autobiography is a piece of work I treasure. It is by reading his book that I have come to understand what William Ernest Henley meant in his poem:
“… It matters not how straight the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”
My mom would tell me these stories and teach me about the power of the mind. She would teach me that our circumstances do not determine how free we are but the way we think does. I did not realize the deepness of this idea before and its true meaning until recently. Until recently, I did not realized that when I let sadness, fear or any other power intervene in my life, I am creating a prison for myself. I am not free. I am walking like a beggar in the streets in a “time of unprecedented freedom. Freedom as we know it has been experienced by perhaps less than one percent of the human family in all the history of the world.”
As I come to understand more about freedom and the principles it is based on, I begin to see its power and the power I have within me. The more I learn about freedom, the more I value it and my desire to defend it increases. The Declaration of Independence of the United States says:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Freedom is a God-given right and no one can take it away from us. We are born with freedom and we die with it. The principles freedom is based on are not from this earth. We are the only possessors of this eternal gift. Society, governments and people can't take our freedom away unless we let them..