“Born free, as free as the wind blows, As free as the grass grows Born free to follow your heart.”
– John Barry, Don Black.
Those are the opening lyrics from the song of the same title, a big hit in 1966, the year that I became free as the wind. I left my hometown of Edmonton and flew to Ottawa the day after the Queen Victoria long weekend to begin my career with IBM in Ottawa. I had turned 21 the year before and felt free as a bird. Free to leave my home, free to get a job, free to jump on a plane (and without going through screenings or pat-downs!), free to go to a pub for a beer, free to drive down to the U.S. for the weekend (and without a passport!), free to do most anything. I took these freedoms and many, many more for granted. After stopping in Ottawa to meet my new employer and workmates, I was shipped down river to Montreal for some formal training and my freedoms jumped. In bible belt Alberta, the beer parlours, as we called our pubs, would close around 11:00 and you could only buy your beer at government-run beer, wine and liquor stores. In Montreal, we drank our beer in bars that never closed down and bought our beer at mom and pop grocery stores. When I finished my training a few months later and returned to Ottawa, my long-time friend and roommate Boyd and I would regularly go off on weekend nights across the river to Hull in Quebec where we could drink and listen to rock until we got tired, not until 11:00 like back in Ontario.
Another good thing about Quebec was that Boyd could drink there legally. We were thankful for living in Canada as at our ages and living in the U.S. would have us eligible to be drafted and sent off to Viet Nam. We knew about these legal differences but never got into heavy debates about the limits on our freedoms or the differences in other parts of the world. Freedom was more than drinking laws and closing times at bars. We knew about the Iron Curtain and East and West Berlin. We just had better things to talk about. Like who was going to win the Stanley Cup. Like girls. We weren’t deep, but we were free.
But then I think back to 1967 when a work colleague at IBM went back to India where he was born to visit his family over the Christmas break. When he returned he left us all flabbergasted when he told us that he had returned with his bride, someone that his parents had chosen for him. I wasn’t ignorant of the idea of arranged marriages still happening in India, but I thought that Raghu was thoroughly Canadian in this way of life. The obvious might need further examination at times. Never talked to him about whether he was free to marry as he chose.
I’ve been looking at freedom lately, and had this revelation that life forms are generally born free, free to pursue whatever it is that their nature requires of them to stay alive. We humans are no different. But somewhere in our evolutionary journey we transformed from being animals of instincts to animals of choice. We began to create and invent things that made it easier to survive. These creations, these cultures that we brought into existence were products of our freedom to imagine.
This freedom to imagine, freedom to create is infinite in its possibilities. Since earliest childhood, I loved stories. I can remember mum reading stories of Babar the elephant to my sisters and me on frigid winter nights, enchanted by Babar’s adventures and tropical life in Africa. How envious I was even then of a life of palm trees and coconuts and it’s likely not a coincidence that I now find myself in a land of comfort and warmth. Living with -40 degree temperatures is no world for me or Babar.
But in Googling for some information of Babar to include here in my blog, I uncovered some information that shows up the darker side of being creative, the bringing into existence creations that can be used to bully and control people. When I was six, Babar was a story for children, clearly a fiction about talking elephants and monkeys and their adventures. But now seven decades later it’s headlines like, “Babar The Elephant – Racism, Sexism, and Privilege in Children’s Stories”. The books have been banned everywhere because they tell stories “wrong”. We humans have invented a vast arsenal of methods of interfering in each other’s lives, from censorship to dropping atomic bombs on people.
Also from my childhood comes these wise words from Pogo Possum: “We have met the enemy and he is us”. In his time creator Walt Kelly was a multi-awarded cartoonist but I doubt his intense satire and political commentary would survive a minute in today’s world. We have become our own worst enemy.
Let me turn down the seriousness of this post for a minute with another blog revelation. Man, do I love cartoons and fiction! When I do a bit more research Googling “Charlie brown and the”, the second offering in the list that comes back two nanoseconds later is the one I was looking for, “Charlie brown and the red-haired girl”. I’m one of those millions who Google this who shared that fear of approaching the red-haired girl. I was my own worst enemy in this matter. My freedom to go up to someone I was attracted to was squashed – by me! Freedom from fear isn’t available to us but freedom to call on courage is. I’ve been able to make my way there many times, or almost as often as I need to.
Freedom and being free is the first ingredient for each of us in coming alive and following our heart. It’s going to be a regular theme here in A World of Honour. I don’t want to be left with Janis Joplin’s lament, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose”. Freedom’s not just another word for something – it’s the source of everything.