Redefining the word ‘freedom’

Redefining the word ‘freedom’

My legs were strong, firm calves inherited from my dad, and I would pump the pedals of my bike as fast as it could go on the back alleyways of Berlin.

I knew every corner of my town: the way Pigtail Street sheltered you with its overhanging trees on a hot day or how 25 cents bought you a Zero bar and a bottle of RC at Boyd & Wurthmann Store. I would weave my bike around Berlin Cemetery, reading the names of long-passed folks that called Berlin their town too, freedom at my disposal. Now I go there to say hi to Mom and Dad, pulling a few stray weeds from a gravestone etched with both their names, and watch the sun slide hot orange and pink to its resting place.

This was my town. It still is my town. And on some days I no longer recognize her blueprint.

If you look up the word freedom, it brings up several different synonyms including privilege, abandonment, liberty, unrestraint and indulgence. These seem like wildly different variations of one word. The English language is a fickle beast that tricks you into thinking words mean one thing yet also can mean another.

In the small hamlet of Berlin, freedom to me meant waking up on a summer day in 1976 and playing in the woods until dark. In 1982 it meant pulling weeds for Mom in the morning, then getting dropped off at the Millersburg pool to swim, and in 1987 it meant graduating from high school and deciding who I would be. I do not regret my childhood because it was happy, but the snapping of a rubber band against my wrist was needed to jolt me from my languorous stupor and the freedom of indulgence I had been living in.

I sometimes wonder if there were women that lived in Berlin in the ‘60s or ‘70s, as wars and civil and political unrest raged, who upon seeing the change their town had taken, wondered what they could do to make a difference. Could their view be shared or was it silenced? Someone sitting at their table with a small coffee cup, pondering the beliefs that small-town life either instills and makes you stay or drives you away so you can become who you’d never be if you remained. An inner chaos that churns your guts.

I am that woman today, bound by my love for a nostalgic version of my hometown but dismayed at some of the things I see. I cannot remain the person that we grow and multiply here, calling for unity and love when the root problem remains.

We cannot call for people to come together so we can remain comfortable in our unrestrained freedoms, tightening the strings that tie up the town at night, tucking us in with clenched belief systems that beg for an inch of change. Do my beliefs belong here in my own town or are they tamped down as you turn the page and view the ads for milk at $2.49 and bread for $1.99 for the week?

I have a tangle of electricity in my stomach, wires so deeply woven around my organs that each time I pinpoint something new I need to relearn, they shock me. I have so much to learn about caring for others and understanding things that don’t center issues from my point of view. I’ve learned that according to many, freedom means power, right and immunity; abandonment of anything but what they have the freedom to do. I am not exempt from doing what’s right simply because I believe I have the freedom to do it.

The blueprint of my town remains, but she is not the same. The freedom I felt as a daughter born in her depths is gone, and I lament my loss of innocence. But I was built for this time. I have been walking around on fire my whole life. I will never adjust who I am to fit in with my surroundings. Berlin knows me, and I know her. I am her deep in my bones because she raised me too.

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