What does it really mean to be free? Every time I think of the question, the lyrics to “Me and Bobby McGee” involuntarily start rolling around inside my head. Do you remember them?
“Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose,
And nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’ but it’s free,
Feelin’ good was easy, Lord, when Bobby sang the blues,
And buddy, that was good enough for me,
Good enough for me and my Bobby”
Out of curiosity, this morning I happened upon some comments folks (common folks – folks like you and me) have made about the concept that “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”. Insightful probably isn’t the word I’d use to describe them, but at some level there is a hint of truth in their observations:
- I have a friend who says man is a slave to his posessions. If you have nothing left to lose, you’re not tied down to anything and you’re free. You can wander around anywhere, just pick up and go like the two hobos in the song.
- I alway’s liked that line. I can really identify with it. I remember hitch hiking around Mexico with less than a hundred dollars in my pocket and a hammock in my pack to sleep in. I could do what I wanted, sleep on the beach, hang around the Zocalo, it was great. Nowdays I have a mortgage, health insurance to pay, a job to go to, etc. Being wealthy is better, but not necessarily “free-er”.
- Actually, I think it’s a pretty insightful statement. When you’ve got nothing to lose, you can do whatever you damned well please. When I was young, single, and had no career to speak of, I could pack up and move to another city, or go backpacking on a whim, or really whatever I wanted. Now I have a mortgage, a kid, a career, and I’m not free at all. I get up every morning, go to work, do what the boss says, pick the kid up from school, etc. And if I decide to chuck the job, I’d lose the house, maybe the marriage, family… So I’m trapped. Not that I’d trade it away, but the fact is we give up a lot of freedom when we take on the responsibility of a middle class life. We become slaves to our commitments and to the cost of losing what we’ve taken years to build up.
What is freedom? Isn’t it an experience that expresses itself through unlimited opportunity? I don’t know anyone who doesn’t desire freedom. Do you remember from childhood ever putting insects in a glass jar and puncturing the lid to contain them? The insects were intent on getting out.
If you want to disturb a sense of tranquility, try confining the General’s dog (Barnabas) to one room in the house while you are in another part of the house. Some of you are thinking, “Why would you want to do that?” I want bother to answer, but I guarantee you if he wants out, he will bark and bark and bark until you give up and open the door.
We are no different. We long to be free. In thinking of freedom, I thought of a long term friend and dear neighbor. He lived directly across the street from us until his death. John McCarty survived the Bataan Death March and was held for three years as a Prisoner of War in Cabanatuan. He knew first hand what it was like to live with a total absence of freedom. He also would have confirmed for you that freedom isn’t free.
In captivity, he was subjected to a steady diet of brutality and inhumane and horrific conditions.
- He survived an environment where torture and execution were routine and commonplace,
- Where illness was epidemic and untreated, and
- Where starvation and cruelty were everyday occurrences.
John knew firsthand the value of freedom in a way that is foreign to most of us. Thankfully most of us have never known the contrast of what it means to live without freedom.
Actually, I need to modify that statement. I am not sure what I wrote about living without freedom is ultimately true. Let me say instead, Most of us have never been held as a prisoner of war and subjected to brutality and inhumane conditions. However, that doesn’t mean we live with an everyday concept that we are free. If it’s true that freedom expresses itself through unlimited opportunity, there are many who long for more.
Let me provide you a tongue-in-cheek example:
Our seven-year-old grandson has spent the week with us. He is an absolutely delightful kid who seems happy-go-lucky and is always in a good mood. His favorite shirt or shirts are his “Aggie” shirts. He’s either worn the same shirt everyday or his has a suitcase full of them. He doesn’t leave the house without his “Aggie” baseball cap. He sleeps with his favorite quilt (You got it – It has Texas A&M all over it) and his “Daddy Doll” (Made from using a picture of his dad in uniform and provided him while his dad was deployed to Afghanistan).
I’m not suggesting for a minute that the little tyke as been brain washed, but he does have a wall size poster of Kyle Field and Aggie memorabilia all over his room. My son once made the statement: My kids are so lucky to have Texas Aggies as parents”.
Trust me, it plays well for Craig’s children that they are like-minded. Although Craig and Becky didn’t send out birth announcements with “Class of ….” written on them, there doesn’t seem to be a question of where they are destined to attend college. On the other hand, Jake did really seem to enjoy riding in Uncle Kevin’s Porsche convertible this week. What if he decides that Uncle Kevin’s University of Texas alma mater has merit? How comfortable do you think my son will be writing that tuition check?
I think it is interesting that the Kris Kristofferson wrote and recorded the lyrics to “Me and Bobby McGee”. I suspect that his childhood years were pretty structured and that the concept of the kind of freedom expressed in the lyrics of the song were alien to the status quo he sings about. His dad was a career officer in the military. He actually retired as a Major General in the U.S. Air Force.
Did you know that Kris Kristofferson earned a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University where he studied at Merton College? He graduated with a master’s degree in English in 1960.
According to the record: “Kristofferson, under pressure from his family, ultimately joined the U.S. Army and attained the rank of Captain. He became a helicopter pilot after receiving flight training at Fort Rucker, Alabama. He also completed Ranger School. During the early 1960s, he was stationed in West Germany as a member of the 8th Infantry Division. During this time, he resumed his music career and formed a band. In 1965, when his tour of duty ended, Kristofferson was given an assignment to teach English literature at West Point. Instead, he decided to leave the Army and pursue songwriting”.
Without doubt, the saddest part of his story is his family’s response: “His family disowned him because of this decision and they never reconciled with him. They saw it as a rejection of everything they stood for, in spite of the fact that Kristofferson has said he is proud of his time in the military, and received the American Veteran’s Awards ‘Veteran of the Year Award’ in 2003”.
Reportedly, Kristofferson has said that he would like the first three lines of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on the Wire” on his tombstone:
“Like a bird on the wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free”
Freedom isn’t free, but it represents liberation from all that binds.
All My Best!