Friday, January 17, 2014

Condemned to Freedom

"Friday Morning"
-at the break of day-

This morning's New York Times featured an article about a new type of "drill" employed nowadays in all of our nation's schools - not a fire drill or earthquake drill, but a "lockdown" drill as a protection against a possible school shooting. 

The story went on to describe little first-graders being ushered into dark classroom closets as a simulated shooter walks through the school halls. They are taught to be still and remain quiet in case something like that ever happens in real life.  They go home and have nightmares. 

I actually find it hard to comprehend how we can live in a country where names like "Columbine" and "Sandy Hook" are etched into the national psyche, where a 7th grader in Roswell, New Mexico can take a shotgun to school and shoot his fellow 12-year old classmates in the gym, where 1st graders are herded into classroom closets as part of a "lockdown" drill - and yet we still refuse to place little if any restrictions on gun sales and use, just waiting for the next shoe to fall. 

In my meditation garden at the break of dawn, I think about that "lockdown" story in today's "Times." For me, it speaks volumes about the nature of our human condition.

When I was younger, I used to believe that human beings are basically "good."  But as I mature I have sort of modified my "human beings are basically good" philosophy. I still believe that there is a "spark of God" in each of us, uniting us together, pulling us toward the light. However, I also believe there are other very powerful human instincts urging us to darkness and destruction.

We are prone to anger, violence and self-centered gratification as much as we are prone to live lives of compassion, kindness and generosity.

Every day, in one form or another, we are called upon to "choose" which of those directions we wish to follow.

So now, instead of saying that I believe human beings are all basically good,  I now say that I believe that the mark of our common humanity is that we all have the freedom to make choices. 

Back in my college days, when I was studying philosophy, I remember reading some of the works of  the existentialist philosopher, Jean Paul Sartre, who is famously quoted for having said, "we are condemned to be free." 

Back in those days, I honestly didn't understand what this meant, nowadays I think maybe I "get it,"  and actually agree with it.

Our freedom to choose is our joy and also our burden.  In some sense it would be much easier if we had no control over how we think or behave in life - but we do have a choice, we always do. 

We can choose to forgive the person who insulted or did us violence, or we can choose to hold a grudge and seek revenge (think of the recent example of Nelson Mandela). We can choose to ignore the needs of others and focus solely on our own comfort or we can extend our lives for the welfare of the common good. We can choose to ignore oil spills and ridicule the devastating effects of global warming or we can focus our efforts on cleaning up and caring for this planet earth for generations to come. 

We can choose to take weapons off the streets or lobby for the right to bear arms while our babies are locked down in closets as a precaution for the day when the bad man with the gun will come around and shoot them.

We are indeed "condemned to be free." The only choice we do not have is to "not to make choices."

Our freedom to choose is indeed a burden of responsibility shared by every human being on this earth. Our choices make all the difference. Our choices create a world of ugliness. Our choices build a world of beauty. 

As I sit in my garden at the dawn of the day on this Friday morning, I welcome the burden of freedom. 

I want to walk as a child of the light.

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