“And the turtles, of course…all the turtles are free, as turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be.”
Holding the little lightning bug in her cupped hands, she waited for the glowing to happen again. It was such a spectacular sight to see the lights popping up across the yard, and to have caught one of the bursts of light was an accomplishment in her book. She liked it so much that she considered catching another as if she could have her own collection of lightning bugs. But then it hit her, the magic was in watching the bugs fly freely, surprising her with bits of yellow light as she ran equally without reserve through the open space. She was able to understand what Yertle had not — that the lightning bugs, like she, should be free.
The 4th of July is just around the corner, and in the United States, we celebrate it as Independence Day. The Canadians celebrate on July 1st, the French on July 14th, and Mexico on September 16th. Several other countries celebrate at different times, and like Mack the Turtle, they finally had enough of being dominated by someone else. It’s easy to let the holiday come and go as just another day to get together with friends and family, grill out, and enjoy festivities ending with fireworks (the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, after all). When we live in such freedom, though, how much thought do we really give to what it means for us individually?
At 18, many children leave home, claiming their rightful independence from parents. Freedom, we often hear, is not free. Independence comes at a price, and only looking back can a person decide if freedom was worth the price paid. In the Revolutionary War, according to battlefields dot org, an estimated 6,800 Americans were killed in action, and at least 17,000 more deaths were the result of disease (including 8,000-12,000 who died while prisoners of war). For the British, the loss is estimated to have been around 24,000, and nearly 7,000 Hessians were killed. That’s 55,000 people who died. 55,000 lives were lost so that the colonies could rule themselves. That is just less than half of the number of people who live in my town. Freedom did cost a lot. Families were destroyed, torn apart by death and by war. Similarly, the United States had its own war, the Civil War, in which it’s estimated that between 620,000 and 820,000 lives were lost. That would wipe out our state capital of Nashville, Tennessee today. In fights for freedom, it is estimated that the United States has lost a total of 1.5 million lives. Freedom continues to cost a lot.
What is freedom and how does it fit into our lives? It is, “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.” When I realized that my children had the right to decide for themselves what they wanted to believe about religion, politics, food, and a few other things, I gave them a little more freedom. When I told them that I would love them no matter what they chose to do in life or to believe, I gave them the ultimate freedom that a parent can offer. No strings attached to my love and support of them.
There are still people who are not free in my small town, as they are mired in poverty for a variety of reasons. There are women (and men) and children who are not free within the confines of their homes, yet America is often considered ‘the land of the free’. Since 9-11 (2001), American’s freedoms have become fewer in an effort to offer more protection. People across town and around the world are unable to act, to speak, or to think as they want without extreme consequence. Freedom is the greatest gift we can be given, and it has always required a price. Want to enjoy the freedom of driving on the interstate? Pay the toll, pay your taxes, and the road is yours to enjoy.
Do you and I enjoy freedom today in our lives where we are?
Are you preventing someone else from enjoying freedom — your neighbor who is a different color, your child who expresses his/her sexuality differently than you do, your friend who believes in a different God? Are you attempting to catch all of the lightning bugs, so you can have all of the magic for yourself?
I am free within the confines of the law, but I do not agree with all of the laws. When the turtles didn’t agree that King Yertle should keep forcing them to grow the stack so he could see further, one turtle, Mack, made a sound, he burped and everything began to come undone, the turtles were free. If you, too, are being pushed down, maybe today is the day you’ll burp, so that you can be free, as all creatures should be.