The Sweet Smell of Freedom Re-visited

Gas Mask
Tahrir Square Graffiti – A fight for freedom

On an October weekend over a year and a half ago I wrote a post I called “Waking Up to the Sweet Smell of Freedom”.  I remember well the day I wrote it. It was a holiday weekend and as I woke up to the strong smell of good coffee, I realized in an instant how different my life was from so many in the world that day. While this is not a new realization for me, it is a welcome reminder. Specifically, that post was about the pastor in Iran who was imprisoned at the time – Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. Since that time he was freed, rearrested, and is now free again.

Today is Memorial Day in the United States and I am revisiting this sweet smell of freedom. It is the day set aside to honor military men and women who have fought for this country.  As someone who was not raised here and struggles with nationalism I struggle with a day like today.  I am tremendously grateful for those who serve. And I recognize that the freedom I wake to has a cost. The struggle comes as I think of what this country has done with freedom and the way we have warped the definition.

And today again I wake to the sweet smell of freedom. I wake to the awareness that I am a privileged person in a country of privilege.  I also wake to a world with a warped sense of what freedom means. We have changed the definition of freedom in the west to mean no boundaries, no barriers, ability to do whatever we want, when we want  – this is not freedom, as someone like Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani would likely tell us. The west is obsessed with freedom, with right to choose, with ‘self’ – yet I don’t see evidence of freedom in those around me. Most are bound by the angst that this definition of freedom brings about.

Our suicide rate has become a societal epidemic – yet we call ourselves free.

Our churches fight and argue and call each other by names both online and in person – yet we call ourselves free.

The national debt is to the sky in many western countries – yet we call ourselves free.

Our personal debt in both school loans and life spending continues to be a crisis and bind us to jobs we abhor – yet we call ourselves free.

Because freedom doesn’t mean doing whatever we want, whenever we want, with whomever we want. I can’t help thinking of the CS Lewis quote as I think about freedom as it is practiced today in my passport country – “The lost enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded.”

And so I wake – I wake to the smell and taste of freedom and the challenge of figuring out what this really means.

What does it mean to you? How do you define freedom? How do those in the country where you live define freedom?

The Immigrant Vote

English: Ballot Box showing preferential voting

“I know that I say this at the risk of over-sentimentalizing electoral politics, but seeing immigrants vote is the best thing about America” Annie Rebekah Gardner

I have two friends who voted for the first time on Tuesday. Both of them just became American citizens. One is from Romania and the other from South Africa. They were both elated.

It was a Big.Deal!

In the voting queue I was in back of a couple. As they talked with the man beside them it became clear that they too were voting for the first time as American citizens. In the early morning rush to the polls, as people waited in a line that went out the door and down the block, they were excited, engaged, happier then everyone around them.

My daughter Annie was behind a gentleman from Somalia, in line with his little girl, in line to voteSomalia has not had a functioning effective government for years. While I don’t know this gentleman’s story, I’ve heard other immigrant/refugee stories of walking to refugee camps, avoiding terrorist attacks, famine and disease. It’s a picture that we sitting on comfortable couches on this Saturday morning, or out to breakfast with friends, or getting our early morning shopping done at massive grocery stores with every imaginable food available,  cannot imagine. For him, voting was a big deal!

Voting was a gift.

It’s yet another lesson I learn from my immigrant friends. They take none of this for granted. They go and cast their votes with pride and excitement – not with disillusionment in a party and a process. They are fully engaged in this process and wear their new citizenship with the pride of belonging.

The immigrant vote keeps us grounded and honest. Newcomers to the United States have a different worldview and first-hand experience in countries where the freedom to vote is not a guarantee; not a right.

The phrase “We are a nation of immigrants” is overused and because of this it is under appreciated. But there’s nothing like being at a polling booth, with no fear of guns or bombs or violence, waiting in line with immigrants who have walked a long journey to get to the ballot box, to make one really proud to be part of this “Nation of Immigrants”

And so I salute you my immigrant friends – particularly those who have voted for the first time. You’ve walked a long journey to get to this place. Thanks for encouraging and challenging me. We are so lucky to have you in this country.

Waking up to the Smell of Freedom

I woke up this morning to the strong smell of coffee freedom. Freedom was all around me. A light rain fell outside but inside was dry, light and safe. As I stretched in bed with my eyes becoming accustomed to being open and my body slowly waking up, I realized the day was ahead of me and full of possibilities. I could choose to go back to sleep, or get up and write. I could choose to drink coffee or tea, black or with cream. I could choose English muffins, or cereal; eggs or not. I smelled freedom in all my activities and in all my choices from big to small.

Across oceans and country borders in the country of Iran is a man who is facing execution for his faith. Based on a ruling from the Iranian Supreme Court, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, a Christian, is accused of apostasy. He was given three opportunities to renounce his faith and would not do so, because for him “to live is Christ, and to die is gain”. Even as there is no freedom for him to express a faith in anything other than the state mandated religious system, he has chosen his faith above all. He wakes up to a smell of filth in a jail cell, not to the smell of freedom, yet he knows, far better than I, that true freedom comes in knowing God.

There is international pressure to release Pastor Nadarkhani. Outspoken condemnation of the Iranian government is being voiced by various governments and groups around the globe with the hope that the ruling will be changed. But even then, changed to what? To release and full freedom or to lifelong imprisonment that includes torture and mistreatment. So even as I experience my freedom today, my heart longs for this universal right to be extended to all people, my heart aches to see the release of Pastor Nadarkhani.

As I drink my coffee along with tasting my freedom, I choose to be aware and to pray for this man, his family, his children and his country.

From Protests to Lattes

Egypt Demonstration – Harvard Square 1.29.11

Maybe the mark of an American protest is that the protester in a moment can go from  chanting pithy and informative slogans to the local coffee shop for a latte of their choice, be it caramel or hazelnut. Therein is the gift we have in our freedom. We are steps removed from wherever the trouble is and so even though we may care deeply about a situation, we easily go back to our normal lives without having to face real danger or show true courage.

The protest that my husband and I took part in yesterday at Harvard Square, while deeply desiring to support Egyptians, cannot compare to the amazing spirit shown in the Egyptian people and what they have endured to have a voice in the future of Egypt. Armed with banners and a couple of megaphones about 200 of us marched from Harvard Square through to Central Square. The march went on to Faneuil Hall but at Central we left, not for a latte, but for a shawarma at a tiny local spot called Falafel Palace.  The shawerma was delicious and we were in high spirits, having been with others who cared about the country and forced themselves away from Al Jazeera’s live stream to gather, but both of us realized we really don’t know what it’s like to not be able to voice what we think, when we think it, and where we want to express it.

It is sometimes tiresome to hear talk of how lucky we are to have freedom,hearing the largely clichéd phrase “freedom is not free”. But the reality is that participating in a peaceful assembly and openly voicing my views with no fear whatsoever (other than mispronouncing something in Arabic) is something I take for granted, and I think most of those surrounding me are the same. When it sinks in that my protest ends with a latte or shawerma, not stinging eyes from tear gas, soaked clothes from water cannons, and a blood filled eye from a baton then I don’t really care if I sound tiresome.  I still think it’s worth publicly documenting that freedom is indeed a not to be taken for granted gift.