What Freedom Really Looks Like

Freedom in July looks like popsicles, red, white, and blue dripping down the dimpled chin of a baby running through a sprinkler. Grass, recently mowed down short by the neighbor-boy who just turned sixteen, sticking to her leg rolls, sticking to her like the summer heat sticks to the ladies as they sip on lemonade. Real lemons, cut in chunks float aimlessly in the glass, occasionally bumping against ice cubes cut into the shape of stars. It looks like Momma buying us matching shirts from the Old Navy and filling ourselves to the point of gluttony on perfectly grilled hot dogs and potato salad and pies the color of our independence. Freedom is a painted night sky. Mothers hold their babies on quilted blankets made by the hands of grandmothers and great aunts while fathers smoke cigars and stand around lighting fireworks.  The air smells like vanilla and cinder. “No, Tyler, go sit back with your mother. You’ll burn yourself.” The women ooh and ah. This is what freedom looks like.

Freedom to the girl who desperately wants to prove she’s no longer a child—to prove her independence—looks like a suitcase packed with bug spray and sunscreen and empty journals waiting to be filled with stories. Freedom looks like individualization and being able to buy a plane ticket to a place where she knows no one, to prove that she can do anything she sets her mind to. It looks like a hurried goodbye at the airport so that her parents don’t see her tears—and it sounds like a deep sigh when she’s sitting there, complementary peanuts in her hand, waiting to travel across the globe. Freedom looks like making choices that make her afraid. “All good things are wild and free,” she paints on a pot she leaves at home, sitting on a table by the fenced-in pool. Lavender. She likes the way it smells—the calm and the ease and the sweetness that mixes in with summer heat and mingles with the smell of her mother’s homemade pancakes.  This is what freedom looks like.

Freedom to the woman who sits out on an empty beach, who at the age of twelve was forced to wake up early each morning to make a dozen or more chapatti for the younger ones and then later go work in the rice field, looks like a Russian tourist purchasing a bag with a sequined elephant on it. Colors, bold. Red, purple, and green glitter with the sun that peaks behind a gray cloud. It looks like rupees to send her son to school so that he can learn the words she stares at and cannot understand. She holds the green bound book the Gideons once gave her as they passed through town, knowing that education would free her. Freedom looks like the government of her country standing up for the marginalized—for the women who labor over hot stoves and make do with rusty water and paint over bruises from beatings at night. Freedom is being able to say, “No, this is my body and I will not have another abortion—even if it is another girl.” It’s being able to tell her daughter that her dream of becoming a doctor is feasible—that one day she might not live in the slums. This is what freedom looks like.

But real freedom—real freedom looks like a tree that grew from a tiny seed planted deep in the dark, cool ground. It looks like roots that branched out and a trunk that grew tall and strong. Its branches kept reaching towards the blue of the sky, higher and higher towards its maker. Sparrows, small and sprite and full of song, nested there—laying life in small packages that would one day burst forth with vigor. Then they would learn to fly—to leave the nest. To be free in the open mass of the endless sky.  To do exactly what they were created to do. Real freedom looks like ignorance and blindness taking something beautiful and chopping it down. A machete or an axe or a steel blade hitting it. Again. And again. And again. Until the sparrows no longer sing and the grown seed that once lifted its limbs in adoration lays flat against the earth that generationally feels the burden of our sin. Dust and rock and toil.

Real freedom looks like dead limbs being turned into a cross—a place to hang those who had committed crimes against humanity. And there they nailed him. Again. And again. And again. For our crimes. For our lies. For our doubt. For our gluttony. For our selfishness. For our inability to look at the sky and lift our limbs and realize our maker. Real freedom is the fact that he rose again, so that we no longer have to hide behind the skin of a lion—killed by the hands of its own creator. I’m sure it did not understand why it had to pay the price.

And don’t you know that the earth groaned that day—when the fruit touched our lips and our eyes were opened and the world was suffocated with darkness. And don’t you know that it rejoiced when the guards found the tomb empty. Or when we cry out on the empty beach the woman’s shop sits on, “Bless the Lord oh my soul.” Or when a hand leans down and plants scripture in the sand, praying that one day oppression will cease. And don’t you know that He looks down upon us and smiles when we realize what freedom isn’t. When our tears mix with the salt of the sea, pounding against the dirty sand, and we lift up our eyes and feel a newness in our hearts and say, “Azaad, Azaad, I have been set free.” When we eat a pie that bleeds out red—sticky and sweet, and realize that freedom isn’t this food or the fireworks in the sky, but that freedom is being born in a place of opportunity. When we realize that we are indebted to the one who has poured out blessings on us. When we are able to take what we have—the knowledge of what we have and what others don’t and give. Again. And again. And again. When we are able to say, “to live is Christ, to die is gain.”

This is what freedom looks like.

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