By Angela Reinhardt
Last week I saw a young boy, maybe 13, riding in the bed of an old pickup truck. The sun was on his face, the wind was tousling his hair, and an ear-to-ear grin revealed the sheer gloriousness of his adventure.
Seeing this boy made me think of my own childhood. Dad would throw an air mattress in the bed of his camper-topped Ford F-150 and let my sister and I ride in the back from Atlanta down to Florida where we vacationed in the summer.
I imagine our smiles looked like the boy’s.
Even though at the time I didn’t think about why I enjoyed it, I understand now what made those trips so ecstatic --- my sister and I felt liberated. Whether it was true or not, for eight hours we were masters of our own universe in the bed of that candy-apple-red Ford. We were autonomous rulers of our 8’x6’ kingdom, beholden to no ones’ laws but our own, our feelings amplified by the rush of traveling on the freeway without a seatbelt. The world outside became new and exciting as it zipped by the window.
Peoples’ desire for this feeling of freedom lies at the heart of America’s Independence Day. We all innately want, I’d even argue need, those self-evident truths our country’s founders spoke of --- the God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
As cynical as I can be about our country and its leadership I was brought to tears watching an episode of CNN’s Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain, which is for all practical purposes a travel, food and culture program. In this episode Bourdain and his crew went to post-war Libya where rebel forces had recently overthrown and assassinated the tyrant Moammar Gadhafi. I walked away from the program with a renewed appreciation for home.
In between seeing Bourdain sample some culinary staples of the country, I listened to Libyans and ex-Freedom Fighters describe crippling oppression under Gadhafi’s regime and I saw images of the war-ravaged town of Misrata. I had a difficult time imagining what life would be like under those conditions. I then watched as Libyans celebrated in the streets after Gadhafi’s fall and, while the country itself is still very much in a state of uncertainly about the future, the hope in their voices and the light in their eyes were palpable.
In an essay about his experiences Bourdain describes some post-Gadhafi scenes --- Children shooting off fireworks; parents buying cotton candy for kids at an amusement park; sandwiches and coffee arriving on time in a hotel lobby; city fountains that work.
“This is Tripoli, after 42 years of nightmare,” Bourdain writes. “The city and its people are just now waking up, trying to figure out what to do -- and how to do it. After 42 years… absolute control and centralized power vaporized almost overnight.”
Because our independence from England happened so long ago, and because wars have not been fought on our soil for generations, it is difficult for many Americans to appreciate the freedoms we have that so many others don’t. I know I am guilty of taking them for granted.
The point is that freedom is woven into the fabric of who we, the people of the world, are. When we don’t have it we will go to outrageous lengths to get it, and when we do have it life blossoms with potential. It blossoms just like it did for American settlers; it blossoms just like it did for the Libyans; it blossoms like it did for the boy in the truck and my sister and me.
Now I watch my own children unbuckle and climb between the two front seats to stick their heads out the sunroof when we hit our dirt road. They find freedom in being unrestrained, and in the sensations of wind and sun against faces with closed eyes and bodies with outstretched arms.
Here’s wishing that you spend some time this week reflecting on the freedoms in your own life, and hoping that you are able to open your heart up enough to appreciate them.