I was asked to bring something on the topic of freedom to a friend's annual Passover dinner. I wanted to write a rhyming poem on freedom but could only think of words like whoredom. So I scrapped that.


It is a noun.

That’s what I started writing freestyle in freehand all fancy free. I was sitting on my couch wearing cruelty-free fragrance-free cosmetics, in my smoke free apartment, downloading free Mp3s, chomping on free-range chicken and gluten-free freedom fries, pondering the freeways of free trade that delivered them to my local Whole Foods drama free and wondering when Dwayne Wade will be a free agent (2010), when an ad for appeared on the television. I was feeling pain free thanks to a recent duty free purchase noting the free advice of the ad when freakishly it hit me: I am frequently foolish. I had hoped to let freedom ring, sort of-speak, with my great insights. Like a free particle that is free skating through a complex universe. Or like a freedom fighter on a freedom ride with something to say. You know – all free to be you and me. I am, after all, free to be trite, free to be cliché, right?

But honestly I was at a loss. What does freedom mean to me? Is freedom the absence or the presence? Is it a state or an action? Does it require resistance? Is it an entity or a quality? Real or imagined?

Yesterday I attended the funeral of my brother-in-law, Jeff Renville. He died of Lou Gehrig’s disease, properly known as ALS. Jeff’s brother at the end of a pretty awful eulogy related the following story:

In the final days of Jeff’s life, he could barely speak and everyone at his bedside struggled to understand him. One had to get real close to him to even hear him. On the last day of Jeff’s life, an old friend of Jeff’s walked into his room. A friend that Jeff hadn’t seen in several years. Jeff began trying to say something upon seeing his friend. His brother leaned in and heard “Happy Birthday.” Confused, his brother looked up and relayed the words to the friend. It was Jeff’s friend’s birthday that day.

Even in his final moments, Jeff remembered his friend’s birthday. One of his final words was to deliver this wish.

That, my friends, is choice. At the end, even facing death, you still have a choice. And Jeff, perhaps because it was in his DNA or maybe because he made a concerted effort, chose love.

So what does Freedom mean to me? It means choice. You always have a choice. No matter the circumstances or external forces.

I am, of course, free to be wrong. And maybe in the end I don’t know what Freedom means. But I do know it has meaning. I don’t know what it weighs but I do know it has weight. And here, though I’ve struggled to put it into words, I know this: Freedom – it is a verb.