Or so wailed Janis Joplin. My father used to sing Bobby McGee after he'd piled us into the minivan and driven from the narrow, wormy roads we knew onto the thick roads we didn't, roads that constricted cities and snaked across the country. He'd crack the windows and croon the words, beating time on the steering wheel until my brother and I abandoned whining or reading or fortifying our halves of the backseat to yowl the lyrics like demented back-up singers. Even now, I can recite more verses of Kristofferson's ballad than I can verses of the bible.
As with religion, though, catechism begs exegesis. Is freedom really just a synonym for material and/or spiritual penury? And does the word "just" imply a simple relationship (freedom can be boiled down to penury) or an exclusive relationship (freedom cannot exist outside of penury)? What is freedom? Where is freedom?
I'm asking because I'm free. After 190 days of working moderately hard at a moderately difficult job, I've been released into the great, wide-open maw of the world to do as I wish and collect a paycheck. It's summer -or rather late spring; the peonies are dead but the air is still cool in the mornings. I am drunk, disoriented, enthralled by my ability to sit, to walk around the room, to sit again. I open and close the window. I raise and lower my cup.
Yet, I have things to lose. I've still got my wallet, despite my best efforts. I've got my car and my life and that nice pair of sunglasses and the way my body moves, fast, when I tell it to. Does this mean I don't know true freedom, or that freedom comes in degrees, like summer?
And then there's this: I know from experience that, in another three and a half days, this particular freedom will pall. I will wander around the house, sick of sitting, sick of standing, sick with options. At that point, freedom will appear to me as work, as the cool, sweet relief of the straitjacket.
Freedom, Like Bobby McGee, is a traveler. It lurks in both the removal and reapplication of the fetter. And it feels, every time, good enough.