Yesterday was a night of great festivities, today was a day of bodily recuperation. After a four hour lunch and coffee with two friends who also experienced the fun, I went walking on roads wet with fresh rain that had flooded the streets a few hours prior. There was a damp smell in the air and the sky was steadily darkening. A pallid greyblue from the sky was ubiquitously waterpainted on the buildings and the roads and the pedestrians. A contemplative mood was awash, perhaps influenced by the caffeine, a steady fatigue and last night’s experience, in which excess waves of liquid poison repeatedly “smashed” into my stubborn ego and broke it into tiny recovering pieces. Walking in the middle of the main road of National Taiwan University, aptly named Palm Tree Boulevard for a row of evenly spaced palm trees on either side, I looked far into the distance to the direction of the main library. I felt as if I was experiencing a movie, and a thin film of nothingness separated me from reality, as passing groups whose voices came to me in murmurs, the slight rhythmic sound of bicycles and the contenting sights of a lazy Saturday quietly reflected and were absorbed into me from beyond the veil of unreality. I felt like the observant protagonist in a Murakami novel.
At that moment, I felt a strong desire to be free, a feeling which came like a flash storm on a summer afternoon, and rapidly flooded my being.
I wanted to be free from parental pressure, the obligations coming from human relationships. I wanted to be free from societal norms, human expectations. I wanted to be free from monetary limitations, free from the limitations of my current living conditions. I wanted to break free from myself. I wanted to be free of earthly desire, bodily responsibility. I wanted to be free from my own habits, my own solidifying personality. I wanted to be free from acquired philosophies, my own selfconceptions. I wanted to be free of irrational fears, free of anxieties and indecision. I wanted to be as free as the moment of my birth, in which virginal newness purifies all perceived reality, and allows reality to be seen as reality, and lived with an honest and true intention, without the fog of developed personal subjectivities.
I wanted to be free from earthly logic. I wanted to be free from Newton, free from Einstein. I wanted to be free from the limits of my puny, weak, unreliable, worthless body so as to express the feeling of freedom with a dance oblivious of physical practicalities. I wanted to be free and let my spirit fly out of my bodily prison and soar past clouds, planets, stars, galaxies, and let my presence envelop the whole universe with an indescribable oneness; and experience an escalating liberation from subjectivity to objectivity, from perception to truth, from experience, from feelings, from concepts, from rationality, from life, from death, from time, from space, from God; to a truly incomprehensible and unfettered state of being, being an emptiness, nothingness, wholeness complete.
Such an idealistic version of reality cannot exist anywhere in physical form on the earthly plane, where ideas touched by the rockhard solid world shatter instantaneously, fragile as it is pure. However, I believe to some extent, freedom is a treasure coveted by all, and one everyone already possesses in different amounts. Unlike perfect freedom, the freedom on the physical plane has a different exterior and form.
I think the latter definition of freedom is close to what Viktor Frankl described in his book Man’s Search for Meaning. He wrote: “that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast should be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.” Furthermore: “Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.”
To speak truthfully, I do not understand perfectly the wisdom of his words. I cannot grasp the sturdy bond that connects the concepts of freedom and responsibility together in an unbreakable chain. Perhaps more life experience will be the teacher that will teach me this rope as greater age will bind me closer and closer to freedom and responsibility. For now I can only elaborate on his words from a lower level, although living life may give me opportunities to climb higher and higher to let me see further into new insights from the taller vantage point.
To me, freedom fundamentally means the power of choice. Whether it is freedom of speech or economic freedom, more freedom will mean more power to choose how to let loose one’s spirit in thought or in action and allow it flight to any desired destination. When there is no freedom, the case is the opposite and there is no power of choice. All one’s actions and thoughts are fettered like a bird in a cage. In this way, responsibility is inextricably tied to freedom. The phenomenon of cause and effect will follow a freely chosen action or thought, and the effect will undeniably require a responsibilitytaker. A caged bird will not be free, but it will be fed and cared for. It will not be able to spread its wings in homage to its Godgiven or Darwingiven form, but it will be sheltered from dangers leading to inexistence. The uncaged bird will float at a lofty level across miniature terrains with the honest expression of its soul’s impetus. With such freedom will come the price of risk to its unbroken existence.
On a personal level, I can relate to freedom and responsibility. As I age, I desire more freedom and autonomy. I do not want to be kept on a leash, no matter how comfortable life on a leash may bring me. Confucius driven traditional Korean values serve as the philosophy behind my parental leash, while money brings about its physical form. My parents are always behind me with support and I feel their concerned gaze on my back, like the limelight onto a stage actor. These lights are sometimes suffocating. I suppose that it is unavoidable, the cutting of the umbilical cord in birth and the later metaphorical cutting of the umbilical cord with adulthood. At least for now, I have severed monetary ties to bring a similar severing of the physical leash. Perhaps later on I will look back on leashed days with nostalgic longing, and futilely attempt to reattached the umbilical cord of my youth, as life as a pampered domestic dog becomes preferable to that of a stray. Perhaps I am being immature and not taking responsibility for correct relations with my relations.
Freedom is an oft mentioned word as recent history has brought unprecedented levels of freedom to the lives of the majority. What is the nature of this freedom? Is it the immature and idealistic freedom of the former or the freedom which is justly connected with responsibility? If it is the former, then where does unwanted and untaken responsibility go to? Maybe responsibility piles up like bags full of garbage. If no one accepts responsibility, the stacks will grow higher and will eventually lead to an inescapable stink, an odorous and insufferable reminder of unmet obligations, brought by one individual to be smelt by all.
Note: Picture is of Palm Tree Blvd, although it was taken on another day.