Gradual Realizations

Harry Drabik

My last piece about taking boxes of my old writing from storage prodded thoughts, some oddly enough nestling inexplicably with independence in Independence Day. Independence is a twice-cutting thing because the word is an announcement of being in dependence. Independence is a state where rather than being free of dependencies we attempt to select some conditions we hope will prove favorable to ourselves. Maybe the idea of independence is little more than a useful social or cultural illusion. A majority of the fundamental faiths seem to take a view that humans and humanity are (no matter what they may say otherwise) entirely dependent on some larger force-being-condition. A quick way to look at independence in a bigger context is to ask how free a person can be of the structural bias in their own native language. We can’t function independent of language. Even if everything was gesture there would need to be some form of agreement that two sharp pokes from an elbow meant “I’m interested” instead of “go away!”

It can be puzzling, too, that exercise of independence often means a freedom to do things that are not necessarily going to make a person more free. The freedom to become addicted to any of life’s intoxicants is no assurance of liberation. Quite the same can be said of taking the opposite path of asceticism or denial. Some paths become the freedom to not be free; which is of course the easier way because it leaves one free of responsibility. (You spotted the trap, didn’t you?) You know very well, as do I, that many among us can and will with all sincerity proclaim the most heavenly freedom found in a strict belief requiring one to walk sideways dressed all in black while intoning the word “Mighty Balloon” often as possible and giving “Mighty Balloon” credit for all and everything in life. The freedom to conform to sometimes quite awful limiting patterns does not fil easily into the independence column, but yet there it is because so many people will use freedom to unfree themselves and will do so to you too if you’re not alert.

I’ll set aside trying to define independence and freedom in favor of asking myself what I do with the opportunity. I can use it to do little or to self-indulge. I can use it in attempts to improve the lot of others (and hope I don’t come across like my mother did spitting on her hand to tame my rebellious cowlick). Is the important thing in an effort to use independence to do good found in the actual outcome, in the effort involved, or is the main thing located in the intent of my heart? An outcome can be long delayed. What if the “good” results after the deed-doer has died? Effort is probably the easiest to measure. But I don’t know how you’d call a volume of sweat or energy spent as especially good in and of itself. And as for seeing the intent of hearts; I think I’ll leave that for the favored few who lounge around in the wizarding world of JK. 

What is it and what are we doing with this gift of independence? Being cynical from youth I’ll be quick to assure others that I very much doubt that any degree of idealism of whatever sort will do more than add a fart to a tornado. Ideals don’t have much impact on real conditions or on facts. In an ideal situation I should be able to flit where I will when I wish, but in the actual world jumping off a tree will break bones. Idealism is nice but relatively useless as a practical model. Population pressures and consequent aggression doesn’t stop if we were to grow flowers and wave peace signs. I think it is saccharine delusion telling others they can be whatever they can imagine. Might feel good to say and sound nice to hear, but it is still a lie and maybe a damaging one at that if it misleads someone to be unrealistic and ignorant of the talents and abilities they do have. Trying to be a functional person will be difficult enough without false encouragement. Desiring to be Genghis Kahn or the Prophet’s favored bride doesn’t change by a jot a person’s present time and place. I’d much like it if those encouraging me to be more understanding of their idealistic views of things would kindly imagine themselves at the knacker’s yard about to turn equine.

What I do with the great potential found in freedom and independence is a question I consider this Fourth. But I can’t give answer because I mostly see questions I have trouble posing and in any case find impossible to answer. Is a five foot stack of old works the measure of how I’ve used the gift of time and energies? I might argue that the much lesser stack of youthful poetry is more essentially “me” and what I felt important. How do we know or measure? I never got over the truth felt in the McLeish poetic statement about an empty doorway and a maple leaf. It’s perfect. No book could say it as well, and yet its perfection is not complete and leaves universes of room for other books and more poetry to look at those same mysteries and attempt to recount their beauties.

With freedom we can get to decide where to place our energetic focus. Many, like a dear soul I know, leap at first opportunity to denounce Trump the liar. But it was a fine day. I preferred watching the wind-line showing on Lake Superior to stirring up sour winds of rancor. In any moment we might be able to show preference between air hot and cold. The lake was beautiful that afternoon. Why spoil it with empty argument? Am I practicing the economizing of hot air? Oh but, releasing balloons of derision is at times tempting; as when a woman I know predicated with great satisfaction that she’d given up dressing to impress men. I sympathized and fully understand, but realism told me her attempt wouldn’t have done much good or made a difference when it is the inside more than the out that matters.