Good News! You are free

Juneteenth is now a federal holiday. I learned about Juneteenth maybe ten years ago. The basic story is that President Abraham Lincoln had freed all slaves in the Emancipation proclamation. But that proclamation was not applicable until the North won the civil war.

The former slave owners did not tell all the slaves they were free when the war was conceded. It took Union soldiers to come tell these people their new freedom.

Jefferson said the beautiful phrase in the declaration of independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”

Liberty is an unalienable right. And yet, we can be alienated from our liberty.

There is a story that circus elephants are trained while they are little, with a strong leg band chained to a stake. They fight and pull to get away and have their freedom. They gall their leg, tearing their skin bloody. Thus, they learn not to fight the restraint. This lasts past their growth into adulthood.

It doesn’t even take the actual wound anymore. Just the memory or the threat of that pain is enough.

I have framed my understanding of the world and placed things into categories. There are forbidden things, things that cause pain.

But I am not the same as I was yesterday. And I’m not in the same place. What might be possible now that wasn’t possible before?

I am glad this story of Juneteenth is a yearly holiday now. The declaration of Independence wasn’t enough. Our understanding of liberty needs to be revisited.

What freedoms have I surrendered and forgotten? I can test some limits.

It’s always and every day a choice. The calvary can come in and let me know that I’m free. I’m grateful to the people in my life who do just that.

And also, I want to be my own calvary. That takes revisiting my assumptions and testing limits regularly.

I value my freedom. Liberty is worth fighting for and protecting.

Not Telling differently

I finally got the protective head gear so I can spar.

My martial arts needs to go to the next level. I have to engage with a real fight. A real fight with lots of padding.

I was excited to try, but when I put on the bulky headgear, I saw that my nose is completely unprotected. That was sobering, but I was eager to do this!

So I got on the mat. The class had us all rotate through sparring everyone. And by the end, I had bruised ribs and I’d been punched in the nose twice


It hurt a lot.
I was crying a little.
I had to think about this as I shuffled out to my car. Was this something I was willing to do again?

Why was I doing this?

Studying self-defense and martial arts was changing my world. I was learning that I was worth protecting—and how to do it.

I didn’t’ have to accept other people hurting, cornering or taking advantage of me. I could fight back and defend myself.

But this!

I was letting someone hurt me. Wasn’t that kinda the opposite of self-defense?

It felt a lot more real than the practice sessions. This was clearly a new level. I had to be willing to be hurt.

Which brings to mind a line from the Princess Bride

Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something

Pain will come. And it is shocking.

What will I do with it? Avoiding it is a valid choice, but so is leaning into it.

Since the pain is coming, it would be good to have an awareness of what I could do with it.

As I held an icepack to my head, I realized I could learn to block those punches to my head.

But that meant I’d have to take a few more punches along the way.

But the difference was my sparring partner cared about me and we were practicing together.

That makes a lot of difference.

I can do a lot more when I push past what I thought my boundaries were.

Love and Life

She had been told she had 11 months to live. That lit everything in a new light.

I didn’t have time for being short with people, she said.

This woman was telling her story on YouTube, and she’d lived past the 11 months the doctor had given her. But she retained her understanding that it was not worth holding on to resentment.

There is no time for that.

I once saw a book, a story of a man walking with a monk. The two approached a stream where a rich woman expensively dressed and dripping with jewelry was standing. She demanded that the monk carry her across the stream.

“You can get across this stream as easily as we can!” the man said to her.

But the monk knelt and let the woman climb on his back. He carried her across the stream, putting her down on the other side.

They continued on their way, and the man kept talking with outrage at this presumptuous woman the whole day.

When dusk fell, the monk turned to him “I put that woman down hours ago, but you’ve been carrying her this whole time.”

That’s resentment. That load of how much wrong has been done to my precious self is too much to carry. Or even in this case, a wrong done to someone else.

In the Big Book of alcoholics anonymous, one of the twelve steps is to take inventory of your life. Bill W calls out resentment as particularly devastating. It is a poison not to be indulged in. The alcoholic will use it to justify drinking.

I’m not an alcoholic, but I am weak in many many many areas. I can’t see straight if I let resentment have room.

And it crowds out the love I want to feel, and to give, to the people around me.

When that 11-months-to-live woman brought up resentment for the second time this week, I too saw how I don’t have time for this addictive poison. That monk was right. I can put down the burden even if I take it up.

Life is too short. This small stuff deserves just enough attention to get past it, and it is serious enough not to ignore. I want to focus on love and life.