Freedom Lost and Gained
There’s the price FOR freedom and the price OF freedom. The price for freedom is the bloodshed to obtain and maintain freedom – much like the freedom won and continues to be fought for in our country. The price of freedom is the consequence of our freedoms.
There is such a thing as too much freedom where freedom is abused. Abuse of freedom can often lead to jail time, addiction, death, disability, and dysfunction. Too much freedom – especially in our modern connected society – allows us to squander time and lose focus. Only when freedom is lost – for example, in the case of incarceration, addiction, and disability – do we wish we had that freedom back.
We value freedom when we’ve lost or are about to lose it, just as we realize the value of life when death is close.
It’s December 22, 1849, and it is a bitterly cold morning in Saint Petersburg, Russia’s imperial capital.
It’s also the morning of an execution. Shackled convicts are led from their cells into a cobbled square lined with carts carrying coffins. Soldiers load their rifles, and a priest performs the last rites for the condemned. Finally, an officer reads the verdict: death by firing squad.
On this day, 28-year-old Fyodor Dostoevsky was marched from a dank St. Petersburg jail into the bitter cold and placed before a firing squad. He had been sentenced to death after spending eight months in jail for political dissent. Death was near, Dostoevsky thought. Until his arrest, he had published two novels – one successful and one not so much – but there was so much more in his head he wanted to put to paper.
As the executioners raised their rifles, a miracle happened. A horse and cart pulled up, waving a white flag. Czar Nicholas, a messenger reported, had spared Dostoevsky’s life and those of his fellow radicals. They would instead spend the next four years in a Siberian hard labor camp – no walk in the park but far better than death.
With a new lease on life – even if the next four years would be spent in a living hell – Dostoevsky vowed never to squander another moment. On the evening of his spared execution, Dostoevsky wrote to his brother – looking back at all the time he had squandered and lamenting the torture of that realization. On the precipice of death, he vowed never to waste another second.
When Dostoevsky was released from prison in Siberia in 1854, he went back to work writing. Before his incarceration, writing had always been a painful process. He wrestled with every word and sentence – often struggling to complete a single page in months. Now, however, the words flowed. The writing was effortless. He always retained that inspiration and maintained a frantic writing pace until he died in 1881.
In just over 25 years, he wrote a series of epochal novels that included Crime and Punishment, The Possessed, and The Brothers Karamazov – known for their breadth and profound insights.
Dostoevsky felt no bitterness from his imprisonment. Instead, he was grateful. As he saw it, losing his freedom made him value it more, and being on the verge of death made him appreciate life more. Had he not gone through that experience of that cold winter morning in 1848 – an experience that would have broken most men – he felt like he would have wasted his life.
Life’s full of possibilities with all the freedom that we enjoy. However, that freedom can be a burden. We can devote our lives to creating something meaningful and beautiful, like a great novel, or we can use that time to waste away living a life of crime or addiction.
For some, too much freedom can be an overload and often a source of unease. Ironically, the sense that anything and everything is possible can be overwhelming and vertigo-inducing for some. So, instead of focusing on specific endeavors, some avoid them altogether and take what they perceive as the easy way out. Alcohol, drugs, crime – you name it. All those options are easier than taking control of your destiny and focusing. The thing is, most of the time, there are more options than one option. The key is to go with some options. Being stagnant does nothing for you. It could cause you to regress.
Sometimes, however, like Dostoevsky, some of us experience an epiphany where things become clearer, and our options come into focus. It could be something from the outside that imposes itself on us or something from the inside that causes us to wake up. Before that moment, maybe we were falling behind in our work or personal lives – maybe stumbling through demanding new responsibilities. We needed clarity. Then we have that moment that changes everything. With enlightenment, we’re moved to act and know what needs to be done. Just as the words flowed for Dostoevsky, our actions became more confident and automatic.
What’s remarkable about these life-changing moments is how much more spirited and alive they make us feel and how our actions and words take on new meaning. Life suddenly becomes purposeful. There’s urgency and clarity. Once the moment passes, responsibilities that were once burdensome and seemed insurmountable suddenly become opportunities. We are renewed with a new sense of urgency and purpose.
Unfortunately, some lose their way and revert to old habits and routines that leave them wondering how to get that sense of urgency and purpose back. Don’t be one of those people. Like Dostoevsky, once you experience that epiphany, keep that frantic pace until you leave this Earth.