Recently, I was in an interesting conversation with several people about what values matter most to us. Rather surprisingly, I found myself saying “freedom.”
I say surprisingly because it was a value I hadn’t really ever thought about deeply, and certainly not in context to my own life. But having said it, I found myself returning to the question of “freedom” again and again.
So much so that my subconscious offered up a rather striking image upon waking one morning. I envisioned the whole world surrounded by a cloud of people, all floating above it at different heights, connected to the earth by a thin tether.
Some were quite low to the ground, others stretched into the farthest reaches of the atmosphere. Some clung tightly to their tethers, others strained to break them. All of us humans formed giant rings around the planet — rings representing our degree of freedom.
It’s a flawed metaphor of course, but a useful one I think. Linking freedom with altitude highlights the qualities of “being free” that both entice and terrify us all.
The higher you go, the more space you have to move. The view is spectacular. But you can get pretty jostled by the weather and the air currents. When the storms come, you are in them in all their glory and danger. Sometimes you don’t feel very connected to the people below you.
Heaven help you if you fall.
The lower down you are, the more constricted you are. You can really only see the people around you, near you. It’s hard to get a good look at other parts of the world…or even other parts of your city.
But when you reach out a hand, there’s another nearby to reach back. You protect and comfort each other during the storms, and rejoice and laugh together when times are good.
I don’t think we’re born with a certain tether length. And I think we adjust our tether throughout our lives. We can tug and strain to lengthen them as young adults, eager to fly higher. We can reel them closer to the ground after hurt or heartbreak.
We can choose to adjust our tethers to fly next to someone special, experiencing the views and the storms together. Keeping tethers at the same length is tricky though, and sometimes we drift too far apart, no longer able to touch each other, or hear the other’s calls.
To fly really high, you have to be strong and brave… and shed most of your baggage. While no one is truly “unattached” the souls at the farthest reaches move fast and far. They see the world like few others have ever seen it and get a pretty good look at what lies beyond our world too. But they don’t run into others like them very often. It can get quiet up there. Very quiet.
To fly low, you have to learn to work together: to untangle the tethers when conflict arises, to teach others how to shorten and lengthen their own tethers, to find the balance between independence and living together in close proximity. With a shorter tether, you may not see the world, but you will see the impact you can have on your piece of it. It’s a little noisy and claustrophobic down here, but it’s also warmer. Safer too (maybe).
I don’t think this vision is meant to make one ring of freedom seem better or worse, but to show how each trades some measure of safety for independence. Maybe most important of all is to realize that we are constantly choosing the length of our tethers. It’s not a decision we make only once. And it’s not a decision we can make for anyone else.
Are you as free as you want to be?
Photo taken by me on a night
when I deeply wanted to fly higher.