Freedom and Commitment

The morning of ‘brexit’ was not a happy one for me. I felt as though my passport had just been unexpectedly dumped by its long term lover and was about to leave desperate sobbing answerphone messages, begging to be taken back.  Britain had decided it just needed to be alone right now and I was suddenly the child of a political divorce I didn’t want. I was in mourning and moped around the house filled with self pity and a kind of sanctimonious rage. As I explained the situation to grandmother, I grumbled on about all the lying politicians and hate preaching tabloids, the selfish old people and the stupid, small minded racists that I believed to be responsible for such a tragedy! (disclaimer: to any friends or family reading this who voted leave, I accept there are some valid arguments for leaving the EU and I’m sure your intentions were not selfish or racist). “I just feel so disappointed with my country” I summarized mournfully. I was expecting grandmother to be as rattled as I was, or at least moved in some way by my impassioned monologue, but she seemed pretty non plussed by the whole thing and instead gave me a wry, knowing smile and started to tell me a story about Rudolph Steiner (classic). I sat down on the steps outside her room, getting the feeling that this wasn’t going to be a short story.

She told me how once, Rudolf Steiner was asked if he had ever been disappointed by someone? After some thought, Rudolf Steiner replied that he had, explaining that if people disappoint you, it means you have allowed them to be free. She expanded upon this, describing how other people can be the opposite pillar of a bridge but sometimes that pillar is not as strong as you thought and will crumble under your weight when you try and cross. What you relied upon will disappoint and hurt you. This doesn’t mean you should give up though. If you commit to positive change, to rebuilding that pillar and checking that it’s strong enough, next time it will be better.  The story then started to curve off, in classic grandmother storytelling style, and I had to try my best to hold on to the meaning through the extended metaphors that sometimes conveyed several points at the same time. Grandmother has a unique ability to tell a story that is simultaneously literal and metaphorical. For example, she explained to me how, when the mirror in the bathroom crashes down, you must wait until new nails are in place before you try to hang up the new one because the old nails are clearly not strong enough and the new mirror will just break again if you try and hang it up on the old nails. She was using the story metaphorically to illustrate the point she’d been trying to make about committing to positive change and not just expecting things to be better without doing anything about it, but she was also literally telling me about the new bathroom mirror she’d bought and how I wasn’t to try hanging it up until new nails had been put in!

Somehow, even a conversation on freedom ended up coming back to commitment, one of grandmother’s favourite topics. I have become slightly allergic to the word as it usually precedes a conversation where grandmother implies I need more direction and responsibilities in my life (by your age I had a husband and two children etc.) and then tries to make suggestions on how she can add direction to my life. These suggestions usually lead towards me fulfilling the dream she has for me where I become fluent in Polish, marry a strong and handy Polish man who’ll do all the manual labour around the farm and give me loads of babies whilst I cook kidney nourishing soups and we live here happily ever after with her!  At a stage in my life when I am perhaps a little lost, it’s hard to explain to people that although I don’t really know where I’m going, I still don’t need them to give me directions!

Her sentiments on commitment this time, however, actually rang true and gave me something to think about. She told me that “it is in commitments that we place ourselves in the path of destiny and change”. I often think of commitment as something static, something that ties you down and stops you from being flexible. An anchor and the antithesis of freedom. However through grandmothers insight I realized the two were not the opposites I’d imagined. Commitment doesn’t always have to mean an anchor, it can also be a path. It can lead you places, keep you moving forward and take you where you’ve never been before. Through commitments, we can also find freedom.

This said, I’m still not quite ready to settle down and have all those babies quite yet. Sorry grandmother, all those cradles will have to stay in the attic for now!

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