Freedom evokes many images. Flags, bells, books, churches, homes, schools . . . each of you certainly carries an image of freedom in your mind.
For me, freedom is open space, particularly the space that was the farm on which I was raised and is the farm on which my children, husband and I now live.
Growing up a farmer’s daughter, I had the privilege of exploring open space every day after the chores were done. My sister, brother and I would roam either on foot or horseback the pastures named for the trees that provided shade there – the Hickory Grove and the Pines. During winter we would cover the same ground, now with skis strapped to our feet.
I don’t think I was truly aware of the freedom that not just farm life but country life afforded me until I was 18. At that time, I was serving as the State Reporter for the Illinois Association FFA and had spent the end of an early spring week in Chicago at a conference attended by high school freshman and sophomores. During the conference, the students were asked to create a plan of improvement for their school or neighborhood. I figured plans would involve planting flowers or cleaning up roadsides . . . after all, here in the country, in rural America that is what we did for community service.
The group with which I was working chose making their neighborhood safer and began brainstorming ways they could partner with law enforcement and community watch groups. I was startled to learn several of the students had either witnessed a shooting or had lost a family member or friend to the violence that was a daily occurrence on their city blocks.
It was a fairly short drive home and when I arrived, I changed my shoes and took off on a walk. I followed the road two miles west to my grandparents’ house. It was a road I had walked many times alone, waving to passing cars, some drivers even stopping to say hello or inquire about my travels. I was never afraid. But this particular afternoon I couldn’t help but think of those students, not two hours from me, who couldn’t walk to school let alone down the block. I think that was the first time I thought about my freedom.
These days, I think of freedom often but in a different context. I consider the freedom we have as individuals to make choices and how those choices affect the lives around us. In small town USA, strength lies in numbers, in our investment in our schools, communities and churches. Not investment of finances but of time, of support and of belief that together we can maintain an open space where our children and our neighbors are free to roam.
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