Yesterday afternoon I sent email and sms messages to my friends, inviting them for a drink out at night. The excuse? "I'm finally officially free!"
One friend asked, "What do you mean? Did you break up with your boyfriend?"
Another wrote back also in confusion, "Didn't you just take a vacation in Yunnan from your unemployment in Beijing? How much more free do you need to be?"
The word Freedom indeed invites such easy confusion, which was probably why Freidrich Hayek carefully distinguished four common usages of liberty, or freedom, in his monumental The Constitution of Liberty:
1) "personal" freedom--the state in which a man is not subject to coercion by the arbitrary will of another or others;
2) "political" freedom--the participation of men in the choice of their government, in the process of legislation, and in the control of administration;
3) "inner" freedom--the extent to which a person is guided in his action not by momentary impulse or circumstance;
4) the freedom or power to satisfy our desires.
Indeed on what ground could I be celebrating my freedom?
4) I don't have the freedom to buy all the Apple products I want;
3) I still suffer from crises which, for lack of a more elegant expression, I shall call "existential";
2) Need I say more?
1) Need I say more???
Yet in the meantime, time has progressed. A year ago I was dazed by my sudden freedom from lack of Starbucks lattes, New York Times online and gym access over a long period of time. A year ago I took out the battery of my phone whenever I talked anything "sensitive" (how could I ever have believed that powered-off phones could be used as remote listening devices!). A year ago I listened to Nina Simone singing I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free, over and over.
A year later, life is almost normal. The final official closure of my "case" and the full resumption of personal freedom feels actually anti-climatic, not so dissimilar from the day when I received my US "Green Card." I can go anywhere I want now; and, so what?
I was reminded of the unfree, in everything I read, everywhere I look. I was reminded of shackles, of the bondage even after the breaking of the shackles. Most of all, I was reminded of my bourgeois obsession with the future and my powerlessness at changing any of the present.
But I was also reminded what the cute young Kevin Bacon quoted in Footloose:
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.Yes, to dance. I'm not one of those who fight to break the shackles. But I can dance. Dance with my shackles. Dance with my bondage after the shackles. Dance to pray. Dance to hope. For in dance, in the ecstasy of dance, I find the unnameable beauty which, for lack of a more elegant expression, I shall call freedom.