A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF FREEDOM
The word fairly reverberated around my father’s old, beat-up, brown Buick as I drove south on the interstate. It was August, so the windows were rolled down (partly because I loved the feeling of freedom that it gave, but mostly because the air conditioning didn’t work) and the radio was cranked up:
Get your motor runnin’…
Head out on the highway
Lookin’ for adventure
And whatever comes our way
Oh yeah. Steppenwolf understood freedom. And now, for the first time in my life, so did I. Home, high school and constraint were in my rear-view mirror as I drove toward college and the wondrous autonomy that it promised. From this moment forward I could do what I wanted to do. If I wanted pie and Dr Pepper for breakfast, that’s what I’d have. If I wanted to stay up all night eating pizza and listening to music, that’s what I’d do. If I wanted to call girls on the phone after – something I was never allowed to do at home – I’d make the call.
I like smoke and lightning
Heavy metal thunder
Racin’ with the wind
And the feeling that I’m under
I was about halfway to college when I noticed something else in my rear-view mirror: flashing red lights. I glanced at my speedometer. Heck, I didn’t know the Buick could even go 90. I gulped and steered the car to the right side of the freeway and pulled to a stop, fearful that I might be celebrating my first day of real freedom by being arrested.
The highway patrolman paused and looked in the back seat of the car, which was loaded with boxes and stereo equipment. Neither one of us said a word as I handed over my driver’s license and the Buick’s registration (yeah, I knew the drill – it wasn’t the first time I had seen red lights in my mirror). He walked back to his patrol car, leaving me to agonize about the awful possibilities. What would my parents say? What would my college dean say? What would all those girls say if I called them after – from jail?
The officer came back and leaned over to look me directly in the eye.
“You heading to school?” he asked.
“Yes, sir.” I said.
“First time away from home?”
Oh man – did it show?
“Yes, sir,” I said.
He paused, then said with a smile. “I remember my first time away from home,” he said. “I remember the feeling . . . the freedom. It was great!”
He got it! He understood – I was sure of it! From the look in his eye I could see that he knew what it felt like to feel the need to “go make it happen,” to “take the world in a love embrace,” to “fire all of your guns at once and explode into space!” He was, like me, a “true nature’s child,” and we were both “born to be wild!”
Then he handed me the ticket.
“Consider this your first college lesson,” he said. “Freedom is great, but freedom is also a responsibility. Use it wisely.”
I wish I could say that I accepted his advice and used my freedom wisely that first semester at college. My college transcript would suggest otherwise. But through the years I’ve learned, as I hope we all have, that “freedom isn’t free. You’ve gotta pay the price, you’ve gotta sacrifice for your liberty.”
And no, Steppenwolf didn’t sing that. But maybe they should have.
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