Freedom … What does that word mean as we are half-way through this strange year during which The Novel Coronavirus/COVID-19 has dominated the daily news cycle? What does freedom mean for Americans on the 244th Anniversary of the founding of our unique and peculiar nation that is indeed exceptional in so many ways?
Freedom is embodied in the many small daily decisions that we ourselves, our families, and our neighbors make. It is finding creative ways to interact safely, whether celebrating a national holiday or mourning the loss of a loved one.
Freedom of celebration includes choosing whether to directly participate in the Uberization of fireworks when small (and not so small!) personal fireworks boom from every street. This has been a loud response to the cancellation of large professional displays that bring everyone together in one place. (Ten days after America’s Independence Day is France’s Bastille Day. I wonder if they will adapt their fireworks in a similar way.)
Freedom of movement is choosing whether to stay home, go to work, go to a restaurant or barber, or buy the items needed to redefine our yards. … And whether to wear a mask in situations where we will be close enough to breathe even a tiny bit of our peers’ exhalations. (Just to be clear, I believe that the fastest route to a full reopening of our economies is to wear masks and to maintain social distance.)
Freedom of personal routines affects each of us, no matter where in the world we live. We must evaluate even the most routine of daily activities and decide whether to change how we’ve always done things. Some changes may be frustrating (putting off that long-needed haircut) or agonizing (long phone conversations after the death of a loved one instead of a long tearful hug). But our current challenges have also brought innovations that we will choose to build into our new routines. Companies and families alike will “Zoom” to enhance calls that would have just been akin to dial-up connections – and we may occasionally replace getting on a plane for short trips. We also now have an excuse to drop habits that long ago grew stale.
Freedom to travel now consists of both our individual decisions whether to get on a plane and cross an ocean and the decisions of governments whether to allow us in – or return home without a quarantine. The rules constantly change as the elusive COVID-19 bobs and weaves its way through each corner of this world, making it hard to make travel plans very far into the future.
Freedom to welcome visitors means cities that felt overwhelmed by visitors last summer, such as Barcelona, Venice, Amsterdam, Key West (and every small coastal town in Alaska) can now take a breath and ask how much tourism they actually want. How many visitors are needed to support city services – and keep our favorite restaurant open? How many tourists are too many – causing a hometown to feel like a theme park instead of a living, vibrant city.
Freedom to travel far and wide offers a paradox. We must consider our own contributions to making the climate change faster than its own natural rhythms. But this very act of travel allows us to see the resplendent beauty of receding glaciers and coastlines with our own eyes. This creates a personal, visceral appreciation of the vast diversity of habitats around our globe.
Freedom means making choices about the little things of daily life, and equally important, about the profound experiences that we will remember the rest of our lives.
Freedoms were curtailed during the first half of 2020 as we individually and collectively grappled with the effects of COVID-19 and adapted our routines to match. As this virus lingers into the second half of 2020, we may become depressed and frustrated that this is not just going away.
But we also have the Freedom to be proactive by resetting our thinking. We can exercise our ability to leave behind the habits and personal items that no longer serve us well. The void left from discarding what we no longer need can create a space for creativity and innovation. We can also add new friends who can better relate to who we are now.
Freedom begins in each of our hearts. No matter whether you have been physically affected by the Novel Coronavirus of 2019 or not, the choices you make now can provide greater happiness and satisfaction when 2020 moves into the rearview mirror and 2021 arrives with its new opportunities for personal growth – and travel!