Who can forget the images?
After forty-five years of Communism and thirty years of not being able to walk freely through their own city, one exhilarating night, totally unexpectedly, the checkpoints of the Berlin Wall are thrown open and multitudes of euphoric East Berliners come flooding across to the West, passing freely by the befuddled guards who would have been obligated to shoot them only the day before.
A lone man, anonymous to this day, stands defiantly before a tank in Beijing and refuses to step aside. The tank tries to go around him, but the man repeatedly steps into its path, heedless of his own possible death. The whole world rejoices at this symbol of liberty and courage.
A poor, disadvantaged vegetable seller in Tunisia is insulted by a policewoman; he goes to the authorities for redress and finds none. His solitary protest against the injustice sets off peaceful demonstrations around the country that, in less than a month, will topple a dictator who has been in power for twenty-three years.
People in Egypt watch what is happening in Tunisia and ask the reasonable question, “Why not here?” They know the military, the government and the secret police will mobilize against them. They know that they are unarmed against the might of the state and that most likely some of them will die. They take to the streets anyway, calling for the peaceful removal of a strongman who has harshly and unjustly ruled their lives for thirty years. Some are arrested and tortured, others are shot where they stand in the streets, but still the crowds keep coming. Why? Because they crave the freedom and dignity that they know to be theirs.
We look on and are moved to joyful celebration for these triumphs of the human spirit. We identify with these people, even if they are far away in places that we will never go. We feel the kinship. “Yes, I know what they must be feeling. I would do the same. We are all in this together.”
Hurray and hurray again for these recurring emblems of courage. We are well served by gentle and not so gentle reminders of what is possible, and for some fortunate people in less troubled lands, these images lead to a searching glimpse into their own situation: “What is possible for me in my life?”
Now we come to the crucial point: what is possible in our own lives? Many of us may have felt fearful, doubtful, confused, repressed, depressed and disempowered, but not because of what some government has done to us, but because of what we have done to ourselves. We may have beaten ourselves up for our many perceived faults; we may have compared ourselves with others and doubted who and what we are; we may have been at the mercy of negative thoughts and emotions and believed that we would never be free of them. We may have bought in to all the ideas that said we were limited, sinful, unworthy and not good enough. We see others around us believing the same things, and we may conclude that this is just the way things are.
But the freedom that never left us and is always present beckons us at every moment, no matter what ideas we might have had about its loss. It is said that “hope springs eternal,” and that hope is ignited when we see examples in the lives of others, and in our own lives, that we can be free. This does take a bit of courage ….not unlike the courage of those in Berlin, Beijing, Tunisia and Egypt. It is the courage that says, “No matter what obstacles I see before me, I will not be deterred; I will not be limited; I will not be denied.”
This freedom that I am speaking of is the most basic of human rights — the birthright of all of us to know ourselves as we truly are. One moment at a time, over and over again, we quietly confirm that freedom for ourselves, and we persist, bravely, without wavering, until all hindrances have fallen away and our vision is clear. I wish this recognition of freedom for myself, I wish it for all of you who read these words, and I wish it for all citizens of the world.