“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
– Viktor E. Frankl
I have in my home office a wall of books, each shelf groaning under the weight of the wisdom it patiently holds for me. About half of these books I’ve read – no, make that studied. The other half eagerly await that moment when my fingers will intuitively come to rest on their spine and pull their message off the shelf and into my life. A part of me lives in these shelves, waiting to be cracked open like these books.
Peppered among these shelves are the mementos of my life. Everything that I’ve come to assign deep meaning to has a physical presence and is afforded a precious piece of real estate on these shelves. This wall is my living, breathing vision board.
A visitor would probably be struck first by the five foot long plastic HB #2 pencil I have, poised on top of the wall. It’s my bold and fun statement that I wanna be a writer when I grow up. Beyond this, there’s the usual suspects: carefully chosen photos with family and friends that are uncannily flattering of me; recently received greeting cards vying for space until the next cull; and a tiny figurine called the Angel of Hope from one of my early clients, who said her ember of hope was ignited again for the first time in a long time.
Collectively, these items and many more peeking out from these shelves are poignant reminders of who I am and who I am becoming. I treasure them all…but only one item would call out to me in the event of a fire.
It is a smooth handful of plexiglass, encasing a non-descript chunk of concrete. Its dark base and clear texture blend into the cubbyhole it sits in. Its humble existence might not even catch your eye but its powerful symbolism is what might have me risking life and limb to retrieve it.
It is a remnant of the Berlin Wall. While this could mean many things to many people, to me it speaks to freedom, the most universal of human values. What it means to have this taken away and what we will do to reclaim it. We witness this playing out endlessly in the political arenas of the world, but do we really appreciate how this plays out in our own lives?
I think we are the closest to living from freedom when we are children, before the conditioning and judgements of the world penetrate our innocence. I can vividly remember the gift of a broom and dustpan as a little girl less than six years old. The idea of being invited into the mysterious adult world through these simple tools was completely and utterly exciting to me. I grabbed that broom and swung it around the kitchen with gusto. Almost immediately I was corrected, shown the proper way to sweep. And in that moment, the freedom to play evaporated and my perfectionist conditioning had begun.
Fast forward to a tender age somewhere between six and ten – a chance, one-time meeting with another girl slightly older than me, in a park. My parents were visiting friends in the area and my brother and I were sent outside to explore. I must have spent a couple hours with this girl but my sole recollection was her blatant judgement. “Look at the rolls!” she cackled, as we crouched in the grass and she pointed at my stomach. Until that moment, I was blissfully unaware of my body image. The freedom to enjoy my body would not return for decades.
Every one of us has had to endure the well-meaning directives and the insensitive opinions of others. Every one of us has had our freedoms poked, prodded and bruised by the time we reach adulthood. From this perspective, nobody escapes childhood unscathed and we build our walls of protection.
Thankfully, there is a part of us that longs from the depth of our being to reclaim and polish those tarnished freedoms, to release our Soul to grow and expand beyond the conditioning and judgements, to fully own our life and exercise our power of self-determination. There is a part of us that longs to be cracked open like a great book.
Imagine holding this remnant of the Berlin Wall, this irreplaceable piece of history, and ask yourself what irreplaceable freedom do you long to reclaim for yourself? Is it the freedom to relax and be at peace? Is it the freedom to love and be loved? Or is it the freedom to pursue your dreams and fully express yourself in this lifetime? You are the one who built the wall. Only you have the power to bring it down.