I smell like fireworks. Oh, not the big ones that didn’t get set off above Radford tonight — I smell like sparklers and ground flowers and “legal” incendiary devices that can still send a grown man scuttling off into the landscaping. It’s a smell that gets into your hair and clothes and on your skin, and is as Fourth-of-July as watermelon and beer.
And I couldn’t help but think, as I watched our friends’ children dancing with their sparklers and balloons, about consequences. Get a sparkler too close to a balloon, and something loud is going to happen. Once it HAS happened, no one can make it un-happen. You can’t put the balloon back together and try again, and neither can Mom or Dad. That’s a bit of an ouchy lesson.
When my children were younger — and we’re talking early high school here — they hated a number of things about me. This is normal, and, just as a reminder to people who are in that stage now: if your adolescent children don’t hate you occasionally, you might be failing as a parent. (Of course, if they hate you all the time, you might also be failing as a parent; parenting is pretty much a lifelong tightrope-walk.)
Anyway, my kids really, really loathed hearing me say “Things have consequences.”
It annoyed them because by the time I intoned this litany, something had already happened, and the results of whatever-that-was had usually happened, too. Sometimes these were minor results — put Pop Tarts in the toaster with the wrapper on, and flames will shoot out approximately three feet. This only sounds cool. When a child is watching it, her brain is screaming words that her parents don’t know she knows.
Other times, these were pretty serious, like what happens when a child’s parents find out that he has been sneaking out at night to meet his girlfriend. The consequence of that action is a loss of trust, which results in a lot of other losses, like the use of a car, cell phone, and computer.
We talk a lot about “freedom” on the Fourth of July, like we even know what that means. In Going Postal, Terry Pratchett says that “no sane mortal is truly free, because true freedom is so terrible that only the mad or the divine can face it with open eyes. It overwhelms the soul . . .”
Freedom is not the natural state of the human soul, no matter what we’ve been told. Even the most vicious sociopath obeys traffic signals, for example. Why? Because things have consequences. I believe in God, which is an automatic curtailment of freedom. I can no longer hate people with impunity, for example, because I have submitted to an authority that forbids it. The submission was voluntary; the consequences are not.
Here in America, we have the freedom to surrender our freedom wherever we want. We can become slaves to status, money, power, sex, Twinkies. We can hand over our brains to whatever dogma suits us at the moment, and then we can walk our dogmas all over other people whose brains belong to other dogmas. Many of us surrender our freedoms without a second thought, or even a first thought, and we’re free do to that, if we want. It’s a little depressing, really, but it’s better than freedom.
When we talk about “freedom” we usually mean “choices,” like where to live, worship, work. “Freedom” is a lot more than that. Freedom puts the Pop Tarts in the toaster to see what will happen. Freedom holds the sparkler AND the balloon. Freedom thinks for itself. Freedom does what it’s going to do, and then takes the consequences.