I grew up in the 60’s – not the swinging 60’s you understand, the swing hadn’t swung as far as my town. The 60’s for me were a time of wonder and possibility. There was talk of a passenger jet that would travel twice the speed of sound and the possibility that men would actually travel to the moon. It seemed like anything could happen. Who would have guessed then that the supersonic jet would be retired without replacement and that manned space flight would find a sterile rock and go no further? For me one the most exciting possibilities of the 60’s was in the exploits of Jacques Cousteau. Even in black and white his TV programme seemed vivid, colourful and full of possibilities. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to explore the Undersea World that he had found? I never believed I would get the chance, but get it I did. Just before our first child came along my wife and I splashed out
on a holiday to Australia, and of course that means the Great Barrier Reef. The sights I saw there burned so strongly onto my retina even a week later I could close my eyes and be back there again, floating on the surface looking down at the coral world. I was so enthused that I later wrote a lullaby about it for my new baby girl (you can read and listen to it here: Michaelmas Cay).
Snorkelling amongst the coloured fishes of the reef was a delight and then I had the chance to try scuba diving too. But you know, I didn’t really like it. I preferred the freedom of snorkelling. My problem was that there were so many rules with scuba diving. Watch the pressure and the time, always dive with a buddy. With snorkelling I just pulled on a mask and swam where I liked. No one told me what I had to do.
For me the freedom of scuba diving was just an illusion. But isn’t that true of all the activities that promise freedom: Flying has air traffic controllers and flight lanes. Sailing is likewise. Skydiving – well you can only do that by going through all the training. And the biggest illusion of them all is Driving: You can’t just hit the open road and drive where you like, there are signs and signal to obey, speed limits to observe and a test to pass too.
So does freedom really exist anywhere? I’d say it depends on your definition. Ultimately the universe can only spin around one centre and we would all like that centre to be ourself. If you have more than one centre you have conflict, and me exercising my ‘freedom’ will, at some point, infringe on you exercising yours. But I have come to have a view of freedom as ‘freedom to choose’. If all we are is a product of our genes and moulded by our experiences then it someone knew us well enough, all our actions and reactions would be predictable because we are contained by who we’ve become. So we have no real choice in how we react, it’s a product of who we are – we are our ‘father’s son’ and ‘the apple didn’t fall far from the tree’. But if we join a different family we will have a new heritage and for the first time the opportunity to really choose. This is something I wrote more about in my parable of ‘The Crab’.
So there is true freedom in this world, if it’s freedom to choose to be something better than what we’ve become.