On Friday, I walked to work.
It doesn’t seem like news worth noting, especially since the job to which I’m referring is a scant 1.2 miles from my abode; there’s even a sidewalk the entire way. What was significant for me, though, was the almost euphoric freedom I felt in the exercise.
I’d chosen to walk on a particularly fine morning (what a fortunate, first-world, upper-middle-class lady I am to “choose” to walk to work — to work at a yoga studio, no less), and by making the decision to forgo motor transport (please bear with me and my hipster-y, Wendell-Berry-esque conviction), I passively decided to “not do” many other things: send an extra email that would make my post-yoga load lighter, wash the breakfast dishes so that the yogurt might not dry into cement, check Facebook one more time to see what new Donald Trump memes popped up, straighten up my office to increase productivity and ensure an on-time arrival of this post in my editor’s hands.
There were many other things, both worthwhile and not so worthwhile, that I automatically denied or put to the side for later when I made the positive decision to walk to work. There’s a certain freedom in that, and my almost-doctor (and already quite Reverend) husband tells me that a brilliant guy, Jacques Maritain, called this freedom “terminal freedom.” Further, while I was in the throes of this ecstatic terminal freedom, I had eschewed many “initial freedoms”; that is to say, I’d made a decision big enough to close off many other possible avenues of joy (or cheap pleasure, as far as Donald Trump is concerned), painting myself into a corner.
On that warm Friday morning in February, it was a really gorgeous corner to be stuck in.
I suspected I might be on to something, hence the alluded-to conversation with my helpmate, and it became clear that we are a society addicted to initial freedoms, to the exclusion of terminal freedom. What if I should miss a phone call while I’m out on this walk in nature? Well, I should surely bring my phone and keep it in my pocket and check it every few minutes, just in case I miss a better deal than what I’ve got right now. What if my spouse isn’t the best possible model available, and marriage is frankly a disappointment? Well, we really ought to have easy-to-obtain divorces for if the going gets tough.
As I’ve been struggling for the last years with acute depression and anxiety, I’ve gone round and round about how ashamed I feel that I’m in a very comfortable home with plenty of friends and food and fantastic healthcare, and yet I have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. “Come on!” I say to myself, “Buck up!” It’s not very effective.
I wonder if there’s a reason that our society is so anxious and so depressed, and that these sorts of mental illnesses seem less rampant in developing countries. I wonder if the message sloshing around in our proverbial water, this addiction to initial freedoms — cheap thrills, instant gratification — causes a stimulation overload and a feeling of despair at wondering how to pick the right, best choice all the time. Perhaps in places where there aren’t as many choices, there’s actually more freedom.
As I walked backed home from yoga class that afternoon, a friend called (I did bring my phone with me) and wanted to meet up for lunch. I’d feared just this thing: “What if some opportunity came up and I wasn’t prepared to be there immediately?” I told her I’d love to get lunch with her and could be there in an hour.
The friend, the margarita, and the tacos were all waiting; I hadn’t lost a thing.