With freedom comes, everybody knows, responsibility. I was going to say, now that I am free, I am free to choose – meaning by this that, now that I am divorced, the game appears, at least at first blush, to have changed. No longer a case of ‘I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it,’ what the game seems to be about, in this new, post-divorce period, can be summed up as follows: ‘it’s decision time, baby.’ Time to decide, will I keep or sell the house? Will I move to Toronto? Will I – but let’s just hold that thought, for a moment.
I was going, as I say, to say this; but as I started to write this sentence I thought, in protest, ‘but, one is always free.’ Wasn’t I exercising my freedom when, almost five years ago now, I separated from Eileen? Wasn’t I risking it all so that I could become free, and with that freedom, choose a new life? Life begins at 56, right? So what, if anything, has changed? Why does this moment of freedom and choice seem any different from the climactic exercise of choice and freedom of half a decade past?
This gives me pause for thought. True, I am in an existential sense no more and no less free now than I was then: one’s freedom is always present, and not to choose freedom is to make a choice of a different kind. One is free to be free, and free to be not-free. And yet, something feels somehow qualitatively different even while, at some fundamental, deeper level, the question of freedom is everywhere and always the same.
This qualitative difference, I suspect, is found in two aspects of one’s lived experience. The first, as I touched on the other day, lies in the legal and social dimensions of freedom. From this perspective, I was not free before, no matter what freedom I might enjoy in the philosophical sense. In the eyes of the law and of the community, until I was divorced I was married, and as a married man I could not choose to marry another, nor could I simply walk away from my legal and other responsibilities as a spouse even if, physically, I could exercise my freedom to leave the marital home.
Being free, in a legal sense, now gives me the freedom to make choices that were not previously available to me except, as I have mentioned, in a notional, hypothetical way: ‘when I come to that bridge, I will cross it.’
The other aspect of this qualitatively new sense of freedom is more subjective in nature. If, in 2005, I chose to be free, in the legal and social as well as the philosophical senses of the term, it was a freedom ‘from’ that I sought; to the extent that it was also a choice of freedom ‘for’ something, it was the freedom to begin again, that my soul and whole being hungered after. After more than a quarter of a century of marriage, I wanted my life back.
Now that I have my freedom, and am free, I face again the responsibility of choice. Now that I have my life back the question I face is, what am I going to do with it?
That is what is different – and the same.