For the last few years, I’ve had more time to read. Coincidentally, two of my readings from last week were about how humans need 360 degree opportunities to move around. These two readings set up a spectrum of freedom that makes it simpler to understand the state of being free. This spectrum of freedom sets aside political considerations and economic considerations and simplifies freedom by locating it in space and locomotion.
These readings include two books. The first book is Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation, edited by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman. In this book I read the story by Ala Hlehel called “Bloated Time and the Death of Meaning.” The second book is titled, The World Ending Fire: the Essential Wendell Berry, Selected and with an Introduction by Paul Kingsnorth. In this book I’ve read “A Native Hill,” and “The Making of a Marginal Farm.”
I read books to help me to understand what’s beyond my own experience. I bought Kingdom of Olives and Ash to help me to understand a part of the Middle East better. It can help me to answer the question: “What is it like to live in Israel?” One of the editors, Michael Chabon has shown me that he is sensitive to people’s emotional life. He’s won a Pulitzer Prize because he is good at writing down a story that can reach diverse people and enrich their understanding of and empathy for characters in his fiction. The Middle East, always at war is full of suffering. Trying to better understand that suffering is a small something that I can do perhaps by reading this book. In the case of The World Ending Fire, as a person who has studied biology, I’m still in love with the living world. I bought The World Ending Fire to enjoy whatever Wendell Berry has to tell me about his experiences in Kentucky, where I have never been. What Wendell Berry and I share is a desire to protect and understand the natural world. And I always learn from him to see the world with a deeper understanding whenever I spend time reading him.
Wendell Berry wrote about how he values the freedom to roam about the countryside at will. He enjoyed doing this especially when he was growing up in Kentucky. He had both assigned duties, where he worked with his family and he had free time. When he was free, he could go all over the waterways, fields, forests and hillsides and observe animals and plants. He could think his own thoughts without being imposed upon by anything else. It was valuable to his growth as a person and it helped him to formulate his own sense of self. Part of his sense of self grew to include a desire to protect and understand his place and his surroundings. By contrast, Ala Hlehel’s story is about life as a Palestinian in a restricted environment where persons from a Palestinian community could not roam at will across the countryside. Instead, their community had restricted access and restricted exits and Palestinians were required to submit to inspections and questions. Some Palestinian places were destroyed by heavy machinery to make way for “improvements” that would benefit others. The Palestinians couldn’t defend their land. The restriction of movement and choice continually festers in the minds of Palestinians and makes their lives bitter.
According to these two authors, freedom is simple. It’s the opportunity to move about freely and to understand and affect one’s environment positively. It’s the chance to love the place that surrounds you. And without freedom to explore and appreciate your own surroundings and to have a positive effect on your surroundings, even to protect your surroundings, a person becomes unhappy.
If you’d like to understand changes in political ideologies over the history of the United States, including ideas that have shaped changes that have already happened including those of the present day, read Political Catsup with Economy Fries, available at Amazon.com.
(1) Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, eds, Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation, “Bloated Time and the Death of Meaning,” Ala Hlehel, Harper Perennial, New York, copyright 2017, 19-27.
(2) Wendell Berry, The World Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell Berry, Selected and with an Introduction by Paul Kingsnorth, Counterpoint, Berkeley, CA, copyright 2017, 3-47.