To be Free is to Stand Tall

When I was young, I would recite the National Anthem every day before class began. The entire class stood up, and I put my right hand across my heart, feeling the steady beat of life pumping through the veins. 

‘Land of the free, home of the brave,' I recited those words, I would repeat it, letting its meaning wash over me, trying to understand the full meaning and history behind the phrase.

‘Land of the free, home of the brave’. I let the words slowly roll off my tongue every morning I stood up and saluted the flag. Those words resonated with me deeply and made me stand a little bit taller.

As I’ve gotten older, I've seen that this land is not a peaceful one. The United States is a violent nation, always has been, and we shouldn't be surprised that this tradition carries on today. The fairy tale I’ve been told about my homeland is forever shattered, reveling in its shards of glass, a bloody finger pointing accusatory towards me.

The blood dried up under our fingernails belonging to those we slaughtered and pushed under our feet in submission while speaking the same words of freedom that led a college aged kid to place a flower at the end of a barrel of a soldier’s gun, who would not learn to stop worrying and love the bomb. From Ferguson, to Ohio, Oakland, Liberty City, New York, Egypt, to the Gaza Strip, countless and countless cities and bodies standing defiant against bodies protected in riot gear, armed with nothing but the simple demand to let them live.

These same words of freedom has also led our government to spy on us, weighing our fates in secret criminal courts, and allowing public servants to beat us into submission anytime we dare speak our mind.

As the childlike naïveté of America has shattered, I struggle to answer what it means to be free. Freedom for me is the ability to make your own decisions, to walk down the street in peace, to let your child walk to school without wondering if they will make back alive, to laugh with a group of friends, to love freely and openly without condemnation or fear.

That’s what it means to be free. To stand tall when you they want you to crawl. To tilt your head up at the sky when you were programmed to eat the dirt under their feet. Freedom is standing defiant and unwavering, knowing that even if your knees shake, you won't lose your balance, you won't fall, because you've tasted the dirt, you've conformed and contorted yourself into something more digestible until you've lost sight of oneself and fitted yourself into such a small cage, that now, wide in the open, expanding your lungs to take in the air around you, realizing that you could never make yourself that small again.