Happy day-after-Independence Day!
What one does with one’s independence, after all, counts every bit as much as the winning of it. Being enduringly, defiantly oneself, against all odds, as days and years go by; in sickness and in age; in poverty of means keeping one’s spirit rich—that matters more than fireworks and grand parades.
When I think independent lives (or stolen moments), I think
- Pippi Longstocking flipping pancakes
- a Henry James heroine gathering Italy into herself; and Strether eating his perfect small omelette in Paris before returning to his airless life
- Shirley Valentine, of course
- Georgia O’Keeffe sitting on the roof of her Ghost Ranch home, even in her 80s
- James Merrill setting off against depression on his little green scooter (see right column: "about Green Scooter")
- a dear friend chewing food for its flavors when he could no longer swallow
Independence comes in all shapes and sizes, takes all forms.
- Having a fence built; having a wall (even THE wall) torn down; painting a fence or wall or house or room of one’s own bright yellow or the white of beginnings, inspiration, calm.
- Rose Macauley setting off from Istanbul; or someone quietly reading Hildegard’s Healing Plants before work.
- Wearing a hoopoe feather in one’s cap, or sticking it in a poem. Or just admiring the word, hoopoe.
- Learning archery on one’s 60th birthday, or chalking out hopscotch squares. (Or in the case of Walter Matthau in the movie of that name, cheerfully defying the CIA, driving between one country and the next singing Figaro, Figaro at the top of one’s voice.)
- Swimming the Hellespont, or looking through a box of used cookbooks for a recipe for Green Goddess dressing.
- Planting rue, or (my own coming-of-age, coming-of-self story) choosing to listen to cellos and violins.
But here’s a thought to mull over: Choosing to be less than oneself, from love, compassion, kindness—does that make one still more? What if one chooses not to be free?
image: Georgia O'Keeffe on the Roof, Ghost Ranch House, 1944. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum (housed where my father’s office used to be)