Freedom is the beginning, but it's not the end of the story
One of the most frustrating phenomena is when someone who has been rescued from human trafficking chooses to return to his or her enslaver. It is difficult to wrap our minds around knowing how horrible slavery is and having an acute perception of the price of freedom. It can be almost unimaginable to consider what might draw someone back to a life of oppression and pain, until we remind ourselves that it is not freedom alone that meets our greatest desires.
Often what we want above all else is to simply belong – to be accepted, wanted, and chosen. Of course, all people deserve to belong in a way that lifts them up, that honors their worth and dignity, and that equips them to flourish in their humanity. Yet, we know this isn’t always the case.
Freedom exists hand in hand with bondage and only occurs when there is something one has to be freed from in the first place. Therefore, freedom as a state of being can’t exist long-term. Don’t get me wrong – freedom is incredibly beautiful. All people deserve to be loosed from their chains, whether physical, emotional, or mental; and brought into a place where they can grow into and live out who they are. However, it can be easy to forget that freedom is not the end goal.
Freedom is the beginning, after which there must be something else to follow. Otherwise, we will all be left wandering through the world, unattached, free, and alone. Life alone robs us of the joy in diversity, the power in community, and the beauty of belonging. When victims are rescued from human trafficking, they are often taken into aftercare facilities where they can begin to heal from their physical and emotional trauma. The problem does not end after freedom, but liberation creates an opportunity to fill in the cracks of pain and bondage with healing and love. Freedom is a large part of the answer to a big problem – and many of our other problems as well – but it is not the end of the story.
Living a fulfilled life requires freedom from bondage, but is a whole lot more than just the absence of oppression. It is also the presence of belonging, the presence of acceptance, and the presence of love. There is a certain meaningfulness that goes along with belonging to a community and being part of something bigger than yourself. Personally, I have spent a large portion of my life thinking I could exist as an individual, not belonging to anything or anyone. I placed high value on freedom, missing the reality that the most beautiful parts of life come from being known and loved by others. I have waltzed in and out of freedom and bondage by emotional and mental chains, but I am here to tell you that the joy of freedom is short-lived if not followed by something greater, such as love.
We are not free-floating individuals but rather deeply connected beings that cannot disentangle ourselves from each other. Every action we take has an effect on someone else, whether negative or positive. In the same way, we must fight for each other, because our liberation and shackles are all bound up together. When I fight for the freedom of other people, I am also fighting for my own liberation, and the opposite is true. And we must go a step further than fighting for each other, by being willing to offer love and acceptance to anyone who might come our way. We must also know that these are things we can ask for and receive from others, so that our lives are more than just free.
To be only free is to be alone, but to be free and also belong is to soak up the best parts out of life. It is to dance with the full and complex truths that come along with flourishing in who you are, and getting to coexist in all the fullness of everyone else, too. So, I urge you to be free with your love and to break down any chains that might be blocking you from belonging. When we are all able to open our arms to both ourselves and anyone else that might come our way, creating senses of belonging, the beauty of our freedom will speak louder by letting us choose to hold tight to whatever it is that is full of love.
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About the Author
Mallory Mishler is a Michigander, studying Women’s and Gender Studies and Peace and Justice. She is passionate about using her voice to advocate for the freedom of all people, especially through creative mediums. When not writing, she can be found climbing mountains, caring for her plants, or painting on things that shouldn’t be painted.