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What is This Thing Called Freedom? Choice and Response-ability

By Remy Benoit

From Loving Time just prior to French Revolution

But there is new word that floats through the air. Is it this word that stirs me to search here with this ink for answers?

Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, speaks of this word he has seen at work. Speaks of his time in America. Speaks of it quietly, giving all deference to his place, to Louis and the Queen.

Is there truly such a place where titles are not allowed?

What would that be like, giving men the right to self-governance? I have read many times this Declaration of theirs. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And I have questioned, what is this thing, this happiness? My clothes are of brocades and silks, velvets, my handkerchiefs scented, my food rich and hot, my wine deep and red. My wife, my departed Marguerite, was by any standard beautiful, but happiness?...

There is that word here, a word that floats in on the air from Paris, a word that has floated across the vast Atlantic, come to the shores of France on the uniforms of men who fought for it a world away. A word that is anathema here in the walls of the palace. What is this Liberté? What does it mean?

Liberty to do what, to be what? The thought that comes to me, the thought that unsettles me is, what would I actually do, what would I actually become, if I had the choice, if I faced the necessity of survival to actually make the choice of something to be.

To be something. The words choke in my throat. To be, something. That implies, does it not, a responsibility for myself, without dictates, without the protocols of the Court. To be something, to actually make a decision, a choice, a difference. Do those who speak these words understand the immensity of what they seek?

Of the right to make dreadful choices and have not the rank of birth to blame, but only, Mon Dieu, the immensity of the idea, oneself.

A choice.

What must happen in a life to force a choice being made?

What if I had the temerity to say aloud, ah, in the presence of Mother, that I choose not to carry handkerchiefs to our King? Would the very fabric of the palace shudder, would the water of the fountains stop in mid-flow and hang in the air?

What if I had the temerity to say I would like to sail the seas that Lafayette has sailed? That I would like to see the country of which he speaks? That there might be more to life than the Leveé, and bowing, and dancing and saying that which you do not mean but is polite conversation.

But that, taking such a position would mean that I would have to make my life count for something. Mon Dieu, can we accept such responsibility of such decisions? How do those across the sea accept the idea of that responsibility? Can it be done, can it be lived with? Can a country survive with it, without direction coming from above? Without duty being forced by custom, by arms?...

But a man, whatever that word means, whatever the Creation meant it to mean, does not move easily from that which he knows, from his place of security. This word, this word that floats through the air on gentle breezes from Paris, comes gently now. But will the winds stir it more forcefully? To what end?.

Louis' Court lacks funds. His Queen is sometimes not much loved. What will come of this on the breezes, on the winds of discontent, I do not know. But the question that comes to mind, suddenly, unbidden, is of immense proportion. If I feel discontent, having all, what do those who have nothing feel?...

I sit back and turn these pages. Never before has this daily recording done other than keep a record of who has said, worn, or eaten, what; who gained a new honor at the Court, or fell in disgrace. Is this too, this putting down in ink and on paper what has been floating through my mind, one step toward the beginning of making a choice?

I stop here. There is much to consider. It makes my head ache.

Copyright 2003 Remy Benoit Be advised: This is NOT a book for children.

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This item is part of WelcomeHomeSoldier.com: historian, author, editor, and educator Remy Benoit's ongoing weblog for Veterans, writers, students, and others who believe in learning from and making history; including thousands of articles and posts and the free writing seminar, Using History for Healing and Writing.


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