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The Illusion Of Independence | Essay

Rae is the only son of a ex-Special Forces soldier in the South African Defense Force, so naturally a large chunk of his childhood was spent on army bases and remote places, playing on obstacle courses higher than the house in which he lived. This birthed a deep hunger for adventure in his heart from a young age. He spends his time trail running and exploring in the mountains and also enjoys a great passion for reading, photography (read Instagram), and creative writing. He is busy preparing for the adventure of his life when he marries the girl of his dreams in less than two months.

The Illusion of Independence

by Rae Trew-Browne

Friendship by Wrote_pic

An illusion is being forced upon us, one so subtle, so sly we don’t even realize that we are slowly being made a slave to its ways: the illusion of independence.  You might ask why I refer to it as an illusion? Because no matter how hard we try, we will never be truly independent of others or other things.

Independence evokes two main connotations. Independence from tyranny on a governmental scale, for example, may require the fight for freedom from the oppression of a neighboring country that forces its own laws and terror onto the freedom fighters’ beloved country. They fight for independent rule over their own country and the right to enjoy peace and prosperity as they build towards a common good, not the benefit of a single tyrannical person. This, for me, is the true sense of independence: the right and freedom to build a life in peace and unity with man and God and enjoy the spoils of one’s own labor.

Another kind of independence has sprung up in the last half-century or so; an illusion of independence is slowly destroying us. This independence exists on a personal rather than a governmental scale. Subtly wrapped up in the clear cellophane of a microwave dinner for one, the meticulously thought out advert tells us that we don’t need any meaningful relationships with people. All we need is this fancy new perfume, carefully wrapped in a glass jar, ready to disperse its sweet smelling fragrance on the world, and our lives will be complete. The irony, though, is that no one will ever relish the sweet citrus fragrance as we are so ‘independent.’ We spend hours and hours isolated on our laptops in the dark. This illusion of independence had led us to believe that we are fine on our own. As long as I am happy with my nice white picket fence, my bonsai tree, and my TV shows, we wonder why we should need anyone else.

There was a time when belonging to a community meant something, I, for one, don’t even know the names of my neighbors in my apartment block. Is that all in the name of independence? At its root, perhaps it’s borne out of a desire for control, a fear of vulnerability. A potential one-on-one encounter with a neighbor arouses stabs of doubt: “What if they don’t like me?’ or ‘What if I say something stupid?’ Each time I walk through my apartment block, all I see are flickering light flashes through the blinds of my neighbors’ living room windows as they immerse themselves in hours of TV shows, no dinner around the table, each person in their separate room. Only to arrive at my apartment and do the same. We focus more on the lives of the characters in Desperate Housewives than in the lives of those closest to us. If this is what independence looks like, I no longer want anything to do with it. Where are the dirty dishes piling in the sink, the spent wine bottles, the coffee stains on the rug, the hours of laughter spent in community with friends?

Is this the kind of independence that our forefathers fought so hard for; did they fight against tyranny so that we could all be comfortable in our safe shells, never really touching each other or making a difference in someone’s life? One kind word could make all the difference in someone’s life as I walk on by, convincing myself I’m in a rush. I imagine those who fought for the freedom we enjoy turning in their graves, thinking to themselves, “That’s not independence. That is death by emotional starvation.”

When did I last make a new friend? Not just an acquaintance whom I greet on occasion in the frozen food section, but a friend whom I actively and intentionally find out enjoys photography, running, and reading; goes to a special place when he is hurt or feeling over-joyed; loves pizza or a delicious roast with fresh vegetables.

Calling on a close friend at two o’clock in the morning—who has just gotten to bed after finally getting her two year-old to fall asleep—and knowing that she will be there for me in a flash with a tub of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie Ice Cream and a shoulder to cry on is as comforting as when my mother used to pick me up after a fall. She told me that everything would be ok while she cleaned the cut and put a Band-Aid on it, placing a kiss on my forehead as I turned and headed back outside to play with my friends.

If that is dependence, I will take it over the cellophane-wrapped-microwave-dinner-for-one, while some talk show host shelters me from the reality of my miserable existence, any day. We have come to the place where we are always bottling up, always withdrawing, never really letting people in. What happened to us? We have used independence as a scapegoat, as a means of justifying our perpetual need to not be vulnerable in any way for fear of appearing weak.

We see independence as freedom, freedom from facing the facts that we are afraid to trust and take a leap of faith. It makes sense though; it is much easier to bury my depression in 160 minute feature films filled with reckless action and explosions that take out half the city, only to return to reality after the credits have rolled up, and the sorry truth that no amount of entertainment can fill that void we constantly feel within us. This kind of independence isn’t freedom; it is slavery, and slavery breeds anxiety.

Malcolm X said, “you cannot separate peace and freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.” True peace comes from true freedom, freedom to be truly open and truly vulnerable when we are struggling, freedom to rely on others for help, freedom to be influenced in a positive way by those close to us. No matter how hard we try we will never be truly independent of others and other things. Within each and every one of us there is an innate desire for love, for acceptance, and for a sense of belonging.

Jodi Picoult expressed it perfectly when she wrote in Second Glance:

“Heroes didn’t leap tall buildings or stop bullets with an outstretched hand; they didn’t wear boots and capes. They bled, and they bruised, and their superpowers were as simple as listening, or loving. Heroes were ordinary people who knew that even if their own lives were impossibly knotted, they could untangle someone else’s. And maybe that one act could lead someone to rescue you right back.”

Let us throw off independence and be those heroes of listening, of loving. Look to rescue in the hope that we ourselves can also be rescued. Let us be dependent on one another, and in so doing allowing others to be dependent on us.

 

 

Photo credit: Creative Commons License “Friendship” by Wrote is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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About Amy McElroy (20 Articles)

Amy McElroy is the Essays Editor for Sweatpants & Coffee. She is a writer, freelance editor, writing coach, and yoga instructor. In a former life, she worked as an attorney. She has published her non-fiction essays in various print and online periodicals, and on KUSP radio in Santa Cruz, California. Visit Amy’s other cyber-home at amyjmcelroy.net. Amy is currently working on two books: Yoga for Writers and a book of essays linked by a tree theme. She now lives in yoga pants near San Jose, California, with her husband and two daughters.

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