When am I going to be free? What is freedom anyway? When am I, Jared Rowlen, going to be free from everything that holds me down, holds me back, holds me from doing the things I should be doing? I’m twenty now. Old enough to call myself a man, old enough for others to look and see the flesh and bones of a young adult. But when I look inside, what do I see but a young, ignorant fool hoping to achieve the impossible. I want to be free from this ignorance. I want to feel like I am the man I hope to be. The confines of my self-doubt and the intense external pressure of family, friends, and life often seem too great to surmount. But deep down, I know, somehow, I can and will be free.
In five days, I will depart for the country of South Africa for a year. A place that I know nothing about. However, I know that it is a place where the comforts of western society crumble. In 5 days, all this will be gone. All of this will be gone. My entire life will fade into the backdrop as my plane takes off from the ground. Family, friends, and the daily comforts of the west will slide away as I take on a new challenging adventure thousands of miles away. Sadness and a bittersweet taste have lingered on my tongue for some time now, as every time I see a face or location that has meant anything to me, it ends in goodbye. But today, that is not how I feel. Today something else has taken the melancholy place in my heart.
This morning as I said goodbye to my brother at the airport, I drove home thinking about the time we spent together. The memories of youth flooded my memory as tears began to swell in my eyes. Like a coward, I ran from these emotions. I grabbed my phone and looked for solace in music, a habit I implore often. However, when I hit shuffle, a song, Free Bird, by Lynyrd Skynyrd came on. As the song played, all the sadness inside swelled, but then quickly, to my surprise, faded away. Replacing it was a feeling of love. I remembered listening to this song with my mother, as she told me it was this very song that was played at her high school graduation. Her words stuck with me and gave new meaning to the song. For the longest time, this song resembled a finish line, the anthem of when I would finally break through the clouds and chains that confine me. The moment when I leave the chaos to enter the much greener, grassier plains of self-worth and success. But that changed.
I suppose my mother felt that same feeling I did when she heard the song all those years ago. Finally, she was the free bird and was posed to score high and leave all the problems and inadequacies on the ground below her. But, as life has it, it has a way of grounding you. Divorce, tight money, and the daily stresses of life can clip even the strongest bird’s wings. However, against the odds, she faced down the obstacles that plagued her and charged forward, moving to provide a life for her two sons so they too could have the opportunity to fly. But in doing so, she lifted off the ground again, catching a second wind off the backs of her two creations. She flies again.
Now she sees me off, that in five days, I too will be gone. It brings me back, back to where I began in this piece. I am looking for salvation in Africa but will not find it there forever. Nothing is good forever, but what I do hope to find is something pure, something that transcends my inadequacies in manhood, abilities, and career. I look forward to the opportunity to love. To meet different people but connect solely on the one thing that makes any person unite: love for one another. In love, one can soar forever. They can fly high above the challenges of life. Love for your fellow man or woman is the only true finish line. Love and human connection, when I fail at it, I am at my lowest. However, when I succeed at it, I truly become that free bird. Like my mother, who loved me so dearly, she put her life on hold to see me fly. Now I head to Africa to test my wings, but with my mother’s grace in my heart, I know I will find the connection I desperately desire. Thank you for reading, may love tread in your heart every day.
Oregon countryside, near my father’s farm, where the desire for something different was born
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