What is freedom?

April 14, 2000|By DAN KAUFFMAN

I thought I knew the definition of freedom pretty well.

I've had some good history teachers and professors. I'm sure I've looked up freedom in the dictionary more than once.

cont. from lifestyle

On Feb. 24, freedom took on a whole new meaning for me, one I found through the Internet instead of a textbook or a classroom. I found it from a 17-year-old girl who was, fittingly enough, trying to do schoolwork.

That particular Thursday had been a rather decent day. It was 70 degrees, and, in February, I won't complain about that kind of weather, even if I acted goofy around an attractive girl at HCC. But that's hardly a first.

Another nonfirst, my exploration of the World Wide Web soon turned into three hours that would change my viewpoint on life.


I subscribed to AOL Instant Messenger two days before, and was checking out ESPN's Web site when a message flashed across my screen.

It turned out that a girl from England was doing a report for her sociology class and was trying to find people to talk to. I was the lucky one, in more ways than I knew at the time.

Most people, when talking to someone new, ask about things like, "What's your favorite band?" or, "What's your sign?" or even, "Is apple pie better with or without the vanilla ice cream?" I'm a little more creative, if not deep, with my questions. I'd rather ask questions that give me an idea of a person's character and their ideas.

Most of my questions to this girl concerned her goals and dreams. Her answers were thoughtful and honest, and I enjoyed the conversation.

I started asking the relationship questions I always do: What's your dream date? How romantic is too romantic? And so on and so forth. And I asked if she was with someone.

If I had written down all the responses to that question I could think of, not one of them would have come close to what she said.

She is arranged to be married.

I must have stared at the screen for a good 30 seconds. My mind went through a lot of twists and turns. The one thing that struck me was that this is not normal.

For her sake, I will not reveal her name, but she is a part of Britain's upper class, the daughter of a noble family. As is common in England and a few other parts of the world, she even has a title, that of "Lady."

And she is arranged to be married to a man of similar status.

She is not free.

At least, not as free as I am.

We talked about a lot of things after that, later that night and the next afternoon. We talked about her place in society, the right to be able to choose how you live, how the public perceives her because of her title, and a lot more. I learned more from this conversation than I have in any class.

This girl has a glamorous life; I have a simple one.

She has wealth and status in a country where wealth and status is glorified. I have very little wealth and just enough status that most area sports coaches know who I am.

She has more prestige than I could ever fathom.

But she makes few decisions on her own, and is a mere follower to what others tell her most of the time, while I get to make decisions that will make or break me, that will determine whether I succeed or fail.

She says she has no emotions, and she believes it. My emotions are a high-wire act, as anyone who knows me can attest to.

The most amazing part of the conversation came as the answer to another one of my deep questions: Would this girl rather live the life she has now, or live mine instead?

She didn't know.

She has everything most of us would want ... fame, fortune, status ... but does not know if she'd take it over my ordinary, far-from-glamorous life.

No more will I take my freedom for granted.

This girl doesn't want sympathy. She just wants us to understand her struggle, and to appreciate what good things we have going for us, even in a place as far removed from the spotlight as Hagerstown.

What do I hope?

That she gets an "A" on that sociology paper.

She deserves it.

Dan Kauffman, a student at Hagerstown Community College, writes for The Herald-Mail sports department.

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