A MOVING MEDITATION ON FREEDOM
Guest blogger Kriste Peoples shares what the holiday and freedom mean to her.
Depending on what day it is and the mood you find me in, my feelings about freedom may change. If you’d checked with me yesterday on this, I’d have told you freedom meant running under full sun, cool breeze in my face, skin glistening, and the music of nature punctuating the space around me. I’d have told you freedom meant finishing with a quiet, shoeless meditation seated in the grass.
But today, as my thoughts turn toward Juneteenth, my feelings aren’t so easy to lay a finger on. They are, in fact, quite complicated.
On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers showed up in Galveston, Texas, to let the enslaved people know they’d actually been freed two and a half years prior. With that, along with the merging of the month and date, ‘Juneteenth’ was born.
So, here’s my question: what is freedom? Is it something conferred on you before it becomes your reality? Even then, how does it change you?
One of my personal heroes is Harriet Tubman. She was born into slavery and after her escape at the age of twenty-seven, she would become a freedom fighter, a Union spy, nurse, and cook. She was the most famous conductor of the Underground Railroad and never lost a traveler. She said upon realizing the moment she’d crossed the line to freedom, she looked at her hands to see if she was still the same person.
Sometimes when I’m running trails and climbing mountains, I think about Harriet and the resources she must have called on to navigate her way north – and south – without the benefit of tools we use like maps, tracking apps, wicking fabrics, water tablets, trail shoes, GPS. There’s freedom in knowing nature the way she did.
While we’re still in what I call the ‘soft’ stages of quarantine – I’m neither heading back to the office nor to restaurants anytime soon – most days I find solace on my runs. And sometimes, I find its opposite.
Ahmaud Arbery was a runner and, like me, he probably found freedom and greater well-being in his regular morning exercise. Like me, he probably felt alive and strong in his body, not bound by the grim updates of coronavirus news.
When I run, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for the strength in my body and mind to carry me across the miles. There’s a sense of expansion and release in it that I imagine Ahmaud might have felt, as well. He could have been my brother, a nephew, a friend.
On May 8th I joined a running friend to dedicate 2.23 miles to Ahmaud. We could barely catch our breath while venting about the injustice and relentless assault on Black lives in America. My friend had just celebrated his 26th birthday, which made the moment even more impactful when he wryly suggested we run until all the madness was over, or until we reached the gold at the end of the rainbow. But who has that kind of time?
“Where in this world can we be truly free?” we asked.
Although the proclamation of freedom came late to those ancestors in 1865, I’m sure freedom was in their minds long before the army marched in. How else could they have endured?
Because I look to countless Black folks through history – right up to my contemporaries and me – I know the many ways we’ve had to hold this notion of being free as an inside job, rather than wait to be told of our liberation by people and beliefs that would seek to oppress us.
Freedom, as I’m coming to understand it, is a deep and dynamic process in that it dare not be a fixed idea bereft of action for any of us. For me, freedom might mean unplugging from the noise of my devices and distractions one day, choosing instead to sit beneath a tree with a good book (or a bad one). Other days, freedom might mean marching for justice, or pushing back against office politics and business as usual that marginalize my voice and talent.
Juneteenth comes as a reminder to me of the rich legacy of liberation and struggle I come from. It arrives as an invitation to keep exploring my evolving thoughts and feelings about freedom, because freedom is a moving target that will require me to both embody and pursue it. For me, freedom is a goal I’ll always be running toward.