By Guest Writer, Allison Hunter-Frederick
Concept of freedom has changed
In 1992, when Canada celebrated its 125th birthday, I wrote an article about how I valued my freedom but also how my understanding of that concept had changed over the years. The term “freedom” has grown from being an ideal which I take for granted to one which I have come to realize is complex. What the government imposes as laws might go against what a large part of society might believe. The exercising of one group’s beliefs can infringe upon another’s. For these reasons, freedom could involve a cost, even in those countries which hold dearest the value of freedom. Hence, both when I grew up in Canada and now as I make my home in the United States, I find myself having to figure out what freedom really means.
Childhood freedom – Remembrance Day
If I backtrack to my childhood, freedom simply amounted to something I wrote about for Remembrance Day contests. Remembrance Day has been observed in Commonwealth countries such as Canada since the end of World Way I to remember the members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty. The poppies which bloomed across the battlefield of Flanders in World War I have long been a familiar emblem of Canada’s memorial day due to the poem “In Flanders Fields”. The brilliant red color of those flowers symbolize the blood spilled in World War I and has been a common subject for many children’s poems and essays.
Freedom to be me
Yet despite how often I entered those contests, I don’t know if I really understood anything back then about freedom beyond what I heard in history lessons. Yes, I as a female coudl attend school right along with boys. I could also aspire to such lofty visions as becoming an author, teacher, naturalist, or veterinarian. Nothing could stop me from becoming whatever I wanted to be–even the Prime Minister. Yes, I as a Christian could attend a denominational school. There, I could talk about God, Bible stories, and doctrines, just as freely in school as I could in church. No one persecuted me for faith. Yes, I as a student could debate in an open school forum a contentious issue such as Newfoundland’s seal hunt. No one ever told me which side to take either. That was a matter of my own conscience. Then as now, I had freedom, but at that time those freedoms simply felt like a way of life. I didn’t really connect all those precious freedoms to my composed words about the joys of being Canadian or the values which made some people sacrifice themselves in war.
Children don’t feel free
Moreover, as a teenager, I personally did not even feel free. After all, for six hours a day and five days a week, I listened to grown-ups lecturing me about such diverse subjects as plots and photosynthesis, while I longed for the 3:00 bell when I could go to the mall to hang out with friends, go to the library to pick up books, or go home to watch television. And what part did equality play when, if I didn’t look as pretty as the top girl on the sports team, I wouldn’t get asked out by the best-looking boy in the class? In my adolescent years, what mattered most were things like getting accepted by a good university, having a friend to talk with, and buying a cute outfit. The fact that I could attend university, frequent the mall with friends without worrying about curfews or bombs, and spend a weekly allowance on luxuries were freedoms I very much took for granted. So much so that I didn’t truly grasp how much freedom I had.
Learning about the cost of freedom
As I grew older, I became more aware of the history of the feminist movement, including that of the suffrage movement and the fact that women first earned the right to vote in Canada between 1850 and 1940. I also learned of martyrs, including those of modern-day Christians who faced imprisonment and perhaps death for smuggling Bibles into a country or holding religious meetings in their house. And I began to listen more frequently to the news, which constantly brings to one’s doorstep the hardships faced by citizens in other countries, and so heard of atrocities like the Tiananmen square massacre. Yet because these events were removed from me due to being part of history or happening elsewhere, I couldn’t really do much to react to them. Except to slowly start to appreciate how much the freedom I took for granted had cost, and was still costing, others to have.