Lincoln's Lesson

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Karen's Quest with Karen Smith

I am constantly seduced by the idea of freedom, glorious freedom. But, paradoxically and somewhat disappointingly, it’s a trap. (Sort of.) Every element of life involves balance, so you can’t have freedom without submission. Questioning form (or instructions or systems) is a deep-rooted obsession of mine. “Why?” is always on the tip of my tongue. But you can’t ask a typing lesson ‘why?’ And you can’t ask your grade two cursive writing teacher ‘why?’ (Though I’m not sure why not.)

True freedom isn’t a matter of questioning all systems, rules and practices. It’s a matter of knowing which to use for one’s own purposes and which to cast off. Unfortunately, my habit has long been to doubt and question all systems, unwilling to submit to any. I have ignorantly never even asked myself, ‘would you like to submit to this, and gain something from it?’ I have never intelligently reminded myself of the promised outcome that I could attain if I just follow the instructions. I’m ridiculously impatient and immature.

Then there’s Abraham Lincoln. I’m not a Lincoln expert by any stretch, just a fascinated admirer. What fascinates me is his submission to form. Lincoln didn’t free the slaves by going rogue, he submitted to the various channels of law and power. He became a lawyer, and only knowing the law inside and out could he go beyond it. Only then could he manipulate things for the greater good. In seeking to undo the status quo, he was wise enough (or lucky enough) to diligently get inside it first. Only then did he have the power, authority and ability to break it apart. The point being, he was able to go so far beyond criticizing, complaining and questioning, because he first submitted to all the rigors of the systems of the time. He became powerful in order to change what power meant.

It’s such a fascinating paradox. If I want to experience freedom in the physical act of typing (which I’m still glitchy at after all this time), I must first submit to the rigors of form, I must accept the position of the keys and the lessons that will train my fingers how to get the job done. I’m so incredibly, idiotically skeptical of what I can be taught (what someone else has figured out). I stubbornly refuse lessons, wanting only my own questions to guide me. I want my own path. I want freedom. But freedom without regard for form or laws is just dereliction and exclusion. If I want to type, dance, write, cook, play the piano, whatever, I must first concentrate and learn the steps. I must agree to be led and taught. I must submit to the form and dedicate myself in focus and practice. I’m so obsessively drawn to creativity, exploration and discovery that following form, whether it be dance steps or a recipe, feels like a violation of my precious independence. I’m spoiling myself, imagining that my freedom is so precious that I don’t have to submit it to anything. I’d be better off acknowledging that nothing is actually precious, least of all me and everything needs a good therapeutic crack from time to time. This odd habit of mine of running wild when anyone comes near me with some guidance or training is getting pretty old. It’s embarrassing, really, acting like a wild foal, when I’m nearly an old mare. It’s time for me to stop having fits about the work required and just do it. I want a new respect for form, for training, for submission. Lincoln, help me.


Karen Smith is on a quest for personal truth and boundless consciousness. She feels lucky to live with her family in Truemanville. Her column appears bi-weekly in the Amherst News.


Organizations: Amherst News

Geographic location: Truemanville

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