We are currently in the middle of a political cycle and just to be clear, this is not a political post. I think we all care deeply about the freedoms that we consider our inalienable rights, the right to vote, the right to bear arms, free speech, the right to assembly etc, and as a woman, I am keenly aware that if I had been born in a different time or place my concept of freedom would be quite different. Instead I am talking about the more personal concept of freedom as expressed by many full time Rvers.
The idea of freedom looms large in our lifestyle and is one of the major motivating factors of this lifestyle. We talk about it, have songs about it (Zac Brown’s “Free“ is almost an anthem to many of us), and many of us pursue it with a fierce passion. For me though the concept of freedom has always been a difficult one. Cori and I have discussed this many times and I always say to her, “Yes, but what does that look like.” To her credit, in those moments she gets less frustrated with me than she has a right to be, because freedom is obviously a very subjective concept and very very much rooted in personal experience. Fair enough, so in order to try to talk about this in a shared context I am going to go back to the dictionary definition of the word. The Webster dictionary definition for freedom is “…the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action; liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another; independence the quality or state of being exempt or released usually from something onerous<freedom from care>.
Based on that definition the only time in my life (aside from heady moments of teenage rebellion) that I can ever remember experiencing freedom was when I went to college right out of high school. As I watched many of my peers go a little crazy with all the freedom, I ended up imposing rules and restrictions on myself because I was so uncomfortable. I wasn’t exactly a goody two-shoes, but I mostly stayed on that side of the line and ultimately gave up that freedom (and college) for the more comfortable rules of work and a relationship. Looking back on that choice I don’t regret it, because it led me to where I am today, but I have wondered what my life would look like if I would have grabbed that freedom and experience with both hands.
Then it was marriage, and kids, and buying a house, all of my choices the exact opposite of “freedom from care.” And I was mostly satisfied. Certainly in rough moments I thought longingly of the freedom of retirement, or the relative freedom of grown children, but I was following what I felt was the proper path. Freedom as a concept never loomed large in my childhood. I don’t remember my parents really ever talking about it, and it was definitely not a value that my family espoused. Commitment, hard work, truthfulness, and family were the guiding ethics of my childhood and have strongly formed my character. So when I met people in my life who were risk takers and gypsies, I was wistful, but always thought I could never do that.
Lee, on the other hand, from a very early age wanted to be free. His desire to be with me transcended those feelings enough that he married me and had children, but he has always been a person who needed a lot of space. Even from a relatively young age I understood that “standard” relationship rules would not work with Lee. While many other young wives I knew struggled to exert control over their husbands movements and actions, I tried as much as possible to let him do his own thing. I wasn’t always successful, of course, and it was the source of much conflict in our early marriage. But I always understood that the only way I would ever lose him was to try and coerce or constrain him, and somehow we managed to create an environment where he had freedom and I had structure. Not an easy balance.
The older we got, the more things began to tip in his direction. Kids moved away, jobs got easier to some extent, and we had more time and disposable income for ourselves. For me the concept of freedom became specifically about freedom from debt and ultimately from a mortgage. To me freedom began to equal money, and since I was unwilling to go any farther up the corporate ladder, that meant we needed to eliminate debt. This wasn’t easy for either of us, and it wasn’t really until Lee discovered the full time lifestyle that we got serious about it. The moments of eliminating debt were amazing ones, and I absolutely felt freedom from care in them. Within a short period of time we became both empty nesters and full time RVers, and by relative standards we were free! Except we weren’t really, at least by Lee’s standards. For the first 9 months or so he kept saying “we haven’t really started yet,” but what he actually meant was that we aren’t really free yet. I carried my corporate job with me and all of it’s requirements, not to mention all my angst about the lifestyle in general, and it wasn’t until I took the corporate buy-out that I started to feel freedom from care. It wasn’t a “flip the light switch” transition of course, although I should say that for many, many people I have met, it truly seems to be just that, but I took my first trembling steps on the path to freedom.
The odd thing though is despite all we have seen and experienced, freedom still isn’t one of my main goals. For me it’s more of a byproduct of the lifestyle than a guiding tenet. Not so for Lee. He has remained unwavering in his desire to achieve as much freedom as possible, and once again in our lives it has been the source of some conflict. I should say here that sometimes as a friend I really feel bad for him. He didn’t consciously choose to have a wife who was so different from him when it came to these concepts, and since he fell in love with me at 14 I think it is fair to say he couldn’t possibly have conceptualized our lives turning out this way back then. And largely I think he’s been pretty patient. When we lived in the “regular world” he was always the one that was a little out of step, but in this lifestyle that situation is reversed. His instincts are solid, he usually knows what needs to be done, and I am the one who is often floundering. He understands the rules and the possibilities and often these are concepts I barely grasp.
So how does this all translate into our day-to-day life? Mostly it comes up around our travel/work schedule. Do we take a job or leave a job? Do we travel frequently or less often? Do we make reservations or fly by the seat our pants? These are huge decisions for full time RVers and more than anything else (at least for us) dictate what our lives look like day-to-day. Our level of freedom is impacted by family obligations, finances, weather, campground availability, internet availability, and mechanical issues. Just like in our old lives if we were not careful those considerations could completely dictate our choices. As you can probably guess, Lee is totally not OK with that. Not that he doesn’t understand the necessity, but he strains against any constraints that make him feel as if he is back in his old life. He is not alone in these feelings at all by the way, but rather more the norm for full timers. I on the other hand sometimes find myself embracing those restrictions. They bring with them structure and a sense of “normalcy” and I know that to some of you reading this that sounds nuts, but it’s true. To be completely honest there are times I would rather endure the unpalatable or even downright unpleasant than be faced with more freedom.
I believe that regardless of where we live, or what we do for a living, we all have the capacity for more freedom in our lives. What stops us from experiencing that is ourselves. We build walls around ourselves, impose rules, and create excuses. Fear is a huge factor of course, but so is perceived obligation. We are big on freedom of choice in this country, but then we rarely exercise those choices. And if anything can prove that point it is the fact that we have no house, or young children, or debt, or career jobs, and I am still struggling. I am living in an RV in the middle of Alaska and working at a campground making $12 an hour. I mean seriously, how different could my life be from what it was before? Do I feel “independence, the quality or state of being exempt or released, usually from something onerous”? Relatively, yes! Do I feel free? Not really. Do I feel as the Zac Brown lyrics say “Free as I’ll ever be”? Definitely not, but I am finally starting to visualize what freedom might look like for me. That is no small thing.
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