For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa.

Covid-19 has not only curtailed individual freedoms for a time being, it also has made us reflect on freedoms abused, misused and taken for granted. 

Just think about this famous quote on freedom: “Your liberty to swing your fist ends just where my nose begins.” However, swinging one’s arms up to another’s nose is no longer acceptable in this age of six feet of social distancing. And even before the virus caused us to shelter in place, few appreciated anyone violating our “personal space.” How often have we backed up because someone stepped too close to us for comfort?

Ever since we moved to the coast two decades ago, I’ve sung the praises of living along Hickory Creek which feeds into Sapelo River that flows into the Atlantic Ocean. I’ve described watching the shrimp boats head out to sea or return with their catch of the day. I’ve chronicled the healing power of watching the tide ebb and flood. I’ve expounded on watching the seasons change through the greens and golds of the marsh grass. I’ve detailed the birds and wildlife which claim our yard and walkway across the marsh as their own. I have been content.

During the Covid-19 sheltering in place, our daily life has changed little. With both of us retired, we were already staying at home most of the time. We’ve had plenty of chores to keep us busy. I loved having long periods of time to read and lots of books to read. I already was cooking 90 plus percent of our meals. So what is different now?

Fear is part of it. Labeled as among the most highly susceptible to this new virus, we accept the fact that we need to stay home to stay safe. Our children have asked us not to shop for ourselves. Of course, the ones nearest us have shouldered the bulk of our shopping, but the others have sent food and books. A grandson joked, “How does it feel to have a personal shopper?” 

How does it? Of course, we’ve very appreciative. How could we not be? But we also feel guilty and concerned. We’re physically capable of shopping for ourselves. Our children expose themselves every time they go into a store for us. That’s a difficult fact for any parent to accept. 

And like everyone else, we miss the freedom to jump into the car for an outing, if only to shop. We put a trip to visit friends and family in Texas and along the way on hold with the outbreak. We  realize that we may never be able to make that trip. At least, we won’t try until there is a viable vaccine.

And therein lies the crux in loss of freedom. We are not free to do as we choose. And as senior citizens everywhere have also realized, we don’t have many more days to travel, to see the beautiful countryside, to go as we please. 

We are trying to be patient. Whenever, I feel antsy, I sit on the porch and let the ebb and flood of salt water calm me. We try to plan each day to keep our minds and bodies active. We strive for patience. And we pray for those thousands who have not been as fortunate as we in sheltering in place. We have absolutely nothing to complain about. So why do we want more?

We’ve watched the televised scenes of Americans who want to reclaim their precious freedoms at the expense of others, no masks, no social distancing.  If they contract the virus, they assume they will heal. If others catch it because of their cavalier attitude, so what? It’s no skin off their back. Unfortunately, it is. This is truly a time when we must be our brother’s keeper.

Where does the right to swing our arms end? At the point where our actions do not infringe on the rights of another. 

Victor Frankl, neurologist and Holocaust survivor says, “The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”

And so, we wait and sit on our own back porch to watch the fireworks across the marsh.

A happy and thoughtful Fourth of July!