Independence

Five-year-old Billy rides his shiny blue bike in a big oval for hours every day in the summer with the training wheels three inches off the gravel, except on sharp turns when they scrape up loose stones on the cul de sac. His mother watches from the porch, dreading those turns and the bloody knees sure to follow. Billy watches the big kids riding fast down the straight road. How can he convince Mama to let him ride fast and straight, if he can’t even keep the training wheel from touching on his curved path?

Sixteen-year-old Will drives carefully with his father in the passenger seat. He brings the car to a complete stop at the stop sign, looks both ways, and doesn’t accelerate in the turn. After months of monitored driving, his dad lets him take the car to a baseball game. Instead, he takes off on the highway for the first time, meets a group of friends at the lake, and feels free for the first time since they took off his training wheels.

Twenty-two-year-old William starts his first job after college. His salary is not high enough to support his cell phone, car payment, insurance, food, utilities, cable, student loans, and rent, so he lives at home, stays on his parents’ insurance and phone plans, and saves–feeling guilty to live home again, and still craving the independence expected from a college degree.

[…Stir in plethora of details to fill about fifty years: dating, break up, blind dates, stalking on social media, wedding, babies, remaining single, job stress, exhaustion, homework help, coaching baseball games, holidays, bills, mortgage, saving for college, vacations, lazy weekend mornings, retirement planning, birthdays, reunions, golf, running, naps on the hammock, reading, March Madness, long lunches, self-chosen comfortable routine, surprises, college football, laughter, long walks, funerals,  glorious freedom to choose how to spend a life with no training wheels…]

Eighty-three-year-old William wants to drive his car fast on the highway to his granddaughter’s soccer game, but his son took the keys. They’re talking about giving his car to his grandson. William wants to pay his own bills, but his daughter took over everything, including his bank account. He wants to live alone and cook what he likes (grilled cheese, fried eggs, cookies, pizza and beer, barbecued chicken on the grill, cereal for lunch, cigar on the porch in the evening) but they say he must sell his home and move to the assisted living place that smells like vitamin-packed urine, dead skin, and dust. It’ll be safer. Easier for everyone else, so they won’t have to worry about him, or visit, or even call.

Independence: we fight for it, fear it, take it for granted, then have to fight for it again. Hold on tight.

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