Freedom in Color

A naked number on a classroom door signals a countdown to summer vacation. We all know what “23” means. FREEDOM!

On my drive home, reflection kicks in and a kaleidoscope of faces cross my mind. Stories kids shared during the year punctuate my thoughts. Does summer really mean freedom?

It is so different from the “freedom” my generation experienced growing up. We didn’t have cellphones. We had porches. Our moms didn’t have jobs away from home. We ate dinner together every night. We rode our bikes and didn’t come home till dark, or when one of the dads would stand on the front porch, put two fingers in his mouth and whistle so loud, kids could hear him a block away.

This, I understand, is a romanticized memory. It wasn’t like this for everyone just as today’s experience is not the same for everyone. The woundedness I hear and see today was probably there when I was growing up, too.

I’m not sure what made my hearing and seeing more acute today except I was sunk in the middle of Benedictines at an early age. They were all around me. I watched them. I loved learning from them—everything from piano to Algebra and even Latin. Five of us girls helped weed the convent garden, and we all promised to be sisters when we grew up.

In fifth grade, Sister Placid told me that praying wasn’t just for church. I could breathe it. I could jump rope, ride my bike, swim in the Mississippi, and be praying. I’m not exactly sure when things began to click. I just know that life is not black and white but many shades of gray. Prayer and work woven together paint my day. Freedom for me almost always means making a choice which probably is not the popular one. I’m not always right but being aware of prayer, even if I can’t say “prayer words” sometimes, I know I’m touching into that place that changes all shades of gray to color.

Freedom in my childhood summers immersed me in an environment where critical thinking was as common as breathing. I’m quite sure I was not aware I was learning to listen or becoming sensitive to others needs. Weeding in the convent garden at Sacred Heart, I was exposed daily to adult models who shared fun days and what it meant to look out for others. As an adult, I’m able to look beyond vacations and sleeping later even though these are great changes for a stressful schedule.

Thing is, critical thinking is like an itch and needs attention. So, I find myself in situations like joining other faith leaders outside the capital, voicing protest against Tennessee’s addiction to guns. We believe teachers should not carry guns. Freedom also means I have a chance to walk with LGBTQ+ as legislature continues to make more restrictive laws. Joining environmentalists, leaving my grass uncut for the bees in April doesn’t sit well with those who have manicured lawns. I know I should be kind to everyone, but certain people make that tough. On a personal level, I need to swallow my pride and rejoice at another’s good fortune even though I sought the same prize (not there yet).

Freedom began by changing black and white to all shades of gray. But freedom is not static. It changes. Those Benedictines! Now, I can’t live without color.

Pat Pickett, OblSB

Photo: Gold and Orange Landscape, an oil painting, by Sister Thomas Carey