Liberty fable

And suddenly it was Friday, August 18, 2023, and the days had turned into weeks, and the weeks into months, and the months into years, and the years into decades, and here he was in the future, in a world that resembled where he had begun but somehow was mostly transformed.

It was not merely that the walls full of books and music had been transformed to fit — all of it — into the palm of his hand. His sharp 20/10 vision had deteriorated, and the world was fuzzy even after he put on his glasses. And what he saw with those reduced eyes was troubling.

This was not the world he had been told it was, where freedom was a universal goal — freedom to dream and to pursue happiness, freedom to speak and to speak truth to power without fear of reprisal. “Live and let live” was the quaint ideal, he had been taught to believe: Live the life you chose as long as you didn’t harm your neighbors’ ability to live the life they chose.

He saw a dark cloud pass over the land and wondered what had become of those ideals or even if they were ever real.

If there was to be a light, let alone a beacon, he figured he would have to shine it. He was growing old and tired, and his body assailed him with aches and pains and weariness, but no one else seemed to be carrying a flashlight or even a candle.

So he climbed to the stage and turned on his beacon and shone it on the emperor, who was revealed to be naked, shriveled and a buffoon. But then he turned the beacon on the emperor’s chief rival, and he turned it left, right and center stage, and nowhere was to be found anyone wearing even a scrap of clothing, let alone the armor of liberty. No, all of the caretakers were naked, shriveled and buffoons.

“Who will stand for liberty?” he cried. “Who will shout ‘Live and let live’ from the mountaintop?”

“Foolish old man,” said one of the foolish old buffoons from the stage. “The peasantry does not want to live and let live; that carries too much responsibility. No, the peasantry wants to be led, and so we lead.”

“Liars!” cried the old man. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — those are our birthright.”

“It is you who believes in lies,” said the naked buffoon. “What say you, my fellow peasants? Should we allow this liar to live and let live, or shall we take care of you all and show you how to live?”

And to the old man’s dismay, there arose a hue and cry of, “Show us! Lead us! Take care of us!” and nary a peep of “Live and let live,” so he retreated back to his home by the water, to rest his old bones and tend to his aches and pains.

But as he walked here and there, every so often a passing neighbor would whisper, “Live and let live,” and sometimes a note would appear on his door or in his mailbox, saying, “I agree with you” or “life, liberty, pursuit of happiness,” or simply “Freedom!” And he would remember that the light may be reduced to a flicker but it never dies altogether, and dawn always follows the darkest of nights. 

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