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Johann Michael Rottmayr: Apollo Granting Phaeton Permission to Drive the Chariot of the Sun (1690/95)


"I remain just as free as I'd ever care to be …"


As a gentleman of a certain age and social position, I suspect that many might suspect me of being free, or of at least feeling free to choose to do whatever I might choose to do, but that second suspicion would be far from the truth about me, a truth that only I could ever properly see. I have this gatekeeper inside me, and he decides for me what I might engage in and how. He's a stingy bastard, protective, and won't allow me to engage in just anything. He'd say that he at least tries to maintain certain "standards," but he administers them inconsistently enough that not even I can always predict what he'll permit and what he'll disallow. He insists that he's protecting my interests as he inhibits my freedom of movement and my liberties, not nearly as free as I might at first appear to be.

Consequently, I maintain a list of things he's frequently denied to me, if only to save myself the humiliation of him having to remind me again what kind of person I'm not.
I'm not the sort, for instance, to drink soda pop under any circumstances. During The Damned Pandemic, his forbidden list grew even longer than it had been and now that we're experiencing a lull, I've been wondering what he might lighten up on again, but I'm not holding my breath. Some never observed the guidelines and mandates published (for their own good) by the state. Others did abide, but it seemed only as long as the state insisted. Once the mandates were lifted, off came the masks just as if somebody somewhere in that bureaucracy actually knew when and where a mask might not be needed. They'd be observant whatever the mandater might insist. Others of us maintain our own gatekeepers doling out our Permissions. I might never again go maskless in public, whatever the state's guidance. My gatekeeper's stricter than their's.

I mostly appreciate my gatekeeper's intrusions. He prevents me from getting too far ahead of myself. He imposes probably healthful limits. I think of myself as more like the proverbial jackass Mark Twain mentioned, in that there are some things, unlike many humans, I just will not do. It has become of late fashionable to casually engage in forms of extremism, to carry loaded weapons in public, to vote for Republicans. These are things I could never get permission to do, requests for which I cannot imagine getting through to Permissions. I have to wonder if the Jehus who engage in those might be missing some part of their conscience or something, something necessary to peacefully cohabitate, that thing that prevents most people from wearing their pajamas in public and especially in malls.

The fall of man, however one might imagine it ending, probably prominently features a perversion of freedom and a terminal misunderstanding of the very concept of liberty. Freedom never was the ability to do whatever one chooses, uninfluenced by that almost still, remarkably small voice inside each of us. To grow deaf to that which bestows Permissions starts one on the road to Perdition with no exits. That almost still, remarkably small voice was intended to guide our passage, not merely to inhibit any of us. It is the voice of the liberty to be like me rather than like the masses. My character might be best characterized by all I somehow chose not to do rather than by anything I actually accomplished, even if not drinking soda pop heads that list. I remain just as free as I'd ever care to be, at liberty, a prisoner of my own Permissions.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved







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