Good evening, friends and neighbors.
About a year ago this past December, I got my first tattoo.
“The Lord said to Moses, “Take the rod in your hand, that you may work my wonders.” And Moses came down from the mountain and spoke to his father-in-law, Jethro. He said, “Let me take my family and return to Egypt, for I have been gone many years and I do not know if they are dead or alive.” And Jethro said, “Go in peace.” And so Moses packed his family on a camel and returned to Egypt, and in his hand he carried the staff of God.” – Exodus 4:17 – 20
When I got this tattoo, I could not help but feel I was on a parallel path to Moses. Moses was uprooting everything that had become his life and turning toward what he now knew his destiny to be. I had just recently left everything I knew and loved in New Jersey to make a fresh start with Emily in Portland.
I remembered reading the preceding conversation between Moses and God through the burning bush, seeing metaphors for the challenges faced by those who make such a choice, and behind all of it the lesson that talent is a divine gift, and it is incumbent on people to master their talents and use them to better the world.
I could get absurdly Talmudic right now about the specific metaphors in the moment, but that would be another entry in its own right.
Being in the middle of Passover- the Jewish festival celebrating the Exodus from Egypt- I find myself looking at the tattoo and the messages I etched into it with fresh reflection.
Certainly leading the Hebrews to freedom wasn’t a walk in the park for Moses- certainly seeking the freedom to explore and develop my talents in Portland has been more than a little trying for me.
I wonder, though- did Moses, like me, ever have days where he wondered if it was worth it?
At this point, you can probably pick your cultural reference. From the anime Fullmetal Alchemist:
This is well-covered road. Hell, just writing about this is probably cementing my hack status as a writer.
Even so, it’s a question I’m not sure is fully examined. Especially in America, the notion of “freedom” is enshrined. It is the paramount motivation- worth any and everything. It is worth killing for and dying for. It is the end that justifies all means.
Then… what are those means? If (per Fullmetal Alchemist) something of equal value must be lost in order to gain- what do we really give up for freedom? What mountain do we give up in order to reach the summit of another?
For myself, moving cross-country cost quite a bit. I was out of the reach of most of my support systems- networks of friends and associates who had historically treated me well.
In moving, I essentially gave up the reputation and goodwill I had built in New Jersey, and now needed to start from scratch- making a name for myself all over again, as a stranger in a strange land.
I gave up easy access to communities I knew and felt a part of, and now had to find new ones.
In essence, like Moses, I had to turn my back on much that had made up and defined my life and now had to find something new elsewhere- all in exchange for the freedom to do exactly that: remake myself and my life however I saw fit, without the reliances and input of others.
As Moses led the cranky, bitchy Israelites through the desert for 40 years, and as I sit after a 2000 mile uprooting of my life and 10 month stretch of unemployment- we both might wonder, “Maybe this wasn’t so smart after all?”
“Was it worth it? WILL this be worth it?”
“Yes. Yes, I think so.”
While I could not have predicted the specifics about what life out here would entail, I knew it would be different, challenging, and risky. In a lot of ways, I knew what I was signing on for- in exchange for a chance to live somewhere new, try something else, and build a new kind of life, I was ready to give up much.
In exchange for the freedom to make more choices, I gave up some freedom to make bad ones- everything will have greater consequences.
In exchange for the ability to decide for myself, I gave up a certain amount of peace of mind. Adventure and exploration, in exchange for comfort and security.
In exchange for perfect freedom, perhaps what we give up is the ability to be happy with anything less.
From the top of a hill, looking out over the people he had been sent to lead, watching them pitch their tents and set up their Tabernacle, Moses knew they could be sinful and cranky. He knew they could be violent and disobedient.
That was their right, though- they were free.
Besides, Moses had taken the staff in his hand.