Brandi Anderson is an 8th grade student at Warner Christian Academy in South Daytona Beach, Florida, and was the winner of the AMVETS Post 911’s “What Freedom Means to Me” Essay Contest. Brandi and her family were guests of Freedom Alliance at the Hannity Freedom Concert in Orlando, Florida, in August 2010.
Brandi’s father, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Mike Anderson, was killed by enemy fire while serving in Iraq in 2004. Her father was the inspiration behind the essay, and with Brandi’s permission, we would like to share it with you below.
WHAT IT MEANS TO ME
by Brandi Anderson
Free-dom (free-dem) n. 1. The state or quality of being free; a) exemption or liberation from the control of some other person or arbitrary power; liberty; independence b) being able to act, move, use etc. without hindrance or restraint, confinement or repression.
Freedom. What a beautiful word. A gift endowed upon us. Our birthright as an American citizen. Freedom has a very special meaning to me. I know what the price of freedom is. It does not come without a very high cost. Every man, woman, and child who lies their head down each night in peace, does so because some other American, at some time, layed down their life for them. I know this because I lost my dad in Iraq on May 2nd, 2004. He was a Navy Seabee sent there to help rebuild a country. He was killed, along with six of his fellow comrades when their camp was mortared. I will never forget the day that the Naval Chief and Chaplain showed up at my front door. I was only seven at the time but the words about to be uttered would change my life forever. The chief saluted my mom and myself, “The United States of America regrets to inform you…” My mom started to cry. I knew something very bad had happened. I was right.
So much tyranny has been fought against through the years. From our WWI warriors to the young soldiers of WWII, sent overseas to save us from an inconceivable evil. They are truly ‘The Greatest Generation.’ Sadly we watch as so many of them depart us each day. Years later the Vietnam generation heeded their nation’s command. On September 11th, 2001 our beloved nation was attacked. Today we continue to fight for our most sacred possession. The right to live as a free people.
With freedom comes responsibility. Envied by many, challenged by some. We must never become complacent. We have a duty to preserve our way of life. It is how we repay our debt to our fathers and forefathers. It is ironic how people perceive freedom. So many take this precious gift for granted. Yet there are many others who are deeply grateful.
In the last six years I have had the opportunity to meet some really special people. Some have been celebrities or military figures. But a lot have been regular folk who just ‘get it.’ I’ve met a lot of other kids like myself and their families. It grieves me when I go to events such as TAPS, Arlington, dedications and memorials. There are a lot of people who have lost someone who can never be replaced. Because of my dad’s death, I have traveled to places and met people, I very well may never have. But I would trade all of that in a moment to get my dad back. Because none of that can fill the gap left in my heart when he died. My dad and I had many great memories that never will be forgotten. Although I get really sad sometimes, I am so thankful to have known my dad. Some children were born afterward and never got that chance. So when I see the flag waving or hear the Star-Spangled Banner or pledge my allegiance to the flag, I feel a real sense of pride. I truly hope our nation never forgets because I know I never will – FREEDOM IS NOT FREE!
Freedom With Responsibility
An Igby Prize for Nonfiction essay on the burden of freedom by Elizabeth Essien
Like everything else I’ve known to be good, freedom is an ideal that can only be claimed in moderation and in proper context, for freedom too can become a vice and a snare, just as a lack has, as shown by history, led to things giving off the not so subtle aroma of death, spurred on by revolutions and the echoing cries for chains to be broken. Like one who is able to form synesthetic associations, a similar occurrence takes place inside of me, where mental associations are formed with words, and what I can clearly picture is a girl rushing out into sunflower fields as birds come out of her head.
I rarely have nightmares. To be fair, I rarely dream at all, but those few times I have had nightmares and saw the need to scream, I could not. I was too afraid to not be courteous even to my attacker, and it seems that even in the dream world, I have been held back and cannot be fully me. A lack of freedom for me has been closely related to my personality. I am an introvert, who regularly tries to find new ways to accessorize herself by adding the words “social” to explain my chattiness when using emails and texting and those few times when I make it to making phone calls. I have used such moments too to claim to be an ambivert, but if I really want to lean closer in on the truth, I might very well be a hermit who is often very uncomfortable in large gatherings, so much that I withdraw and cancel outings with people at an alarming rate.
I do not regret being the way I am, as I realize a huge part of it is because of my physiological wiring, and the other can be blamed on my environment, but like everyone who wants to exist at her own terms, however narcissistic it may sound, freedom would mean having more people make allowances for this character trait. Everywhere one turns, the need for an energetic, smiling person is on demand, a human who seems to have been built on the noisy type trains of the past is required for the cooperate world and people like me are seen too often as cold and not engaging, when usually we function better in smaller groups.
Freedom, as demanded in this sense feels justified. But how much freedom can one demand and how do individual demands for freedom intersect? For what is freedom to one person, does not necessarily translate as freedom for the next man. There should be rules to prevent the overpowering of one man’s idea of freedom over another and this demands fairness and rules. A man is free for example to hold a knife, he is free to put it on the neck of his goat and call for tables to be spread for his neighbours, but performing the same act on his neighbour’s goat in the thick of the night would be stepping out of his allotted space to exercise the right of freedom.
True freedom comes with a burden. The burden of responsibility where each person acts as a dispenser of a “ go ahead” internal thumbs up to his or herself, as well as a restrainer of same self. This would mean putting or imagining one’s self in another person’s shoes for a while. Should a harsh word be spoken to one’s spouse, for example? There is freedom and the lack of a restraining palm on the mouth in most cases, but does this justify the uttering of harsh words still? What about the situation where one is in charge of huge amounts of money? Is such a person free to pick up huge sums of money at will, just because his/her arms are functioning well and can do the lifting up of suitcases filled with such? I should think not.
As a sensitive person who is still not immune to the opinions of others as much as she would like to believe she is, and who finds herself biting her tongue when faced with the options of whether to risk offending by stating the truth as it is, or coating it till it gets lost as an unrecognizable lie, or just not saying anything at all, I realize that these inhibitions are purely in my head and nothing to do with the physical, meaning I could never claim the absence of a tongue as the reason for my inability to speak . This being the case, I believe the cultivation of true freedom is in the mind. Once the fetters are removed at the seat of the mind, a human can be anything and can die and fight for any inhibition placed on the physical body. This, I believe, is why most revolutions begin at the level of ideas.