Both of my son’s were moving back to school the other day and I spent a rather melancholy afternoon by myself. My mind flashed back to a property law class that I attended many years ago in Denver. Property law is a study of an archaic group of rules dating back to our English ancestors. I will spare you the details of this tortuous endeavor, with one exception; the concept of fealty or allegiance to the feudal lord of the manor.
The property law professor was of no particular note as a teacher, a rather condescending individual who loved nothing more than to spew forth his knowledge of antiquated legal concepts that he was in the process of capturing in a textbook that he was writing at the time. But, I will never forget one particular lecture where he explained the system of fealty. He demonstrated how the king would meet with the soon to be designated lord of the manor on the designated lands and pick up a handful of dirt. After saying a few appropriate words, the king would hand the dirt to the lord. The ceremony would bind the two to each other and to the land. To make a rather long story short, the bargain was as follows: The King was providing the lord with the land, along with all the buildings and workers associated with it, for his unfettered use. In exchange, the lord was agreeing loyally to support the king. Now, loyal support meant not just telling everybody what a nice guy the king was, but providing a certain percentage of the grain and produce from the fields, and also, more importantly, raising a fully outfitted and provisioned army of knights to defend the king whenever the king requested.
At the point in the lecture where the professor was stressing the extremely onerous and expensive nature of having to provide a fully battle ready group of knights, a rather inquisitive fellow student started to squirm in his seat. He could not quite understand the motivations here. He raised his hand and asked why the lord of the manor would agree to this tremendously onerous undertaking. Would it not be easier, he asked, just to say “no”.
It was the professor’s response that I will always remember. He quoted a line from the old Janis Joplin song, “Me and Bobby McGee”. The line, to which only Janis Joplin could do justice, was “freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” The simple point that the professor was making was that the lord could have said “no”, but the consequence would have been the receipt of no land and no title from the king. Yes, he would have been free from his feudal obligations, but his life would have been devoid of all wealth and stature.
Well, my wife died a while back. The dog died a few months ago. Both sons have moved back to school. I am free! But what is “free”. Is it just another word for nothing left to lose?
Every few years, survival requires that we reinvent ourselves, that we determine what is important in our lives, that we refocus ourselves and that we determine what we have left to lose.
For more information on survival see my book, The Freshly Single Man.
When was the last time that you reinvented yourself?