Before settling on this topic I must say I had to scribble and cancel a dozen more just to figure out what best to write about. Freedom is a word that many have come across and always talk about but majority of people don’t know it’s real meaning. For one I never really understood what freedom meant until I came across it in the Track A reading manual. Initially when I heard of the word freedom, what came to my mind was being able to do anything without restrictions or consequences. What I did not understand is that freedom is not about doing but about being.
I never realized that I had been in a constant struggle to find myself and understand freedom. Coming from a humble background I always dreamt of a better life, a life that was free from hardships and worries about the consequences of my decisions and actions. I could hear stories of how campus life was great and how there were no rules and people would do whatever they wanted and attend classes whenever they felt like attending. This misguided illusion of freedom clouded my judgment and I thought this was the freedom I wanted, but in real sense this freedom that I wanted so much was freedom from responsibility and not freedom for excellence. This pushed me to work hard in school so that I could go to university and despite having to stay at home most of the time while my friends were in school, I still managed to be among the top five students in high school and I was offered a spot at the university.
My struggle with the truth and freedom became evident during my first year in campus. I met people from different backgrounds and social status and given that there was no one to give me proper advice and the mentorship that I needed at that point in time. I felt that I needed to fit in. I began living a lie; it was like I had two personalities. At home I was a good kid in the neighborhood but in school I was a totally different person. I was skipping most of my classes and lying to myself that I would catch up with my classmates before the end of the semester. Over the weekends I could go home to work at my brother’s barber shop and when I went back to school I would throw parties and go clubbing the whole night. At that moment I was free, however, I wasn’t using my freedom to be excellent but to do what I wanted, I was merely acting on the will alone. I became well known for throwing some of the best parties in campus. Me and my friends would throw at least two parties in a month. My grades started getting poor and in the first semester of my second year they got even worse.
One evening as I was sitting at my favorite joint with my friends having fun I got a call from my girlfriend she sounded dull as she talked and she asked whether she could see me that night. I was worried but I had an idea what it was about, she had talked to me about taking a pregnancy test and I knew that’s why she called. I left my friends and went to my house lost in my thoughts of what will happen if what I suspected was actually true. That would only mean that I had a choice to make, a choice that would affect me for the rest of my life. That night I went to see her determined to do the right thing. When I got to her best friends’ place where she had been the whole afternoon, she looked very depressed as she gave me the news that her test came out positive. At this moment I was faced with the truth and the reality of the kind of freedom that I was living. That’s when I realized that I had the freedom to rationally decide my next course of action, I gave her a warm hug and said everything would be fine and even though I did not know what to do at that time I believed it would be.
I offered to take her home and given the condition she was in I spent the night at her place as we talked and I assured her we would work through it together. For us abortion was out of the picture, I had heard of the complications of abortion and the dangers it posed to the mother. I never wanted to lose her or the baby she was expecting. We made a decision to stick together no matter what happened. We both told our parents and despite being disappointed and surprised they offered us their support and the next nine months were joyful but tough especially for my girlfriend since she had to attend her classes despite her condition but I was there to give her the support that she needed and we learnt so much from that experience.
February 27th 2014, I had a morning lecture. My girlfriend was not feeling well but she said she was okay so I went to class. In the middle of my lecture her best friend called me and told me she was in labor. I rushed to the house and we took her to the hospital. I was filled with anxiety and didn’t know what to do as we waited to hear from the doctor. The nurses let me keep her company after visiting hours and I had to leave at 7:00 PM to go home. I got home freshened up, ate supper and sat in bed waiting for news from her. I was beginning to doze off when she called me at around 11:13 PM to tell me that we had a beautiful baby girl. I felt like it was the best day of my life. I could not sleep that night and in the morning I was the first person to arrive at the hospital. As I held my daughter for the first time and she wrapped her hands on my little finger, it was the most beautiful feeling I have ever felt. My perspective of life changed as I saw myself in her and I got to know myself better. I, now more than ever had a reason to succeed in life. Just the thought of having a child and wanting to protect her and give her the things that I never had was enough to motivate me to work even harder in school. I had found a new kind of freedom, the freedom of excellence, the freedom to choose wisely and well the things that truly make for our happiness and for the good of our family. My grades tremendously improved that year and they were the best grades I’ve had in my four years of study. We started a business to enable us give our daughter the life that she deserves and got engaged on her first birthday.
Looking back now at all that I was going through and having a better understanding of freedom, I see that I always had the freedom to choose to do the right thing. Just as Mercedes says in the essay Freedom and Liberty that, freedom is something that is always there even when your situation is not best. Before that night I was making decisions based on lies about myself and the misunderstanding of freedom, this made me make silly mistakes repeatedly and as Pope John Paul II says “Truth and freedom either go together hand in hand or together they perish in misery.”(Theology of the body). I feel proud of the decision I made that night for it surely changed my life. Choosing to accept the truth about my situation at that moment has brought me happiness and the opportunity and joy of being closer than ever to my family and making rational decisions in the course of my life. It has also built a strong sense of trust and love between me and my fiancée and had a great impact on the lives of our friends in college which has brought us great satisfaction in seeing how they were also able to turn their lives around and live in the truth.
I truly understand Victor Frankls’ famous quote from chapter 3 of Track A, “Everything can be taken away from man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” The World Youth Alliance training on Track A has enabled me understand more about freedom and human dignity in general as it seeks to bring out the understanding of human dignity that is intrinsic from conception to natural death. Coming across WYA and its strong stand against abortion has made a significant impact on me. It has made me identify the need of advocating for the dignity of the human person. Relating my situation with what most young people are going through, I feel the need to engage with more young people to share with them this freedom of excellence which satisfies the deepest yearning of the human heart to be free and provide them with the mentorship and guidance they need in order to live a more fulfilling life that promotes and defends human dignity.
Written by Kevin Alando, a current intern at the WYA Africa regional office from Kenya.