“Me and you and dog named Boo
Travelin’ and a livin’ off the land.
Me and you and a dog named Boo
How I love being a free man.”
Remember this 1970s ballad?
I think of it often as I watch my boys play with their black Labrador retriever named Blue (We goofed. We mistook Lobo’s pronunciation of his wandering partner’s name and, thus, added a consonant).
I think of simpler times — of AM/FM radios — of summer camp — of teenage friends — of a dog’s loyalty — of “me and you and a dog named Boo.”
I also think of higher ideals — of the joy that comes from adventure — of the majesty of creation — of life and liberty — of “travelin’ and livin’ off the land.”
But most of all, as I hum this tune in the back of my mind and as I watch my son’s tussle with their dog and play fetch with “Blue.” I think of freedom — the internal compass and natural hunger that all of us share — of “longing to be a free man.”
You see Blue has taught me something very interesting about freedom. Freedom is not free. It always comes with a cost.
Permit me to illustrate.
If you have ever owned dogs you know of their natural love for the outdoors, for hunting, for retrieving, for a good run. You can almost see the laugh in a Labrador’s eyes when she sees you are about to let her off her leash — when she knows she is about to romp in the fields or swim in a lake, or roam in a local woods until exhausted. She absolutely loves freedom.
But you also know something else about dogs. They can never be let loose of the restrictions of a chain, the confines of a kennel or the boundaries of a back yard until they have first acquired discipline.
A dog can never enjoy “freedom” until she learns to obey. Oh, your dog may be “free” to ignore you and your commands. She may be “free” to walk away rather than sit, stay, heel, or come. She may be “free” to defy any rules or restrictions you try to impose on her. She may be “free” to think she is the master and you’re not. But this is really a story of sadness not of joy because you know that in her ignorant and stubborn way of living that your dog is not experiencing a fraction of the freedom that could be hers. You know that if she would just listen, if she would simply accept some boundaries, if she would just obey your commands, that you could and would let her go. She wouldn’t even need a fence or a tether anymore if you could trust her to stay out of the road and away from traffic. She could have total freedom and the run of the property if she would obey some basic rules established for her own good and stay away from things that you know could kill her.
The simplicity of a dog’s life — the lesson of Blue — has shown me over and over again that the benefits of freedom cannot be enjoyed without first paying the price of obedience. No one and no thing experiences the “gain” of emancipation without first submitting to the “pain” of correction. Good things always cost something. We must remember that the payment for liberty is always found in the currency of submission.
Recently Dr. Russ Hittinger of the University of Tulsa in commenting on the paradox of Natural Law and human freedom said this: Freedom is a direct consequence of Natural Law. Our understanding of Law and our compliance therein is the only foundation for human beings to be truly free. Law does not override human initiative. To the contrary Law leads to freedom just as rhythm and beat, tone and cadence lead to Mozart. Ignoring the rules of music results in chaos, not concertos. Ignoring the rules of Natural Law leads to slavery not salvation.
Someone else once said that freedom is found in knowing and obeying the Truth (“You shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free”). Maybe this is Hittinger’s point. A dog will never be free until she learns to live within the boundaries that are created for her own good. Humans will never experience real liberty until we learn to submit to that immutable Thing that is bigger than self.
This is a lesson reinforced every time I see Blue run in the fields and laugh with the freedom of obeying her master’s voice.