how free is your free

February 7th, 2022

There are two freedoms: the false, where a man is free to do what he likes; and the true, where he is free to do what he ought. — Charles Kingsley, 19th century Anglican priest

The other day I read about the guy who refused a life-saving kidney transplant because doctors told him he would have to get a COVID vaccine. You probably heard about this too. The vaccination requirement is not surprising, since transplant recipients have to take immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of their lives, making them acutely vulnerable to infections. Days before that, another man was taken off the list for a heart transplant because he wouldn’t take the vaccine.

These are stories you can hardly believe. But then again, they make perfect sense if you believe freedom means not doing what you don’t want to do.

The patient with failing kidneys explained his refusal, saying “I was born free, I’ll die free,” a little like the words of a war hero. But I would ask what he means by free. Even as he stakes his life on freedom from a certain vaccine, he likely already had them for the other 18 dangerous or deadly diseases Americans are routinely vaccinated for. He’s also undergone numerous heart surgeries, had both legs amputated and is hooked up to a dialysis machine three times weekly. On top of that, he’s already had COVID twice. So how free is his free?

That kind of freedom is not actual freedom, it’s just the idea of freedom. We are all free to think what we think, but acting on our our own ideas can be fatal—and not just to ourselves, as pandemics prove. Fiercely held ideas are what imprison you. Until you die. In a prison of your own making.

I do not want him to die, nor do I wish him ill. Still, his story makes a powerful point for the rest of us.

We should all take a long look at how we cherish our own ideas and opinions, not just about pandemics, politics, and people, but everything, because beliefs distort our reality. And that’s a problem.

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything. – George Bernard Shaw

In the first week of December, individuals who were unvaccinated were 97 times more likely to die from COVID than those who were vaccinated and boosted, according to data from 25 U.S. cities, states and territories.

I know someone who won’t get vaccinated, and when presented with the inconvenient truth that vaccines save lives, dismisses it smugly, saying “I’ve heard the talking points.”

But facts aren’t talking points, and neither is math. Talking points are what you hear from lying governors, anti-vax crackpots, rabid talk show hosts, pigheaded podcasters, and Fox News.

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. — Albert Einstein

Last week someone asked me “What is the COVID vibe in California?”

I’m not sure I would recognize a vibe even if it hit me upside of the head. So I answered, “First off, this is California,” which is to say, by and large we don’t have a problem. But then, I only have my own experience to go by.

When they told us to stay home I stayed home and, all things considered, it wasn’t a problem. When they told us to wash our hands I (pretty much) washed my hands and it wasn’t a problem. When they told us we didn’t have to wear masks it wasn’t a problem; and when they later realized we did have to wear masks it was even less of a problem. Then when they told us to go outside without a mask but to wear a mask inside, I did! It wasn’t a problem. It’s still not a problem. And when the first vaccines came out, that sure as hell wasn’t a problem. Or the second. Or the third. Not a problem at all. Wear a mask in Walmart? Home Depot? On an airplane? You betcha. Show proof of vaccination? Happy to. Freedom is instantaneous the moment we accept things as they are, and not cling to how we wish them to be.

May all beings live free and save their dying for later.

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash



  1. I have to say shortly before we got vaccines it was pretty clear the only way out was via vaccines.
    For people who feel trapped and who are struggling with these questions I can wholeheartedly recommend The Work by Byron Katie. Applying it gives immediate clarity.

    Comment by Simone — February 7, 2022 @ 8:49 am

  2. This looks like mass delusion. Thank you for writing. 🙏

    Comment by Vince — February 7, 2022 @ 9:00 am

  3. Well said, Karen. Thank you for putting this so eloquently into words.

    Comment by Robin — February 7, 2022 @ 10:45 am

  4. THIS IS SO GOOD. Thank you thank you. I’m grateful for your articulation and eloquence.

    Comment by Susan J McCulley — February 7, 2022 @ 12:12 pm

  5. THANK YOU for sharing this!! 💕

    Comment by Pauline Leger — February 7, 2022 @ 4:31 pm

  6. For what it’s worth, this high-risk friend (about to get my fourth shot), thanks you 💜

    Comment by Bonnie Rae Nygren — February 7, 2022 @ 8:47 pm

  7. Ah .. finally .. such wise words and always a joy to receive and read your messages. Thank you. I have shared with others too.

    Comment by Sarah — February 8, 2022 @ 3:24 am

  8. The truth of the Dharma. Your words save us all. I love you.

    Comment by Kaigen — February 8, 2022 @ 9:28 am

  9. Grateful for the clarity of this wisdom. My sister–whom I have not been able to see in the six months since she began preparatory treatment for stem cell transplantation–is among the highest-risk, most severely immunocompromised. She and her partner/caregiver live under the strictest isolation while also suffering and surviving the effects of treatment, transplant, and medications.

    Masking and mitigating is not a problem, the inability to comprehend our interconnectedness and the consequences for refusing to do so is.

    Comment by Laura Greenleaf — February 9, 2022 @ 7:46 am

  10. A simple and powerful piece of writing.

    Comment by Debbie — February 11, 2022 @ 11:51 pm

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