Lasts and firsts.

It’s funny how independence feels like freedom when we don’t have it, and feels like responsibilities and obligations once obtained. Securing independence is the least of the effort. Sustaining it demands much more.

I still remember unexpected dread coursing through me when my parents announced that a college apartment rent check would be their last. They’d agreed to pay until I graduated. Twenty-one, with a college degree, a job in the city, and a paycheck, I would be on my own.

I’d known the day was coming. I’d looked forward to this ever since I could remember. Yet… wow! I would have to pay the rent next month!

I had a similar experience shortly after moving from an apartment to my own home. After 10 hours at work I arrived home to find that minor drip was a failed valve saturating an upper bathroom and the ceilings and floor below. A repair and restoration nightmare stretched before me.

Waiting for the plumber, the main water turned off and my adrenaline waning, I couldn’t shake the inconvenient irony. If this had happened at the apartment, I could simply have called the office.

Manuel would have taken care of the rest. Now I would be making the calls, running the fans, living with holes in the ceiling until I could find, book, and pay new vendors to fix them. And I would be paying for it myself.

My boys are teenagers, with decisions about schools, jobs, and lifestyles before them. Even though it was so long ago for me, I remember those days in my own history. Making my own decisions, setting my own course, being beholden to no one – those concepts were so attractive.

They seemed to be achievements, not states in flux whose maintenance would require constant calibration. Decisions that begot more decisions. Lifts that would at times be harder alone.

I do appreciate freedom. Now, though, I better understand the cost at which our freedoms are bought. I see that we are always adding and subtracting from two sides of a scale. We can’t make a change to one without doing so for both. It is a lifelong pursuit of firsts demanding lasts, of goodbyes making way for hellos, of balancing the imbalanced.

It’s why – if we’re lucky – our attraction to independence gives way to an appreciation of interdependence. Our self-reliance becomes something even better: an agent that moves to help others in their balancing, as they do the same for us.

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