The Freedom to Sing Solo

Letter from the Editor

Our first thoughts of the day are said to be the truest, the purest. That’s why so many writers compose before breakfast, before outside influences lead them astray and send their thoughts scattering.

But even as you fire up your computer to begin the well-intentioned process, the intrusions begin. An unwelcome home page greets the day’s first online research query with the headline: “A cigarette-infused cupcake?”

And don’t even go near the TV, where a promo ad before the 7 a.m. headlines shows Vanna White and Pat Sajak doing a chest bump. Eew! Too late now. The floodgates are open: Sarah Palin hops off her “campaign” bus and we learn that Snooki from Jersey Shore has crashed her car in Italy.

Swimming against the tainted tide requires a Marlboro Man defiance (without the cigarettes). Going it alone, preferably under your own power, is the essence of freedom, which is something to consider in this month of Independence Day.

Few words are as important as freedom. From the no-one’s-looking pleasure of tipping your cereal bowl to drink the last of the milk to taking possession of the key to your first home, the human need for solo self-sufficiency can’t be overestimated.

Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence in 17 days. On a small scale and in brief moments daily, we write our own declarations: getting a cropped, maintenance-free haircut; growing pesticide-free tomatoes in the backyard; losing something and realizing we’re better off without it anyway.

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” Janis Joplin sang. There’s a euphoria that comes from being stripped bare, doing without, beating a diagnosis, or proving the naysayers wrong.

Going against the grain of accepted practices requires courage and a measure of not caring what anyone thinks. In the case of Detroit entrepreneur Dan Gilbert, that effort builds economic muscle. Where other business people perceive roadblocks, he sees opportunity, which explains why he now owns a substantial chunk of downtown Detroit.

And he’s doing something with his bricks-and-mortar holdings, not just possessing architectural beauties and letting them deteriorate while awaiting a top-dollar sale.

This Fourth of July holiday, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra marks our national independence in grand cymbal-crashing style at Greenfield Village.

Centuries after the “rockets’ red glare,” independence still comes from defying roadblocks. In the case of Gilbert, success comes not from putting it in D, as the ad slogan says, but from putting it in reverse — backing up the on-ramp.

For another man, someone I encountered just today, go-it-alone defiance took the form of crossing railroad tracks in a wheelchair powered by his mouth, reaching his destination despite impediments, and doing it with both arms waving free.

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