Thoughts Are Free

Have you ever had a busy period at work where, after a lot of toiling and long hours, you finally felt like you’re in the home stretch, only to be taken out by the flu a day later? It’s maddening, isn’t it?

The worst part is not even when you’re sick. It’s when you’re almost recovered but not quite ready to go. You’re already chomping at the bit, dying to get back out there, but you know you can’t — or that if you would, you’d probably be right back where you started two days later.

I’ve paced through my flat more than once, wishing the recovery would speed up. On a bad day, I’ll spend half my time fretting over when I can get back to work and what I’ll have to do. On a good one, however, I’ll just remember a song: Die Gedanken sind frei.

Written over 200 years ago, this German folk song has been a place of refuge for generations. “The thoughts are free,” it stipulates. “No person can guess them. No hunter can shoot them. It is thus and always will be: The thoughts are free.”

In 1942, Nazi resistance member Sophie Scholl played the melody on her flute, standing outside the wall of her father’s prison cell. In 1948, over 300,000 Germans sang it in Berlin, protesting the Soviet occupation of their city. And in 1989, thousands of protesters joined in on the lyric as the East German Republic was about to collapse.

Now, I’m not saying having the flu is the same as being oppressed. Not even close. I have no idea what that’s like, and the less frequently people have to hum that song in such scenarios, the better.

That said, I think you know what it feels like when an illness “holds you down.” Heck, for more than a year, a disease kept all of us in our apartments regardless of whether we had it or not! And in times like that, when you’re stuck in something, be it a health issue, your flat, or a bad situation, it helps to remember that, well, your thoughts are free.

Perhaps I can’t take a walk outside, but I can still fly around the world in my mind. I can’t shoulder my backpack and trek to work, but I can imagine myself typing, thinking, looking at the eventual end result, and take some comfort in that. Maybe I can’t eat the pizza I usually enjoy so much, but I can still remember its taste.

Even if your suffering is harmless, sometimes, it doesn’t do just to belittle it. It may be small in historic comparison, but if it hurts right now, then right now is when you need a way of handling it. Today, more oppression happens in human minds than to human bodies — and a lot of it is self-inflicted.

Wherever it comes from, don’t let the madness get to you. Your thoughts are free, and so are you — as long as you remember it.