What does it mean to have a free spirit?

Shannon Byrne
Dec 19, 2017 · 5 min read

My brother married one of my best friends of 20 years last month. We were at the rehearsal dinner after party. My dad’s friend of at least 45 years who also cherished my mom’s friendship, took me aside and told me that I looked like her. It even scared him a little. He also told me I have her free spirit.

Until now, I haven’t thanked him for his words. They truly stuck with me. So much so that I’ve thought about them every day since.

People often tell me I resemble her, but they never say I remind them of her or that I am just like her. Maybe they don’t see it. Maybe they’re afraid to say it for reasons mentioned below.

This family friend was not the first to tell me I have a free spirit, either. He was the first to tell me I have hers. I think people typically refer to my “free spirit” because I travel and explore by myself. Because my career path, at best, looks like a squiggly line. I say quirky things and joke around. I write about my opinions, emotions, and experiences. I rarely apologize for being me. I write my own rules, while respecting others’ and falling inline when I need to.

When I was young, that spirit was definitely in reference to my party habits — times that I am happy to have behind me.

However, when I hear people tell me I have a free spirit, I can’t help but to wonder what they really mean. Are they just calling me weird? Then I remember I don’t care. I’m happy to be writing my own rules and working on living my most authentic life (it’s in progress and process). They don’t need to understand it. And if they do mean it as “you go girl!,” then yay!

I know my path has been untraditional. But before our friend’s comment, I never fully realized that my spirit is free like my mom’s. I always saw myself as shy, hiding in my family’s shadows. I always thought I was just floating. But the older I get, the less fucks I give, the less fear I have, and the more like my mom I become. Every year, my spirit gets freer.

My mom was a true hippy in the 60s and 70s. She went to Woodstock. She lived in a commune for bit with her brother. I don’t know if she ever protested or was politically active. I wish I asked. She made her own curtains and clothes. She made and wore outfits way before their time (she always said Twiggy stole her look lolz). She grew up mostly poor before her mom remarried, but then felt like she no longer belonged in the picture.

She was fiercely independent but also longed for love. To have the things her family never provided her with. She wanted her own family.

Later in life, the Sherry I knew danced in grocery stores. She made friends with strangers (and sometimes enemies). She spoke her mind, which was noble but also sometimes got us in trouble. She had a bit of a rough, “Jersey Girl” attitude that was endearing to most, off-putting to some.

She sang all the time. She loved Motown. She dressed me in a denim skirt, red turtle neck, and cowboy boots my first day of second grade at a brand new school. Thanks mom. It was 1995. Imagine what the kids thought. She still made her own curtains. She surprised me by redecorating my room, twice.

She loved being a full-time mom but when we got older, she got restless. When she joined the workforce again, she threw herself in full-heartedly. She was always so excited about new opportunities. Her passion ran deep.

My mom was also an alcoholic, which led to her death eight years ago.

That’s not where her free spirit came from. She always had the free spirit. However, when some people refer to her free spirit, I fear they’re referring to her alcoholism. Or, rather, I know that’s what they’re referring to. And honestly, those people can fuck off. Sorry, not sorry.

The family friend mentioned above, though, was referring to her true free spirit. The spirit that made my mom sing and dance in grocery aisles. That made her make her own clothes. That made her do what it took to survive. To be independent. And the free spirit that I think attracted my dad to her.

When I gave my speech at the wedding, some people who knew my mom thanked me for honoring her. For allowing her spirit to live on in that time and space. They told me she’d be proud. I walked away from those conversations hoping I honor my mom and her free spirit every day in all my actions. That I’m doing her justice.

Here’s the thing, and I could be wrong here, but more often than not, people use “free spirit” as a backhanded compliment. Or as a way of saying, “I don’t get you but I understand you’re doing your own thing.”

My question to you is: shouldn’t everyone have a free spirit? At this point, shouldn’t we all be writing our own rules? Fuck, the current administration sure is. Not saying they should be writing the rules they are, obviously.

My point is, this place (earth) is a weird sphere of energy we’re all exchanging and bouncing off each other. What if each of us lived a little more freely? Did one thing we really wanted to do each day and supported each other? Wrote at least one of our own rules? And most importantly, didn’t apologize it.

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