06/15/2010 11:00 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

American Liberty: Gratitude For The Freedoms We Take For Granted

I remember that time in my life when I was just starting to develop a political consciousness. It was 1975. I was living in Europe for a college semester abroad. Meeting up with people from all walks of the world inspired me to broaden my understanding of how national power-brokers influence public opinion.

Recently I traveled to Argentina, a county that experienced horrific war acts against its people during the years of 1976-1983. The 30,000 who perished are known as the "Desaparecidos" -- in English it's the "disappeared"-- named that way because rather than coming under open gunfire, the Argentine military junta abducted people while going about their daily routines, leaving their families and loved ones never to see them again or know of their fate.

It was astounding for me to think about how those years in Argentina contrast with what was going on in my life here in the US. Those were the years when I graduated college, went to Grad school, and initiated my career as a psychotherapist. Those days were filled with discovery about sexism and racism, learning about empowerment of self and others, and finding my way as a feminist and wife.

My final day in Buenos Aires, I shared cafe with fellow psychologists. Relying on their English language skills, they answered all my questions, clarified my confusion and set the historical records straight. Then one of them looked me deeply in the eyes and said "In 1975 I was twenty-one and was arrested at a demonstration." Coming of age in the 60s and 70s, I knew from demonstrations.

I listened on as he told me "I was imprisoned for four years." Shock overwhelmed me -- he was committed for the crime of peaceful protest. There I was sitting face to face with someone who embodied the experience of cruelty and senselessness at the hands of a military junta -- of people who get off on using their supreme power to strip away others' basic rights and dignity.

I was aghast and without even thinking about it I was also immediately filled with gratitude -- gratitude for how fortunate I've been; how lucky I've been to have the luxury of taking so much for granted. All I could focus on was how much I treasure feeling safe enough to have an open conversation, without fear of being turned in and punished, having access to universities and other think tanks that remain active despite shifting political tides, and being fortunate that our economic system didn't bottom out anywhere close to where Argentina's did in 2001 (when the pesos went from being worth the equivalent of a dollar to a quarter, just overnight).

I am blessed to live with the protections our system affords. It's so easy to criticize people and parties and, believe me, I do it as much as the next person does. But in these days, upon returning home, I continue to be mindful of how precious freedom is and how important it is to appreciate it when you have it. I am more appreciative than ever before.

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