Freethinkers / Liberty Belle

A few months ago, right before I turned 40 and after 20 years of work, I left my position at the newspaper: For the first time in my life, I stopped being an employee. Put it this way: I chose to be free.

My accountant smiles. She says that the life of the self-employed in this country is hard, nearly impossible. "And it's just going to get worse, you'll see," she laughs. My accountant has an amused outlook on life. I like her a lot.

A few months ago, right before I turned 40 and after 20 years of work, I left my position at the newspaper: For the first time in my life, I stopped being an employee. Put it this way: I chose to be free; I chose Independence.

My accountant explains to me how much I need to pay to the National Insurance Institute, to the VAT people, to income tax and to my accountant. She explains what I need to fill out on an invoice and what goes on a receipt and how to deposit and whom to send what to, where to sign and how to report. She says that it's hard, and that so long as it's possible, it's preferable to remain a wage-earner - to stay in that limited and limiting relationship, that is also a secure one, relatively speaking. But sometimes there is no alternative, because in the end, she says, to choose independence is to choose growth (not growth of the economic kind, but growth of the "I" kind, she jokes). This is a choice of freedom, of disengagement, of development. Nu, she sighs, life is hard. Almost impossible.

"The individual is free, the individual is Freedom," said Jean-Paul Sartre (in his enchanting and flawed lecture "Existentialism Is Humanism"). He asserted that "we are left alone, with no excuse," and said that "we are not free not to choose and we are not free not to be free." I read these things for the first time at the age of 17, a depressed, disturbed and curious high school student, trying to invent her life and looking to books for a directing idea.

Sartre came at just the right moment. Sweeping, readable, convincing (if one ignores the structural contradictions and the unsolved problems).

How can my freedom be reconciled with the freedom of others? Sartre says: "My self- discovery is to the same extent a discovery of the Other, as freedom facing my freedom, which cannot think or want except for me or against me." But how exactly does this happen? How does this become possible? There is no explanation. Never mind. I took these things to heart and vowed to live by their light - free, alone, without excuses.

My accountant explains to me that self-employed people don't have vacation days. And they don't have sick leave. And they have to find a way to save up for a pension, for old age, but there is no way of knowing which is the best way. No one will give me good advice. She says that there is no security and nothing is certain. But it will be okay, you just have to do the work.

My accountant is pretty and cheerful. I ask her whether she knows Tamir Greenberg's poem "There Will Be No Requital." She asks me to bring it to her, together with the receipts and the invoices, to our next meeting.

So here it is:

"There will be no requital, / not in matter, not in glory, not in love / and not in life in the world to come: / only in the work of the everyday. / Keep pushing the wheelbarrow / whether it's carrying an armchair, a shabby bed or a pile of books. / Read as much as your aching back allows. / Extricate shrapnel and more shrapnel from the wall / and don't forget to feed the fire, so it won't go out. / Make it burn vehemently, strongly, innocently. / This is your fire. / Let it burn all your days until this day / and also the days to come. / Look only at it and know: / A laurel wreath, if ever bestowed, / how shriveled and wretched its leaves will be / compared to the moment when your whole hand bathed in the flame. / Compared to the contented smile of which achievement is not the source / but rather the tiredness of the body that has striven / to the last of its muscles. / Press on not for a day and not for an hour / but for a whole life / whatever its value / and the sound of its wheels creaking / will be beautiful." (From "On the Thirsty Soul," Am Oved, 2001; translation by Vivian Eden)