Life, Death and the Freedom to Bring a Steak Knife to a Barbecue

It’s a cloudy, grey July Fourth, and while most will be celebrating Independence Day this evening, the Fourth of July is just another holiday I have never been that into. For as far back as I can remember, fireworks made me nervous. Perhaps, in part, because my grandmother always worked extra shifts in the ER during the holiday, and she never shied away from telling me the gruesome stories of people getting their limbs and digits blown off during the celebrations. Naturally, I grew up with a healthy fear of all things fireworks-related; even sparklers were not immune to my trepidations. Did you know that if someone pokes you in the eye with a lit sparkler, it could totally blind you? True story.

As a little girl, my mom once told me that all of the pyrotechnics were America’s way of celebrating my imminent entrance into the world, and she believed wholeheartedly that I was shot out of the womb with “spark.” Obviously, it didn’t take me long to figure out it was just a sweet story she had made up to make me feel special (the fireworks part–not the spark), but the intention was always appreciated. The funny thing is, much like the Fourth of July, I have never really been that into my birthday either, although time has made me much more aware of them.

When my mom was alive, she always made sure I at least had a birthday cake, even if it was just for the two of us. A birthday without your mother is an odd thing, and celebrating the day you came into the world without the person who brought you into the world is just never the same, once they are gone.

Since my mother’s death almost six years ago, this has become a weekend that I think about her a lot more than I do myself. People always say we need to appreciate those we love while we have them here with us; but the sad irony is, we can never truly appreciate them (the good and bad) until they are gone–it’s one of those little conundrums that life so viciously hurls at us. So instead, I move on in this world without her, and I honor her by trying to live my life in a way I think she would have wanted to live hers, had she been given the chance.

While there were many and vast differences in our personalities, there were also, as one would imagine, many similarities. Like my mother, I burn very hot in my opinions; but, also like my mother, once I have a moment to cool off, I can quickly recognize if I have overreacted or made a rash judgment. It’s probably both one of my best and worst qualities. I have been known to make my share of thunderous and unkind statements, but if you give me a moment, I am never so stubborn that I won’t admit when I am wrong or say, “I am sorry.” And while some might say that I am “volatile,” I like to think of myself as “passionate.”

Age has softened me a bit, and while I really am making a conscious effort to be more sensitive to others, sometimes I still fail miserably. Some might see being sensitive as weakness, but I strongly disagree. It takes far more effort to pause and be conscious of other people’s feelings than it does to spew the first thing that comes to mind.

While I have become much more aware of the things I say, I am still not afraid to poke the bear if and when I feel it needs a good prodding. Obviously, to insult someone just for the sake of insulting them is never my intention, but there are certain issues that I just can’t keep silent about. I truly believe that this world needs far fewer rule-followers and way more envelope-pushers. Humanity evolves when people step away from their comfort zones, challenge their beliefs, and are willing to risk ridicule for what they find is their truth. It takes a lot of bravery and a lot of conviction to do this. I recently watched a friend take a very unpopular stand, and in the court of popular opinion, she got crucified.

There have definitely been some things I have written during my time with Chaos Section that have ruffled a few feathers, and I’m not going to lie–some of the responses I have gotten in my “other mailbox” have rattled me, on more than one occasion. While I can understand people’s anger towards some of the things I have written, it still amazes me that anyone would feel the need to make a death threat merely because I have an opinion that may be contradictory to their own.

As I have begun writing more, I have discovered that people have very visceral responses to the things they have been programmed to believe. Those of us who take them out of their comfort zones are perceived as threats to their very closed-minded existence. I don’t think it’s necessarily strong conviction that make them lash out as much as it is fear–fear that they may actually be wrong.

The other day as I was getting my nails done, I watched the news tout off about all of the extra security in NYC for the Fourth. The woman next to me looked over quite seriously and said, “If you are going to a barbecue this year, they are going to be frisking for knives.” I rolled my eyes and answered with, “I think that is a little extreme.” She glared at me like I was the crazy one and gave the standard “better safe than sorry” argument. It was at that moment I did something I hardly ever do, and bit my tongue, even though what I really wanted to say was, “You, lady, are the problem. What a sniveling, cowardly way to live.”

How in the hell is the irony of celebrating freedom, coupled with the looming threat that the NYPD may stop and frisk us for the crime of carrying a steak knife, lost on so many? On what planet is that freedom? Ben Franklin may have been a sexual deviant, but he sure nailed this one when he said, “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”

We can no longer deny that there are many people like this woman in our midst, those who would rather kowtow to their fear than live free and bravely. There has not been a Fourth of July weekend in recent history that I have not taken my chances and gone into NYC. Bad things are going to happen, and we can get into the reasoning and the politics as to “why” another time; but for me–I choose to not let fear rule my life. Ever.

With the arrival of my forty-third birthday, I am stricken with one particular regret: I wish I had found my voice a lot sooner. I am in awe when I watch some of the younger women out there doing amazing things with theirs. It’s been said that women will lead the revolution, and when I look at women like Abby Martin, Cassandra Fairbanks, and Mnar Muhawish (just to name a few), I truly believe that.

We are at such a critical time for humanity at this moment, and the only way we are going to make it through is to blow away some of the archaic things that we cling to, and to face head-on the issues that we have. Whether it’s a flag, our notion of what love looks like, confronting things like racism, social injustice, war, and a political system that just does not work, or simply by challenging our own beliefs, we must do this. It takes bravery and open-mindedness, but it must be done.

While my mother is no longer here physically, she continues to bestow gifts upon me from beyond. I really believe that the most powerful thing she helped me to discover after her death was my voice. You may not like what I have to say, or you may not agree with what I say, but please know, if I say it, I say it because I feel I must.

Author: Cynthia Tarana is a heavily tattooed Ex-Con with no college education and very bad punctuation. She currently lives on Long Island, NY where she pays extremely high taxes, likes to drink, rage against the machine and shop at the GAP.

Contact Cynthia at
Twitter: @BookingGoddess

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