After a brief but rapid decline from cancer, my dear friend and mentor, Susan Callaway, has died. She has been living life as a self-owner for many, many decades and has encouraged unknown numbers of others to live by her example – myself included. While her body has died, her spirit and her words will live forever. Her blog, The Price of Liberty, will be maintained by others but the archives will remain.
I first met Mama Liberty while moving to Cody, Wyoming, via the Free State Wyoming project. It was the summer of 2014 that I sat at her kitchen table in the little log cabin up on the hill and she asked me, “Who owns your life?” Such a profound question could not be answered immediately. Though I have since left Wyoming and found my permanent home in southwest Montana, in the years since, Susan and I have shared a regular email conversation and have visited several times. Three times this spring Brandon and I traveled to her Wyoming home and stayed a few nights, telling stories, asking questions, sharing laughs and homemade bread, and getting the last bits of wisdom we could from her waning spirit. We had the honor of sharing her last walk through the garden, looking at the buds start on her young oak tree. We also shared her last day at the range – maybe her favorite place in the world. Susan was an expert shooter, an NRA instructor (though this relationship soured in later years), and led a women’s day at the range every week for years. Her opinions on tools of self-defense were formed heavily after using one to save her life. To be the last man to walk with her down the range is a memory I hold tight in a very special place in my heart.
Below are a few transcripts from emails we shared over the years. I think they are worthy of public eye:
JA: First off, we are learning first hand that plans never go, well, as planned.
SC: Oh yes, and the same for plan B through Z. =) Plans are a starting point, and can be very useful, but never remain the same after the first attempt to implement them. LOL Stuff keeps happening… LIFE keeps happening.
SC: I’m having a bad attack of garden fever and can hardly wait to get started out there. Put a few seeds in flats yesterday, though I know it is much too early. Just couldn’t help myself. LOL
SC: Self ownership/self governorship/self control and self responsibility, along with non-aggression, integrity and enlightened self interest create a life where productivity is unavoidable. But self ownership and non-aggression must come first.
SC: Love should be nurtured, celebrated, enjoyed wherever it is found. Love that is genuine is the best thing life has to offer. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You both have my love, no strings attached.
SC: The normal response to fear is avoidance or rejection, rather than acceptance or curiosity to learn.
SC: Very valuable introspection, and very worth doing often. Thoughts for the hikes and rambling in the mountains? Snowy days when you can’t get out? Meditation times you plan and look forward to?
Think about your goals, your actual expectations, and the resources you have to follow through. Hopes and dreams are wonderful things, but must always be balanced with reality. That’s a hard call sometimes. And we make mistakes too. My mother had some favorite sayings, and one of them was this: Good judgment is the product of surviving a lot of bad judgment.
A question to ask yourself: Do you trust yourself? Do you actually LIKE yourself? Now, sometimes that trust and “like” are misplaced, even of ourselves, but it’s a necessary part of an integrated life. If you don’t trust and like yourself pretty completely, that might be where you need to give some thought. Why not? And what do you think you could do to change that if so?
JA: What are your biggest regrets that I may use to inform my decision making in life choices?
SC: One of my regrets is that I spent most of my life taking care of other people, concerned with their concerns, not taking nearly enough good care of myself. I learned rather late that nobody can give that which they don’t have themselves. You can’t really love others if you hate yourself, or even neglect yourself seriously. Working 90 hour weeks, driving 300 – 400 miles a day, almost incapable of rational sleep/meals/rest and recreation for all those years. I burned myself up, and the miracle is that I’ve lived this long.
Not that I regret my work in nursing and hospice. I just could have done it better, and not abused myself quite so much.
JA: What kinds of music do you enjoy?
SC: I enjoyed good classical music most of my life. I used to be a good singer too. My hearing got too bad to enjoy listening to music about 12 years ago and I finally quit trying. Even with the hearing aids, all music sounds “fuzzy” and I can’t understand the singers at all. But I do miss the music. My music now is to listen to the wind and rain – made possible by the hearing aids now. I have a recording of ocean waves that I play at night sometimes.
JA: What are your favorite meals?
SC: I used to love a good Ruben sandwich, corned beef and cabbage, French onion soup, so many things. My favorite meat is wild turkey, hands down, but I love all wild meat. Home made bread, fresh from the oven is an all time favorite.
JA: What is your favorite gun of all time? Why?
SC: Oh boy, that’s a tough question. Favorite to shoot? My XD 9mm. Why? Because I can draw easily and hit what I aim for. =) Easy to carry and easy to maintain.
Favorite for other reasons? My .410 H&R single shotgun. Why? Because that’s the gun I had in my hands when I needed to defend myself. The only gun I ever pointed at a human being.
Favorite long gun? My Marlin 30-30 lever gun. Why? No real reason, except it was perfect for hunting. Plenty of power, but not so heavy it was a burden to carry.
JA: Is this the time that I ask you “what is the meaning of life?”
SC: You can ask, of course, but I don’t have any better idea of that than ever. Just have to play it by ear. =)
JA: Is there anything you want to know of me?
SC: I would love to think that you remember me. And wish so much I could be here for you as you explore your life and work to come.
JA: You will not be remembered. You are not a memory. You are a living spirit in my heart. My inner-Susan has taken residence in my heart and does not plan to leave. These email transcripts and your writings may serve as reminders in future years if your voice starts to become distant and foggy. You have done more for me and for Brandon (and I will speak for us both) in sharing your guiding light in our individual quest for personal liberty than any single person or persons we have encountered. The wisdom and clarity you shed in our constant strive for betterment and self-ownership is not a memory, but a change in the foundation of our decision making. You will live forever in each and every decision I make. Much like an asteroid that passed a little too close to Jupiter, its course was moved just a tiny bit. Just that one deflection, however subtle, will alter the life-long path of that rock to a near infinite scale. Whether your time is limited to days, weeks, or months, your soul will not die. Your body may cease the biological processes that make it “alive”, the gravity of your spirit will live in the hearts of Brandon and myself, of your sons and grand children, of your Wyoming boys, of your friends, and of the hundreds and probably thousands of families that you have touched one at a time. Just as your mother’s spirit and your late husband’s spirit that are carried in your heart, your spirit will live in my heart for all of my days until it is my spirit with a stripe of yours that is carried in the hearts of my future children. Your body may die, but your love is eternal.
With wet eyes and a heavy heart, Jeremy
SC: Bless you both. I don’t think I’ve ever read a more moving or joyful tribute in my life. My eyes are wet now too.
Below is a letter written by my best friend and partner, Brandon:
A Last Letter to Susan- Excerpts from correspondence and conversations
When I met you years ago, you changed the course of my life. You asked some direct, clear questions about statements I made regarding political affairs and the nature of state power. You pointed out contradictions in some of my beliefs at the time. I did not immediately accept the case you made, with years of indoctrination by all those who would try to control me, my production, and my life.
But you led me to challenge my beliefs at the time, and they eventually came tumbling down before one clear question: Who owns your life?
Upon exploring that question and building upon principles with the foundation of self-ownership, integrity, and personal responsibility, I found myself on a new path.
That one question challenged many relationships I had with abusive people who would rather control me than build upon voluntary interactions and negotiations as individuals.
In several visits since that first visit, you continued to challenge me with new questions regarding personal liberty, voluntary association, and integrity. You helped me improve my marksmanship out on the dry prairie of your local range. I had the privilege of taking you out for your last day at the range just a few months ago, when you were too weak to walk without support. Weak, though you were, you still held your Springfield out and emptied one final magazine downrange. The report of those shots echo yet today. A memory of the stubborn, principled, and stout-willed Mama, pistol held forward in that eternal form. The self-owner with a decisive tool of proud self-defense, though not too proud to ask for my steadying hand to walk back downrange on now-unsteady footing.
I had the distinct honor of holding your hand in a final walk about your garden-in-bloom when you were getting even more weak with illness. Your surprise at the lilac flowers, fruit tree buds and blossoms, your joy that your oak tree had survived winter, and your exultation at the sego lilies are memories that will be with me for a long time. Your hand in mine, I could feel your pulse at your wrist. Despite debilitating weakness, your heart beat strong and hard. It seemed appropriate that though your body was failing, your heart continued to beat strong. Despite the challenges of life and impending death- your principles kept you grounded and present. Stubbornly, cussedly, present.
We spent hours across your table in your cozy home, debating, discussing, and learning wisdom hard-earned. You told us of your history that few people probably ever knew. You took ownership of the choices and consequences of that life- for good or ill. You were humble in example for what your principles look like in action.
I feel a powerful sorrow to think of a world without you, Susan, but we all return to the earth someday. Your ideas have imminently altered the path of my life for true freedom. This is your legacy. Nobody else in my life up to meeting you has challenged me to my core like you have. And precious few since. Boundless thanks to you for jarring me from choosing a life of servitude and easily resting shackles.
I will continue asking those in my life the question that so altered mine, and share your legacy:
Who owns your life?
18 July 2018
Thanksgiving Meditation, By Susan Callaway (AKA MamaLiberty)
I never really knew my father, since he died when I was four years old. It is impossible for me to sift out any actual memories I might have from the stories and photographs mother shared with us while my sister and I were growing up. I do know he was the product of the Scottish Highlands, both of his parents having come from Scotland in the mid 1800s. He was quiet, frugal, and very much an independent spirit. He was gentle and loving, hard working and beloved by family and friends.
I’ve been thinking about him, and all those I respect and love as I contemplate this Thanksgiving, concerned about the days and months ahead in our changing and often frightening world. It is so easy to neglect gratitude for what we have in reaction to the fears and threats we see all around us.
But it is all relative, in a real and meaningful way. Blessings and threats, challenges and victories always come mixed, and one seldom cancels out the other. The blessings we wish for, even expect, can often obscure the blessings we actually have… if we allow that to happen. And, if we do, we wind up with emptiness and only regrets.
I am all alone today, and I could weep or complain about it if I wished to do so… but I have chosen the path that led to this situation, and am content with it in so many ways. We choose, and then we must choose how we respond to the consequences of those choices.
My meditation for today is on my father’s favorite saying:
“I cried because I had no shoes, until I met the man who had no feet.”
I have both shoes and feet, friends and family, food and warmth, life and love. I am truly blessed.
Bless everyone here. I wish you all joy and love.