It is part of our nature as humans, it seems, that we take for granted anything that has been a part of our lives for long enough. Provided we live through it, it becomes just another fact of life. It seems it is only with conscious effort -- often a great deal of conscious effort -- that we can keep appreciating something that we're comfortable with. (It is interesting to note that we also get accustomed to the great evils in life. It is the small things we either appreciate over and over or come to despise. Everything else is just life.)

It also seems to me that in just about every free society in the world, we appreciate far too little the freedoms that we have. Freedom is just so easy not to notice once you have it. Really, though, that constant awareness of the freedoms we have is the first cost exacted on those who would remain free. Vigilance is the word that fits best. Those who would be free and retain those freedoms must be vigilant in order to retain those freedoms, because losing sight of the fact that we have that freedom is the first step on the path toward losing it.

Most Americans, for example, can't imagine not having rights. A life in which a nobleman could, without any legal challenge, kill a commoner is totally alien to us. We don't appreciate equality under the law, nor even, by and large, do we even realize that it might be possible to lose that equality.

The second cost that a free man must pay is his security. While we are free, we are in danger, for there is always something that can be taken from us. Seeking security means losing that freedom.

Yes, I really mean that, because in order to be safe from some danger we must either be prepared to deal with it ourselves or to let someone else do it. If we deal with dangers ourselves (which really isn't security, it's preparedness), we may still be harmed by it. It means a personal risk and personal effort. The only alternative is to trust someone else to protect us from that danger, in which case we surrender a piece of our liberty to that other. If someone else is protecting us from danger, that means they have power over us, and that is the end of that freedom.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying we all have to be perfect individualists, only that if we surrender the responsibility for protecting ourselves to someone, that means we give them the tools to enslave us. If we are actively involved in our own defense, whether that means actually taking up a weapon to fight or actively making certain that someone is fighting for us and with our consent matters little.

Nor am I speaking here solely in terms of armed combat. This principle applies to everything from legal protection to national defense to simply making sure that the neighbor's dog isn't pooping on our lawn.

Third and most important, any person or group of people who would be free must be willing to give up absolutely everything they have to get and keep that freedom. If it isn't worth absolutely dying for, then you won't be able to keep it.

This is not just rhetoric. This is absolutely serious. This world is a hostile place that is actively attempting to kill us every single day of our lives. If we have a freedom it's because someone has paid for that freedom or is willing to pay for it in every way that matters.

When our founders signed the Declaration of Independence, they ended up later paying for their pledge ...we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor. Many of them paid in very real and tangible ways, losing homes, wives, children, businesses, and even their lives.

It is always a struggle to get across the depth and seriousness of words in a written form. One almost has to read a piece over and over again and think on it considerably, and in this modern age that is not a realistic expectation (which may be, in part, why we are on the brink of losing our freedoms).

So ask yourself this question: If you were asked right now to take up a weapon and defend your right to read this newspaper, dying in the process, what would you say?

I suspect, to my grief, that most of those who read this article would not even seriously consider it. They would give up without a fight, because the first thought when faced with that reality would be, It's not worth it. We have families, or friends, or we just don't care enough.

If that describes you, then you don't deserve to read this newspaper. ...Or have any of the other freedoms you aren't willing to 1. Be constantly vigilant to keep, 2. Take responsibility for personally protecting and 3. Defend with your life and die for. The only guarantee is that if you personally don't lose those freedoms then your children or your grandchildren or their grandchildren most assuredly will.

When you give up even the smallest amount of your freedom, or the responsibility for that freedom, for whatever reason, be prepared to never have it returned to you. If you aren't willing to defend that freedom yourself, then you can't expect anyone else to defend it for you.

Is it worth it to you to give up that freedom, to let others run your lives for you and take responsibility for you?

For myself, I suspect Patrick Henry had the right of it in his famous speech, which I highly recommend you read and reflect upon. It speaks clearly to the situation in which we all must stand, if we are willing to keep that liberty.

The entire speech is quite worthwhile, but even the last paragraph sums the matter up:

It is in vain, sir, to extentuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace--but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

Jared Michaud is a freelance writer living in Wyoming.