National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  May 30, 2003

Pinocchio’s lesson of freedom and surrender

“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31).


When I think of surrendering to the will of God as a key to personal freedom, I often think of Walt Disney’s “Pinocchio.” The animated classic is the story of a woodcarver’s creation, a wooden puppet that came to life and became a real boy. Pinocchio had to surrender his preconceived notions of freedom in order to truly become free. Therefore, it is a story of conversion not unlike the story of the prodigal son (Luke 11:16-32).

In surrendering to the reality of their circumstances, both Pinocchio and the prodigal son were resurrected. They surrendered to their reality. I, too, as a person with spastic cerebral palsy, know the real freedom in surrendering to my dependency on others. Many people are my arms and legs. Family, friends and my wheelchair give me mobility. Like Pinocchio and the prodigal son, acceptance has been a key to my finding true freedom.

In recent weeks I’ve been tested as never before. Yet through this testing I’ve learned a few things. My life’s circumstances have made me feel out of control. My dependency on others has been magnified, due in part to my mother’s recent health problems — a heart bypass and a mini-stroke. I live with her, and aside from my attendant, Mom has been my primary caregiver. Over this period, however, my days have been centered on attending daily Mass and reception of the Eucharist.

This focus has helped me to surrender the many splinters of my daily cross. For instance, I need people to do many of the tasks of daily living. Various people are essentially my arms and legs and are allowing me to be a living puppet for the Lord.

This dependency on others isn’t easy. In fact, it is a challenge. A local parish recently had begun a weekday Mass at 12:05 p.m. I work from home as a freelance writer, depending on someone to bathe, feed and dress me, and this reasonable hour has made it easy for me to attend this eucharistic liturgy. It has become the highlight of my day.

One day when I had to accept that I wasn’t going to be able to attend Mass, I prayed, “Lord, I promised I would attend Mass daily. Why is the bus company that transports the disabled asking me to prove my need for the bus service and taking away my opportunity to go to Mass today?”

Angry, I surrendered. I channeled my outrage to complete the evaluation that Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority wanted from me. I wheeled my chair up and down curbs for over 400 feet. This was followed by parking maneuvers as well as going up a series of ramps and curb cuts. The workout made me feel exhausted. Nonetheless, when I came home, I made arrangements to attend an evening Mass. In part it was in thanksgiving to God for getting me through that day’s ordeal.

I went to that Mass in a spirit of thanksgiving that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I savored every moment. I was able to spend quality time with Jesus afterward.

The Lord said to me: “See, you were overwhelmed today. Yet, the barriers set before you never let you lose your focus. This time is for you.” I wept.

It was a special time for me. After Mass, I placed myself in front of the tabernacle and prayed for all the people who had asked for my intercessions. I ended up being there more than two hours.

I no longer felt tired. In fact, I felt refreshed. I put pen to paper and began this column.

“Pinocchio” brings home beautifully the idea of surrender as the key to freedom. It wasn’t until Pinocchio risked everything to save his father that this puppet was transformed into a real boy. This selfless act merited that reward.

Earlier in this film classic, Pinocchio had a preconceived notion of what freedom is. In the course of the film he learns that freedom is not the ability the do whatever you want with disregard for others.

This attitude of Pinocchio’s nearly costs him his life and his father’s as well. How many of us in a quest for personal freedom have risked our own safety and the safety of our loved ones?

The moment we surrender our gifts, our talents, our dependency on others to the Lord, we find true freedom to be real to ourselves and others.

Bill Zalot writes from Levittown, Pa.

National Catholic Reporter, May 30, 2003

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