Wednesday, July 4, 2012

July 4, 2012

Waking up With Lady Liberty

Today is no ordinary day. It is the last one of a transatlantic crossing and much too short a visit to England, Ireland, Iceland and Newfound. I had hoped to spend lots of time in Ireland, birthplace of my great-grandfather, so the few hours on a bus tour around the city of Dublin turned out to be not nearly enough.

It is 4:30 in the morning and as I make my way up to the open deck and worm my way over to the starboard side of the cruise ship, I find myself as wide awake as the city that never sleeps. I greet the new day by looking at the magnificent New York City skyline. She is kicking up her heels like a chorus line of Rockettes loaded with sass and bling. “Just look at me,” she seems to say, “am I not the most exciting city in the world or what?”

I have visited New York City in the past, but never have I sailed into town at 4:30 in the morning while hanging onto the side of a ship and wondering how my great-grandfather must have felt when first he glimpsed, as I am doing, the grand Lady Liberty herself.

I hope he heard the story of how the statue came to be constructed from toe to crown and how it ships transported it piece by piece from France to America, but he probably didn’t. However, I bet Great-grandpa wiped tears from his eyes as often as I am doing while standing at a similar railing and looking at The Lady shine the light of freedom on him.

What might he have been thinking? What would he have turned to his little brother and remarked, both of them having recently fled the devastating potato famine in Ireland and both of them scared out of their Irish britches?

“Look at ‘er there, lad, the ol’ gurl hursef. That’s our noo mum. She’s gon’ tek’ caire of us naiw, she will.”

Lil’ brother likely whimpered at the mention of their mother, a victim of poverty and neglect, buried mere months before the boys set sail. Perhaps he moved a wee bit closer to his big brother, the one charged to take over once they set foot on American soil, the one who would find work however he could so that his brother would be fed, clothed and schooled proper in this, their new country.

My guess is they looked across the New York Harbor that day at the torch held high by The Lady and were warmed by her light just as I am today. They came here with nothing, having left everything behind in the fallow potato fields of Ireland. In time, their losses would be replaced with fulfilled dreams made each night as they grew into men and good Americans. Like so many immigrants throughout our history, their earnest prayers were answered, their hopes rewarded.

Many Americans will never have the opportunity as I did to look upon The Statue of Liberty at daybreak. Seeing her at least once should be a requirement for every citizen of our great country, but then, one of the things that makes us great is that we don’t require it of our people. It is no surprise to me that The Lady’s power too often gets lost amid the information overload that we are fed and must sift through day after day. But she is patient. She is willing to stand her ground and remain strong for all of us.

Lest we forget what she stands for, the poet Emma Lazarus summed it up in her work engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The Lady lifted her lamp to a homeless, tempest-tossed Irish boy and his brother and when she did, our country became stronger. He became a proud citizen and later served his country. His descendants would have filled him with awe: A symphony musician; NASA Engineer; lawyer; Episcopal priest; psychologist; writer; teacher; good Americans all.

Nothing will ever diminish the spark of hope woven into the fiber of the Statue of Liberty and imparted to those who see her for the first time.

“Give me your tired, your poor…”

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