“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!” -- Emma Lazarus
Our cruise ship pulls into New York Harbor at 4:30 in the morning. Like the city that never sleeps, I am wide-awake as I worm my way up to the open deck in hopes of finding a space on the starboard side.
The NYC skyline is kicking up her heels with more sass and bling than a chorus line of Rockettes. “Look at me,” she sings, “I’m the most exciting city in the world.”
Hanging onto the side of the ship, I think how my great-grandfather must have felt when first he glimpsed Lady Liberty.
I hope someone told him the story of how the statue came to be constructed from toe to crown, and how ships transported it piece- by-piece from France to America. He probably never heard the story, but I bet he wiped away tears as he stood at the railing and allowed The Lady’s glow to shine the light of freedom on him.
What might he have said to his little brother standing next to him, both of them having recently fled the devastating potato famine in Ireland and both of them scared out of their Irish britches?
“Look ovah dere, lad, at the ol’ gurl hursef. That’s our noo mum. Don’t ye be frettin’ none.”
Lil’ brother likely whimpered at the mention of their mother, a victim of poverty and neglect, buried a mere month before the boys set sail. Perhaps he moved a wee bit closer to his big brother, the one charged with his welfare as soon as they set foot on American soil, the one who would find work however he could in order to feed, clothe and properly school them in the 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. In time, their losses would be replaced with fulfilled dreams made each night as they were growing into men and good Americans. Like so many immigrants throughout the history of our country, their earnest prayers were answered, their hopes rewarded.
Many Americans will never have the chance to look upon The Statue of Liberty at daybreak or at any other time of day. Seeing her at least once should be a requirement for citizenship to our great country, but one thing that makes us great is that it is not required.
The Lady’s power too often gets lost amid the information overload 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 The Lady symbolizes, Emma Lazarus’s poem is engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty.
The Lady lifted her lamp to a homeless, tempest-tossed Irish boy and his brother and because she did, our country was made stronger. My great-grandfather became a proud citizen and later served his country with honor.
The accomplishments of his descendants would have filled him with awe: A talented symphony musician; a NASA Engineer; a Criminal Defense Attorney; an Episcopal Priest; a Psychologist; a Writer; a Teacher. Each one of his descendents is a good American.
Nothing can ever diminish the spark of hope woven into the fiber of our Statue of Liberty, and nothing should ever diminish the humanity of those who come to America seeking a better life.
“Give me your tired, your poor —”