Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Statue of Liberty

Over time, certain phrases become so familiar and so overused they become drained of their meaning for many of us. The Statue of Liberty is like that, it seems to me. Perhaps I should only speak for myself, but it does seem that when we speak the sounds thestatueofliberty they become like a single word that we mumble aloud without any sense of the larger meaning or context.

As most people know, the Statue of Liberty was a gift to America from the people of France, celebrating the freedoms that both countries had worked so hard to make a reality, though it was specifically meant to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Of course, in both countries, there were still many people who were not free at that time, but it became a symbol not just of what was, but especially of what could be. And that notion, as represented by the Statue of Liberty, that we could be a nation that is truly free for everyone, still inspires. Though it is also probably an idea that we don't spend enough time thinking about or working to bring to fruition.

Every day I pass the Statue of Liberty on my way to Staten Island and to work. Many days I don't think about it much, but at least once or twice a week I do take note of it and the sense of reverence I feel. You know, the Statue of Liberty couldn't be erected for a long time, because the pedestal that it sits on had to be paid for by the American people and there wasn't much enthusiasm for such an expense at the time. In a way, I think the late 19th century was a low point historically with respect to appreciating and celebrating our freedoms. There were so many ways at that time, including the most oppressive racism and the terrible exploitation of ordinary laborers, in which freedom was not particularly valued or practiced very consistently in America. Sometimes I worry we have entered a similar period. Somehow it helps me to remember the Statue and the hope that it has given so many people who have gazed at it with awe as they sailed into New York Harbor for the first time.

1 comment:

  1. Here's the thing. It's not just the physical Statue or Liberty that we come to take for granted, that we lose sight of. It's also the intangibles that she stands for, like Freedom, Civility, Humility, and Community. None of us is free if any one is enslaved, none of us is fed if any one is hungry. We forget this at our peril. Heed the New Colossus!

    Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
    With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
    Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
    A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
    Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
    Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
    Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
    The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
    "Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
    With silent lips. "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-tost to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"