Saturday, November 6, 2010

Waking up With Lady Liberty

Waking up With Lady Liberty
By Cappy Hall Rearick

At 4:30 a.m., my old legs take the slightly wet steps up to the sixteenth deck like a gazelle. Is it really me doing this? I might still be dreaming; it's what I’m normally doing at this hour.

But this 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, but the few hours on a bus tour around the city of Dublin was not nearly enough. I am hell bent on a return visit.

On this particular morning as I make my way up to the open deck and worm my way over to the starboard side of the ship, I find myself as wide awake as the city that never sleeps. I greet the new day watching the magnificent skyline kicking up her heels as high as a chorus line of Rockettes loaded to the hilt with sass and bling. "Just look at me," it seems to say, "am I the most exciting city in the world or what?"

I have been here before, but never have I sailed into town at 4:30 in the morning hanging onto the side of a ship and wondering how my great-grandfather might have felt when first he glimpsed, as I am doing, the grand Lady Liberty herself.

It’s too bad he didn’t hear the story of how the statue came to be constructed from toe to crown and how it was transported piece by piece from France to America. But 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 for the first time as she shined the light of freedom on him.

What might he have been thinking? What would he have turned to his little brother and said, both of them having recently fled the potato famine in Ireland and both of them scared witless?

"Look at ‘er, lad, the ol' gurl hursef. Our noo mum. She'll tek’ caire of us naiw, she will."

Lil’ brother probably whimpered at the mention of their mother, a victim of poverty and neglect, buried only months before. Perhaps he moved a wee bit closer to big brother, the one who would take over once they set foot on American soil, the one who would find work however he could so that his charge 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 with nothing, having left everything behind in the fallow potato fields of Ireland. In time, it would all be replaced with fulfilled dreams made each night as they grew into men and into good Americans. Like so many immigrants throughout our history, prayers were answered and hopes were 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 this great country of ours, but one of the things that makes us great is that we don’t require things like that of our people. It is no surprise that The Lady’s power too often gets lost amid the information overload we are fed and must sift through day after day.

Lest we forget what she stands for, the poet Emma Lazarus summed it up nicely in her work, and which is 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 was made stronger. He became a proud citizen and later proudly served his country. He would also have been proud of his descendants: A symphony musician; NASA Engineer; lawyer; Episcopal priest; psychologist; writer; teacher; good Americans all.

Nothing ever diminishes 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…”

"Life is a handful of short stories, pretending to be a novel."