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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Mother of Exiles

New York City, 1958.

Took the kids downtown today to the Statue of Liberty. Blu said go ahead, it's a slow Wednesday morning and they need a history lesson that starts before 1958.

So down we go until we’re there, looking up at her. I told them about Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, who created the statue as gift from the French people to celebrate America’s 100th birthday in 1876.

They had to raise a lot of money to bring her here, though, and that took a long time. One way they did it was with the help of the poet Emma Lazarus, who wrote her famous sonnet The New Colossus in 1883. That helped raise funds at an art and literary auction – and helped pay for the statue’s pedestal.

Ruby liked that, being as she’s a poet herself. (I tell her, “Don’t say you want to be a poet. Just be one.”)

I also tell the kids how the statue was brought over piece by piece and put back together once she arrived in the space of four months. She was dedicated October 28, 1886 - ten years late for 100th birthday celebration.

They ask if we can climb into the torch and I say no, but we can at least get up to the crown. Gordy, of course, asks why we can’t get into the torch and I tell them what I know.

During World War I—on July 30, 1916, to be exact, according to the National Park Service—there was a huge explosion at a munitions depot on a pier that connected Black Tom Island with Jersey City. Hundreds were injured and some people died. They had to evacuate Ellis Island and windows were knocked out even as far away as Times Square.

The statue’s arm and torch was injured by debris flying around after the explosion. And the whole thing happened because of German spies, who started the explosion.

“But – I thought World War I and World War II were on the other side of the world. I didn’t know they were here,” Ruby says.

“War is everywhere. You can’t confine war,” I tell her. The kids are all staring at me, eyes wide.

“Let’s go,” I say.

We climb to the crown and take turns looking out – even Sophie, who closes her eyes until the very last minute, opens and then closes them again.

When we get back down, Ruby copies Emma’s poem word for word in her note book. I tell her how hard Emma worked to help refugees, dying and trying and dying again in order to be here.

The last thing I tell them is that the Statue has more than one name. She’s known as the Statue of Liberty and some say Lady of the Harbor. But Emma Lazarus called her Mother of Exiles and that’s the one I like best.

Because we’re all exiles in one way or another. From other countries, families, relationships gone bad, our own mistakes.

They’re nodding and I know they get it. Because the Mother of Exiles tells us there’s more than one way to live your life. And no matter where you came from or how bad it was, she’s still there waiting for you. Holding up a second chance.

--Skylar M.