There are those moments when something causes you to get a lump in your throat and when it happens, you understand why, but unless someone else has been there and done exactly that, you can't really explain to them why it happened.
After Mom and I had done the Martha thing, we hopped back on the subway and went further south on Manhattan island to South Ferry, where we got on the Staten Island Ferry.
It's a free ride (amazing!) out to Staten Island and the views of the Statue of Liberty are pretty good. That was our first glimpse of her. Then on Saturday, we returned, and took the ferry to Liberty Island to get a closer look.
I've always wanted to like the French people. But they've got a reputation for not exactly liking us Americans. I've been to France twice and while I was nothing but respectful and polite to them, I have to say I wasn't exactly treated with kindness. Just occupying a train car with a French woman and her two dogs clearly irritated the woman. And being shooed out of a store while attempting to make a purchase simply because it was 2:00 and time for lunch isn't exactly my idea of friendly.
But still, I wanted to like them. I just knew there were nice people there and I'd merely had bad luck. So, many years ago when I had several pen pals and wrote letters using paper and a pen and put a stamp on an envelope, I sought out a pen pal in France. I wanted to find a nice French person. I just knew they existed. I was right and for many years, I wrote to Marie and we enjoyed a very sweet correspondence.
And now, I want to say to the people of France, "Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you."
Miss Liberty is a beautiful work of art, to be sure. It's visually pleasing and I'm sure it looks as good now as it did when it was installed and dedicated in 1886. It was a gift from the people of France to recognize the friendship that developed during the American Revolution.
But over the years, it has come to be a symbol of freedom and opportunity. It's one of our nation's treasures because of all that it embodies, and when I see it, it's those feelings of pride and patriotism that fill my throat and eyes.
I responded, "Well, it's our first time in New York City and we can't not go to see The Statue of Liberty!" She looked at us like we were a little touched in the head and sarcastically said, "Well! I guess you can't," and walked down the aisle, off the airplane. That's okay. It was our trip, not hers.
One of the other thoughts that constantly ran through my head from the moment we arrived in New York until the time we left, was that this city truly is a melting pot. You'd expect to find visitors from all over the world, but many of them make New York City their home. Until we got to our hotel, I don't think we heard a single non-accented person speak. I had a really hard time understanding the English-is-not-my-native-language people. I felt bad that I had to keep asking people to repeat themselves.
Then we met Pini and Sara while standing in line to board the ferry to Liberty Island. I noticed them speaking in their native language (Hebrew) and turned to ask where they were from. They were visiting from Israel for a couple of days in New York before traveling on to the Virgin Islands, where they have relatives.
They both spoke perfect American English with only a slight accent. We became fast friends while in that line and during the ferry ride. Sara is just a few months older than our daughter Kara, who will be 30 in May. Sara and Pini are engaged to be married and they were absolutely delightful. Before we said our goodbyes, we'd exchanged names and e-mails and promised to stay in touch via Facebook.
We jumped back on the ferry and headed over to Ellis Island. We enjoyed the exhibits there, which highlighted the immigration statistics in creative ways and contained actual artifacts from immigrants.
There was a large display of all the types of baggage people used to transport their belongings and we saw several trunks that looked nearly identical to the one my mom and dad have in their basement. It is the trunk used by my dad's family when they came here from Germany/Kingdom of Prussia in the late 1800s.
We tried to look up our family to see if they were listed in the immigration records for those that had come through Ellis Island, then realized they wouldn't be there because they arrived here in the United States before Ellis Island opened in 1892.
What a great visit to Liberty and Ellis Islands. As an American, I can't imagine not visiting both at least once if the opportunity arises. I tried to explain to Mom what I was feeling while walking through the halls of the immigration building. It was that of inclusion - being a part of something so huge and diverse, yet personal and shared by nearly everyone I've ever known, by virtue of our place of birth.
Friends visiting from The Netherlands a few years ago had remarked to us that they were struck by the patriotism they witnessed while visiting here - in particular, the displaying of our country's flag everywhere. I guess I had taken it for granted, but they were right - our flag is everywhere. Until I visited Ellis Island, I don't think I ever fully understood why.
Now I do.