Friday, July 4, 2014

Independence Day

Fourth of July, 2014.

The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus

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 might 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!"

As I review the past week's news, I notice the huge discrepancy between the news stories and what Emma Lazarus wrote in 1883 as an auction item for the opening of the Statue of Liberty in 1886. In 1901, the plaque carrying this message was placed at the base of Lady Liberty. Barely over a century and a quarter later, we seem to have forgotten its welcoming message. What is Liberty if it is not shared? Our country has entered many a war (or conflict, as the case may be) with a cry of 'liberty and justice for all!' Only don't come knocking on the door of our immigration isle, as it were.

My personal liberty is jeopardized every time someone brings a gun into the schools to kill innocents; every time a refugee from a war-torn region of the world is refused asylum; every time we either choose or refuse to intervene in the conflicts of other nations.

In the Spring of 1992, I was teaching at an international school in Cairo, Egypt, when we heard about the collapse of Yugoslavia. 10% of our student population held Yugoslav passports, including the children of the ambassador. Immediately, a majority of those families were given asylum and an Egyptian passport. That year's valedictorian was from the now-disappeared country and spoke about never being able to return 'home'. I wept with my students and their families. I could not imagine that wrenching feeling or the finality of the words never and gone. I pray I never forget those moments, those young adults and children who had to begin anew in a place they thought was only temporary. My view of Egypt, the Egypt of Hosni Mubarak, grew warm in that moment. I wanted to believe my own country would be as generous.

How do you experience your personal liberty? Have you experienced it being taken from you? What would you do if it were? How is your liberty impacted by others? How does your liberty impact others?

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