July 3rd, 2017

To liberty: Happy Fourth of July weekend!

[NOTE: This is a repeat of a previous post. It was written in the springtime quite few years ago, during a visit to New York.]

I’ve been visiting New York City, the place where I grew up. I decide to take a walk to the Promenade in Brooklyn Heights, never having been there before.

When you approach the Promenade you can’t really see what’s in store. You walk down a normal-looking street, spot a bit of blue at the end of the block, make a right turn–and, then, suddenly, there is New York:


And so it is for me. I take a turn, and catch my breath: downtown Manhattan rises to my left, seemingly close enough to touch, across the narrow East River. I see skyscrapers, piers, the orange-gold Staten Island ferry. In front of me, there are the graceful gothic arches of the Brooklyn Bridge. To my right, the back of some brownstones, and a well-tended and charming garden that goes on for a third of a mile.

I walk down the promenade looking first left and then right, not knowing which vista I prefer, but liking them both, especially in combination, because they complement each other so well.

All around me are people, relaxing. Lovers walking hand in hand, mothers pushing babies in strollers, fathers pushing babies in strollers, nannies pushing babies in strollers. People walking their dogs (a prepoderance of pugs, for some reason), pigeons strutting and courting, tourists taking photos of themselves with the skyline as background, every other person speaking a foreign language.

The garden is more advanced in time than gardens where I live, reminding me that New York is really a southern city compared to New England. Daffodils, the startling blue of grape hyachinths, tulips in a rainbow of soft colors, those light-purple azaleas that are always the first of their kind, flowering pink magnolia and airy white dogwood and other blooming trees I don’t know the names of.

In the view to my left, of course, there’s something missing. Something very large. Two things, actually: the World Trade Center towers. Just the day before, we had driven past that sprawling wound, with its mostly-unfilled acreage where the WTC had once stood, now surrounded by fencing. Driving by it is like passing a war memorial and graveyard combined; the urge is to bow one’s head.

As I look at the skyline from the Promenade, I know that those towers are missing, but I don’t really register the loss visually. I left New York in the Sixties, never to live there again, returning thereafter only as occasional visitor. The World Trade Center was built in the early seventies, so I never managed to incorporate it into that personal New York skyline of memory that I hold in my mind’s eye, even though I saw the towers on subsequent visits. So what I now see resembles nothing more than the skyline of my youth restored, a fact which seems paradoxical to me. But I feel the loss, even though I don’t see it. Viewing the skyline always has a tinge of sadness now, which it never had before 9/11.

I come to the end of the walkway and turn myself around to set off on the return trip. And, suddenly, the view changes. Now, of course, the garden is to my left and the city to my right; and the Brooklyn Bridge, which was ahead of me, is now behind me and out of sight. But now I can see for the first time, ahead of me and to the right, something that was behind me before. In the middle of the harbor, the pale-green Statue of Liberty stands firmly on its concrete foundation, arm raised high, torch in hand.

The sight is intensely familiar to me—I used to see it frequently when I was growing up. But I’ve never seen it from this angle before. She seems both small and gigantic at the same time: dwarfed by the skyscrapers near me that threaten to overwhelm her, but towering over the water that surrounds her on all sides. The eye is drawn to her distant, heroic figure. She’s been holding that torch up for so long, she must be tired. But still she stands, resolute, her arm extended.

9 Responses to “To liberty: Happy Fourth of July weekend!”

  1. Cornhead Says:

    The city built on freedom and capitalism by the likes of Alexander Hamilton and under assault by the soft despotism of socialism by the likes of Barack and Hillary.

  2. Tuvea Says:

    God Bless America the most beautiful country in the world!

    O beautiful for spacious skies,
    For amber waves of grain,
    For purple mountain majesties
    Above the fruited plain!
    America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
    And crown thy good with brotherhood
    From sea to shining sea!

    O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
    Whose stern impassion’d stress
    A thoroughfare for freedom beat
    Across the wilderness!
    America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
    Confirm thy soul in self-control,
    Thy liberty in law!

    O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife,
    Who more than self their country loved,
    And mercy more than life!
    America! America! May God thy gold refine
    Till all success be nobleness,
    And ev’ry gain divine!

    O Beautiful for patriot dream
    That sees beyond the years
    Thine alabaster cities gleam,
    Undimmed by human tears!
    America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
    And crown thy good with brotherhood
    From sea to shining sea!

  3. Bill Rudersdorf Says:

    A few months after the 9/11 attacks, the late Ray Bradbury published a poem in the Wall Street Journal. I’ve never seen it anthologized or reprinted, so I’d like to share it here. I’m not trying to comment on the current immigration/invasion problems so much as give a reminder of the best that the United States can seem to those coming here, or dreaming of it.

    America – An ode to immigrants
    Ray Bradbury

    We are the dream that other people dream.
    The land where other people land
    When late at night
    They think on flight
    And, flying, here arrive
    Where we fools dumbly thrive ourselves.

    Refuse to see
    We be what all the world would like to be.
    Because we hive within this scheme
    The obvious dream is blind to us.
    We do not mind the miracle we are,
    So stop our mouths with curses.
    While all the world rehearses
    Coming here to stay.
    We busily make plans to go away.

    How dumb! newcomers cry, arrived from Chad.
    You’re mad! Iraqis shout,
    We’d sell our souls if we could be you.
    How come you cannot see the way we see you?
    You tread a freedom forest as you please.
    But, damn! you miss the forest for the trees.
    Ten thousand wanderers a week
    Engulf your shore,
    You wonder what their shouting’s for,
    And why so glad?

    Run warm those souls: America is bad?
    Sit down, stare in their faces, see!
    You be the hoped-for thing a hopeless world would be.
    In tides of immigrants that this year flow
    You still remain the beckoning hearth they’d know.
    In midnight beds with blueprint, plan and scheme
    You are the dream that other people dream.

  4. J.J. Says:

    Shorter Ode to America.
    Who gets on rickety rafts to reach our shores?
    Who pays coyotes to cross our borders?
    Which way is the traffic moving?
    Why aren’t our elites moving to Canada?
    What is the attraction?
    America, the land of the free and the home of the brave. That’s what.

  5. huxley Says:

    Bill R: Thanks!

    Ray Bradbury also ripped Michael Moore a new one back then for appropriating the title of Bradbury’s classic novel, “Fahrenheit 451” for Moore’s anti-Bush conspiracy theory, “Fahrenheit 9/11.”


    Bradbury was a gentle, yet patriotic, liberal of the old school — entirely extinct today.

  6. Hangtown Bob Says:

    I watched the towers come down on TV in real time. Even though I am not a NY native or even resident, I realized that the event had changed our world.

    As you are probably aware, Vanderleun (American Digest) was living in Brooklyn Heights at the time and watched the Towers come down in person. His account of the event is powerful and gripping. If you have not read this account, you must do so. I have never forgotten his story.

  7. huxley Says:

    Here is the beginning to James Agee’s masterpiece, “A Death in the Family,” one of the most American novels I can think of.

    Knoxville: Summer of 1915

    We are talking now of summer evenings in Knoxville, Tennessee, in the time I lived there so successfully disguised to myself as a child. It was a little bit sort of block, fairly solidly lower middle class, with one or two juts apiece on either side of that. The houses corresponded: middle-sized gracefully fretted wood houses built in the late nineties and early nineteen hundreds, with small front and side and more spacious back yards, and trees in the yards, and porches. These were softwooded trees, poplars, tulip trees, cottonwoods. There were fences around one or two of the houses, but mainly the yards ran into each other with only now and then a low hedge that wasn’t doing very well. There were few good friends among the grown people, and they were not enough for the other sort of intimate acquaintance, but everyone nodded and spoke, and even might talk short times, trivially, and at the two extremes of general or the particular, and ordinarily next door neighbors talked quiet when they happened to run into each other, and never paid calls. The men mostly small businessmen, one or two very modestly executives, one or two worked with their hands, most of them clerical, and most of them between thirty and forty-five.

    But it is of these evenings, I speak. Supper was at six and was over by half past. There was still daylight, shining softly and with a tarnish, like the lining of a shell; and the carbon lamps lifted the corners were on in the light, and the locusts were started, and the fire flies were out, and a few frogs were flopping in the dewy grass, by the time the fathers and the children came out. The children ran out first hell bent and yelling those names by which they were known; then the fathers sank out leisurely crossed suspenders, their collars removed and their necks looking tall and shy. The mothers stayed back in the kitchen washing and drying, putting things away, recrossing their traceless footsteps like the lifetime journeys of bees, measuring out the dry cocoa for breakfast. When they came out they had taken off their aprons and their skirts were dampened and they sat in rockers on porches quietly. It is not of the games children play in the evening that I want to speak now, it is of a contemporaneous atmosphere that has little to do with them: that of fathers of families, each in his space of lawn, his shirt fishlike pale in the unnatural light and his face nearly anonymous, hosing their lawns….

  8. Big Maq Says:

    America, the shining city on a hill, as Reagan used to say.

    It’s not perfect, but it is still far and away the best place on earth, by many measures.

    If we succumb to the “Flight 93” mentality, then we are just not paying attention to things beyond our own belly button.

    We have in plenty what the rest of the world aspires to.

    There is much to be happy with and thankful for.

    Enjoy your 4th as you ponder all this, as but one of the lucky 300M+ – a small portion of 7.5B multitude.

  9. Ymar Sakar Says:

    This issue came up in my research, about whether 9/11 was an inside job or not. There’s two layers to this onion. One is the initial disinformation like campaign that erupted, the Truthers. Then there came a second layer that tried to prove the initial claims or disprove them, the “Truth Movement”. It was this latter movement that produced actual arguments for whether a secret rogue cia terror cell in the US had known about the terrorists on 9/11 or even funded their training.

    Whether Bush II was in on it or not, now that’s a different line of research.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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