An epiphany is a spontaneous event that inexplicably alters one’s life, a manifestation of some force in the universe greater than oneself.
My wife and I both experienced this recently when we brought our foreign-exchange host student to see New York City during her spring break. She wanted to see the major American landmarks and we obliged her – as much as the crowds of tourist visitors allowed.
Because Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty involved a three-hour wait, we chose the free Staten Island Ferry ride instead. It passes close by Miss Liberty, so we could take our pictures with her towering above us – on a ship full of people who all had the same idea.
In the boarding line, we found ourselves among people from all over the world. We heard no English, only the wonderful cacophony of many languages. We were awash in a sea of multi-hued faces, earnest parents, eager children, all aspiring to connect with America’s genesis.
The ferry transports 70,000 people a day beneath the benign and non-discriminating gaze of Miss Liberty, twenty-two million people a year. It also chugs by Ellis Island, the entry point for twelve million of our European ancestors who sought freedom or simply a new start, the very people who went on to make America truly great, unlike the jingoistic autocrat today.
Amid this sea of international visitors, I felt a deep affinity for and connection not only to my own European roots but to all hopeful human beings. Call me a “globalist” if you wish but even today America remains the hope of millions.
We also explored the extraordinary accomplishments of other New World newcomers: The Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Morgan Library, the Metropolitan Museum, Central Park – all standing in dignified contrast to the largely empty phallic apartment towers now looming over the city and owned by absentee billionaires
I’d lost my connection to the New York of my birth family and my brief home when I was young and first married. But seeing it through the eyes of our exchange student and revisiting the landmarks that really embody this country’s greatness, I recovered my sense of what we stand for and what we can be again should we continue to welcome those who venture with hope and aspiration to our shores.