It’s one of my favorite family stories, one I especially like to remember and share with my daughter as we approach the Fourth of July.
It was April 1954. My mother, a German immigrant to America, had boarded the MS Stockholm. The passage across the Atlantic Ocean was a stormy one, so to distract herself, my mother thought about the fact that, in just a short time, she would arrive in America—the land of her dreams.
In the final hour of the voyage, my mother was abruptly awakened at 5 a.m. by a pounding on the door of her tiny, windowless cabin deep in the bowels of the ship. Opening the door, my mother and her cabin mate found a member of the crew.
“Come up on deck,” he said, smiling. “There’s something you’re going to want to see.” So my mother, along with dozens of other excited passengers, threw on their coats and made their way up to the deck. There, rising up in the dawn light, was the Statue of Liberty. It was one of the most exciting—and emotional—moments of my mother’s life. To her, the statue WAS America, the bright hope of the world for millions of immigrants like her.
I tell this story in my new book, “If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty.” And I tell another story, as well—one that took place forty-eight years after my mother’s arrival. It’s the story of what it was like to live in New York on September 11, 2001 and during the harrowing days and weeks after the attacks.
Just a few months after 9-11, I was standing on the upper deck of a ferry headed from Manhattan to New Jersey. As we passed through New York Harbor, I suddenly saw Lady Liberty, almost as if I were seeing her for the first time. I surprised myself by getting choked up. And I suddenly realized the reason I had tears in my eyes was that, after all that had happened, she was still standing there, still graciously welcoming poor, huddled masses, still holding forth her torch to light the way to liberty and hope. It just broke my heart.
I began thinking of some of the noblest Americans who ever lived—people who stood up—sometimes at the cost of their lives—to honor the American ideal: Nathan Hale, Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, those first responders on 9-11. They knew what America was about—or SHOULD be about. They worked and sacrificed for the America that God intended us to be.
Independence Day is a day on which we should ask ourselves: How am I upholding the promise of America—the promise Lady Liberty represents?
Let me put it this way: When people try to destroy it, not just with planes plowing into buildings, but with evil laws that rip America apart at the seams, do you fight them?
If you see something wrong, do you try to right it? Do you vote? Do you join volunteer societies—or begin one? Do you pray for our country and its leaders? Do you work on behalf of candidates you believe in—or have you even considered running for office yourself?
I’d like to end this by quoting the last paragraph in my book, If You Can Keep It:
“So go forth and love America, knowing that if your love is true it will be transmuted one way or another into a love of everything that is good beyond America, which is her golden promise to the world, and the promise that we, you and I, must keep.”
I’m hoping you have a wonderful Fourth of July, and may God bless America.
— by Eric Metaxas
Metaxas is the voice of Breakpoint, a radio commentary (www.breakpoint.org). Copyright© 2016 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.