Ten days ago I was in New York City with my 12-year-old daughter and my mother-in-law for a wonderfully busy girls weekend. On a bright morning we stood at the feet of Lady Liberty, learning the history of the statue and the famous poem by Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus.” We’ve all heard her words: “Give me your tired, your poor....” What I had not heard before was that the poem was written before the great immigration rush and that the statue was not necessarily designed to be the beacon of hope it later became. Yet Lazarus’ words were prescient and came to signify everything hopeful about our country. Her words became as important as the statue itself.
So grateful for the power of words.
Later that day we walked to the grounds of the World Trade Center. The sight of the first pool took my breath away. It looks bottomless and the list of names surrounding it endless. I wanted to read each and every one, to bear witness to the lives lost. And this was just the outside memorial. Inside the museum, thousands of artifacts, newsreels and tributes captured the horror, confusion and heartache of that time. And just as stirring were the features that captured the collective grief, the incredible sacrifice and the outpouring of support in the aftermath.
We spent hours at the museum, immersed in the stories. I watched my daughter as she read each plaque with great reverence. Days later, when asked what she remembered most about the exhibits, she knew the Virgil quote by heart: “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”
So grateful for the power of stories and memory.
And then there was Charleston. I found myself once again talking to my kids about hate and prejudice and trying to explain something so horrible. We talked about the Confederate flag and its unfortunate role in history.
I reminded the kids that Dad and I both went to a Texas high school named after Robert E. Lee. It was the late '80s and our mascot was the Rebels; our school song Dixie and our school flag the Confederate one. The flag appeared on the cover of our yearbooks, it waved in multitudes above our football stadium, it adorned varsity jackets and drill team uniforms. Every Friday in the fall it was shoe-polished on the back windows of hundreds of cars and trucks in support of the Mighty Rebel Football Team.
I am ashamed to say that I rolled with it, or at least didn’t speak up against it. In my 16-year-old mind it was a weird, mildly offensive “West Texas Thing.” A “Football Thing.” It wasn’t until I was finishing my freshman year in college in the spring of 1991 that the flag was officially removed from all high school sanctioned activities and paraphernalia. And suddenly it was such a no-brainer: our community had been painfully insensitive. How had we not spoken up sooner? Clearly the removal was long overdue.
To share that story with my kids was one thing, but to then explain that the flag still flies over the South Carolina capitol nearly 25 years later was a whole other sad reality. My daughter shook her head in disbelief. “Mom, that’s so messed up. The only place those flags belong are in a museum.”
So grateful for the power of common sense.
And now, here we are...a few days after the Supreme Court has declared that marriage is marriage no matter who you are. The kids and I cheered at the news and they named off a few grownup friends who can now be married in our home state.
In almost no time, Texas politicians lined up to argue the blasphemous nature of the new law, and I found myself explaining yet again that hateful, narrow-minded views are unfortunately still alive even amidst such hopeful ones.
And once again, my daughter found the right words so easily...“Don’t people understand that when you give someone equal freedom it doesn’t take away your own?”
May we move forward with this mindset. May we allow words, stories, memories, and commonsense to be our brave and constant guides.