Claustrophobia and the Statue of Liberty

Several times I have taken church youth groups to New York City, my home USA-NYC-Statue_of_Libertyfor years when I was a young adult. Of course, I didn’t climb the Statue of Liberty when I lived In Manhattan, but all the teenagers wanted to see it and so I would take them, hoping that my life-long claustrophobia would not kick in. Every time it did. I would grow more and more anxious with all the people and the tight stairway. My breath would quicken and I would go blue around the lips and inevitably a guard would tell me that I could not continue. “But I am in charge of these teenagers,” I’d say. “Well, they will have to make their own way. They won’t get lost.” And they went up, enjoyed the view, and teased me mercilessly for the rest of the mission trip.

Since last week’s Supreme Court decision, I’ve been thinking of us all – trapped, willful claustrophobes in the Statue of Liberty. Especially those of us who are old. I have to believe this of the young — they will make their own way, and they won’t get lost.

Improv on Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus”

Don’t give me your gifted —
your astronomers, your artists, no.
Don’t give me the genius,
the hard worker, the dreamer.
Don’t give me those
with imagination and compassion
for our future years.
Keep all these and keep
the mothers and the fathers
of new Americans born …
or rather take them back.

Send none —
the weeping copper statue cries.
I’ll turn them away
and then turn inward, naming
what was once an air-bridged harbor
only a poisoned pool,
what was once breathing free,
an inhalation of stale hate.

In our crabbed ungenerosity
we all stand, not
lifting a lamp,
but pointing instead
the weapons that we say
are more precious, more our right,
than our children are.

We stand, pointing our guns,
beside the golden door,
padlocked against the world.

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