Miscellaneous musings from the perspective of a lefty (both senses) atheist with a warped sense of humor.

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Location: Madison, WI, United States

I am a geek, but I do have some redeeming social skills. I love other people's dogs, cats, and kids. Snow sucks, but I'm willing to put up with it just to live in Madison.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

When It Changed

When It Changed
By Richard S. Russell

Written on the occasion of the Statue of Liberty’s 100th birthday

"Europe was created by history. America was created by philosophy."
—Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013), prime minister of the United Kingdom

A Village in Eastern Europe, 1886

You are 9 years old. Your life awaits you.

It has been a day much like every other day in your village. Papa and Stefan have been in the hills, working the farm that has been in the family for generations. Every year it is harder to bring in a full harvest, because the land is slowly playing out. Stefan, even tho he is the eldest, has been a bit sickly ever since he had a fever when he was just about your own age, and he sometimes grumbles that he wishes he had a mule to help with the work. But Papa says to be glad enuf that we have the cow that shares our house; many others in the village wish they were as lucky.

Dora is 15, and she is tending the house, as she has ever since Mama died giving birth to little Samuel. Shy Marie follows her everywhere, doing as she is told, for soon Dora will marry, and Marie must take over the house.

Just now Petros and Samuel are fidgeting over the family's tattered bukvar, which they must study for an hour each day, because the family has always taken great pride that all its boys know how to read and write.

But wait! Who's that coming up the road? It’s Teodor! Teodor, the family's 2nd son, who went off 2 years ago to join the king's army. There is much hugging and backslapping, and Petros is sent running to the fields to fetch the men.

After supper, everyone goes outside, for it's a fine summer evening, and visitors — let alone marriageable young men — are rare in the village. Everyone wants to hear all about life in the capital, but Teodor has seen little enuf of that from the barracks. Anyway, he wants to talk about something else. He waves a newspaper. "Listen to this." he says. "It's about America. You know, the land where streets are paved ..."

"With gold!" shouts Toyva.

"No, foolish one," laughs Teodor, "with real brick." There are murmurs among the small audience at this extravagance. If all the bricks in the village had been used to pave the street, there would be none left for the houses.

"This paper tells of a statue in America." says Teodor.

"Fauff!" snorts old Vanya. "What do we care about some American general or king?"

"Ah, but this is not a statue of any man, uncle. No, nor of some musty old Greek god, either. It's a statue to an idea. They call it the Statue of Liberty. And listen, there is a poem written about it. It's by Emma Lazarus."

And some were thinking "Emma. A woman's name. In America women can read and write — even poetry."

And some were thinking "Lazarus. The man raised from the dead, given a new life, a 2nd chance."

And some were thinking "Emma Lazarus. A Jewish name. In our country Jews live in ghettos and are reviled and persecuted. Whenever times are bad, there's a pogrom, and the king's men say everything will get better."

But you are 9 years old and know little of such things. You are listening to the poem. It is translated from the English, of course, and the translation isn't very good. But you listen, and you remember, as Teodor reads it:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

You are 9 years old. Your life awaits you.

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