I'm sure you heard that this weekend people were finally, for the first time since 9/11, allowed back into the crown of Lady Liberty. It was a big deal to get tickets. A young man even pulled strings to get tickets so he could propose to his beloved there. (She accepted.)
The rest of the Statue of Liberty was reopened to the public in 2004. The torch hasn't been open since 1916. So what does it mean that we are now allowed back in Lady Liberty's head?
The metaphor cannot escape you. We are invited once again to think the thoughts of liberty, of freedom, of what it is to be free to live in liberty. What sorts of thoughts might those be?
I can tell you definitely what kind they're not. They're not thoughts about spreading American democracy all over the world. They're not thoughts about terrorism. They're not thoughts about homogenization. They're not thoughts about rights for some folks but not others. They're not thoughts about not asking and not telling.
Nope, they're thoughts that trust that there is goodwill at the core of human beings. They're thoughts that set everyone, all over the world, free to be what they want to be. They're thoughts that allow for difference. They're thoughts of compromise, or are they?
Oscar Hammerstein II is one of my heroes. He was, of course, the partner of musical genius Richard Rodgers, and they are famous for changing the face of the musical theatre. Before he was Rodgers' partner though, he wrote with all different composers. One of them was Sigmund Romberg. Their first joint effort was a piece called The Desert Song.
Hammerstein wrote a throw-away lyric for the first number. Male chorus sang boisterously, opened the show, and they got flew into the story. The lyric for the opener was unimportant. Until ... the show opened in London. Mr. Hammerstein sailed over for the opening, and there, he heard every single syllable of the miserable, throw-away lyric because of their stellar diction. He vowed never again to write a throw-away song lyric.
One of his wonderful stories about that song was the memory of seeing a photo of the Statue of Liberty in the New York Herald Tribune Sunday Magazine. His introduction to his book Lyrics says, "It was a picture taken from a helicopter and it showed the top of the statue's head." (What's above the crown!)
"I was amazed at the detail there. The sculptor had done a painstaking job with the lady's coiffure, and yet he must have been pretty sure that the only eyes that would ever see this detail would be the uncritical eyes of sea gulls. He could not have dreamt that any man would ever fly over this head and take a picture of it."
Remember, it was 1886.
"He was artist enough, however to finish off this part of the statue with as much care as he had devoted to her face and her arms and the torch and everything that people can see as they sail up the bay.
"He was right. When you are creating a work of art, or any other kind of work, finish the job off perfectly. You never know when a helicopter, or some other instrument not at the moment invented, may come along and find you out."
Do you know the real, full name of the Statue of Liberty? It's "Liberty Enlightening the World." She wears a crown because she's a goddess championing the cause of all causes: freedom. I think the fact that we're allowed in her head again means that we need to do some serious thinking about what it is to be free. And then we need to give that to the rest of the world. No compromises.
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