I do not know why this photo turned out the way it did. From where I was standing on Ellis Island, it felt as if I were just two football fields from Lady Liberty; I could see the folds of her garment, the drape of her penny hem, the sandal on her heel. So why does it appear that I am so far away?
Right after this photograph, there was a torrential downpour. I had an umbrella, but didn’t really care about getting wet, so I stayed outside until my shoes were soaked, until the sky behind the statue was slate and she was a mysterious shape in the foreground. Then I went inside to write. Later I noticed the summer sun had eased through the window and brought out the luster on the radiator in the cafe. So I went back outside again and paid attention: The needy white gulls calling, the soft waves lapping on the seawall, the ferry bell singing, the foghorn shouting, the myriad languages blending. The languages! If you closed your eyes for a minute, you might think you were on … Ellis Island.
I stayed outside until there was a second gray downpour, and then it was back to negotiating the slippery-slick tile indoors for more writing in the cafe. All in all, I was there from 11:30 until 6, when I noticed the nice people at the registers were counting the tills. I was glad I was there alone, so that I could stay so long to think and pray and write and listen to the environment and to my iPod while I watched the city across the river breathe.
I was struck by a sense of gratitude. Though I just enjoyed the island and skipped the actual museum this time, I couldn’t help thinking about that massive pile of aging baggage that greets visitors when they enter the building. The immigrants left so much more than a home in order to begin a new life and adventure. Maybe that is why I was drawn to this place at the onset of this summer’s journey.
To find the courage to begin.