I’ve always wondered what it would be like to come into Ellis Island on a boat as an immigrant and seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time. I can’t imagine the burden that must have been lifted from one’s shoulders as they see Lady
Liberty reaching out to them. I wonder what each person had experienced up until that point and why he or she came here. Were they being persecuted? Were they escaping communism or a tyrannical dictator?
As the Statue of Liberty so welcomingly says, “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to
breathe free.” Yet why are so many of us who live on this side of Lady Liberty worn out? Is the “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses” quote misleading? No, at least I don’t think so. Are we missing something? Probably.
One of my favorite modern-day comic strips is Pearls Before Swine. A particular comic I like showed one of the characters, named Pig, playing in his backyard in a cardboard box with a space helmet on his head. A neighborhood kid, Willy, walks up so Pig asks him to play with him. He claims he can’t because he has to study. The conversation picks up as follows:
Willy: I need a 4.6 GPA.
Pig: What for?
Willy: To get into a top-tier Ivy League school, where if I work really hard I can get a degree and then a six-figure job, where if I work even harder, I can make a lot more money for many years which, if everything goes right, will allow me to retire comfortably at 65.
Pig: Then what?
Willy: Then maybe I’ll have a couple years left before I die.
He and Pig stare at each other, pondering over what they just heard. In the final frame, you see Pig and Willy flying through space in their cardboard box. I sent this to a few friends along with, “The child in all of us.”
Willy had his life planned out for himself at 10 years old. As Stephen Pastis, the strip’s creator, so poignantly articulated in this comic, we live in a culture that tells us to “go, go, go.” (Did you miss the metaphor between Willy’s run-on sentence and the go, go, go nature of the American culture?) When we finish one task, we go on to the next one. Then when we finish that one, to start chipping away at the next one. Then when we finally get ready to sit down and take a breather, we’re told to go again. If you’re asking me, it’s about time we take seriously Lady Liberty’s words to “breathe free” and the words of Jesus himself to “Come to me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you
Kevin Wolf is a former camper, summer staffer and active volunteer at camp. He works at Trinity United Methodist Church in Mullica Hill. Image credit: Eldar Kamalov, via Wikimedia Commons