MAXWELL:  Rediscovering the beauty of America

5/9/2001 – Printed in the EDITORIAL section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper




Although my reason for coming to New York was personal business, I wound up rediscovering why I love being an American citizen.

(WARNING: If patriotism _ love for the United States of America _ upsets you, STOP READING NOW.)

My business took up all of Wednesday and Thursday, but I used Friday and Saturday for talking with friends and relatives and colleagues, walking the streets of Manhattan, window shopping and drinking and eating too much.

The highlight of the trip came Friday night, when three of my friends and I experienced Dralion, Cirque du Soleil’s avant-garde circus-arts spectacle under the big top and the events and scenery surrounding it. We took a ferry across the Hudson River to Liberty State Park.

The cast of Dralion, 56 artists from eight countries (Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, France, Ivory Coast, Ukraine and the United States) symbolized all that is American. Indeed, the individual artists (only a few are American citizens) looked exactly like us _ an international audience. As the artists performed, the crowd of several thousand celebrated. I looked around and felt fortunate to be in a nation that embraces so many differences.

After the performance ended at 11 p.m., we walked out of the tent and into a light, warm night rain. As we boarded the ferry, the rain stopped. My friends and I went onto the uncovered section of the deck to get the best view of the fabulous Manhattan skyline and the monuments in the harbor. The bright lights of Jersey City were behind us now, and the semi-darkness enveloped us as the ferry churned away from its mooring.

Immediately, Ellis Island dominated our view. The island was the point of entry for most immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In his book Above New York, Robert Cameron captures the bitter irony of Ellis Island: “The island was, in effect, America’s gatehouse, and many were turned away, their pain no doubt made more intense by the powerful presence of Manhattan so close across the water.”

Lady Liberty stood high in the sky, and her upraised torch glowed like a beacon. I had never been this close to the statue at night. To the east, Battery Park City and its environs lit up the horizon. Even with my bad eyes, I clearly recognized the Empire State, Chrysler and Woolworth buildings. Their architecture reminded me of the nation’s love of individualism and competition.

I have never seen the Manhattan skyline so close at night from the Hudson. This view may have no match in terms of beauty anywhere else in the world. Then, like Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 would, the World Trade Center Towers thrust themselves into our presence. Although boxy and banal as architecture, the towers have come to symbolize the nation’s awesome physical power. By sheer scale, they dwarf everything around and make human form seem insignificant.

As the ferry pushed eastward and as the giant twins grew larger and brighter, I recalled that day in February 1993, when Islamic terrorists bombed the complex, killing six and injuring hundreds. The complex was closed for a month because of extensive damage.

I became angry all over again.

Why, I naively asked myself, would anyone want to destroy the Trade Center? Those who attempted to do so were our guests in our land. They were in a country that gave them the freedom to come and go as they pleased. In fact, they were free _ probably for the first time in their miserable lives.

Why would they come to our country and bomb our building _ not a military target during time of war but a civilian structure that serves the needs of peoples worldwide, including those in Arab nations?

Then, I thought of Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City six years ago, killing 168 people. I recalled his stupid reasoning: The U.S. government is his enemy. His was the same nuttiness that drove the likes of Ruby Ridge’s Randy Weaver, the Freemen, various white militia groups and that now drives the zanier members of the New Black Panther Party.

I am not a love-America-or-leave-it extremist but simply a writer who has traveled to many other parts of the world, who lived in one foreign nation for 18 months, who knows that only fools and the truly ignorant can, with straight faces, declare our government their enemy. Consider me a patriot, an American, a former Marine who understands the significance of Manhattan’s skyline, Ellis Island, New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty.