Those who have taken the ferry ride from Manhattan to Liberty Island, and gazed up at the giant “Mother of Exiles,” given as a gift from France in 1886, may not have noticed a small but significant detail.
At the base of the statue, a sandaled foot is revealed - just below the folds of Lady Liberty’s long, green, bronze robes. And her right foot is elegantly raised behind her, ready to stride.
Yes, she, Lady Liberty, is walking, taking a kind of perpetual step forward, much as the United States has done over the past year since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11.
An active, not a static or fearful, pose is largely what has marked the character of Americans post-9/11 rather than a return to a “new normal.” Even as they remember the people lost on that day, many Americans have also dedicated themselves with zeal to a renewal of ideas that sustain the nation.
For it is what people think, more than their physical security like secure cockpits or spy operations, that will decide how this extraordinary challenge is vanquished.
Fear is the terrorists’ tool. Ideas are a free people’s defense.
What are the ideas that are being renewed?
* The kind of courage that led heroic firemen and others to save, or try to save, thousands on Sept. 11, and now the courage of others who stand vigil against the possibility of further attacks, especially those charged with reducing the vulnerability of Americans.
* The compassion of neighborliness, felt strongest at first around New York City, but extended across the nation through countless ceremonies and religious services, for years to come, that creates bonds of strength.
* Civic pride that has burst through a tired cynicism and now sees both local and national government as everyone’s collective responsibility, something to be shaped for public safety rather than apathetically ignored.
* A universal embrace and respect of the dignity of other peoples, at first expressed in the question “Why do they hate us?” but which is evolving into “How better can we understand other peoples?”
* Humility that challenges national hubris and opens up thinking toward better ways of dealing with the challenge of terrorism, and that, for example, recognizes that military action is sometimes useless in what is mainly a war for ideals.
This struggle to sustain enduring values is like a civil war within the thinking of Americans. As Lincoln said after the losses at Gettysburg, Americans can “take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion ... that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom....”
One year is not enough time to wrap up the final story of Sept. 11. But its story so far is that Americans, step by forward step, are renewing their liberty with ideas that can never falter.
Instead of United We Stand as a favorite motto and reminder, let it be United We Walk.