I visited New York City this past weekend, stopping at Ground Zero before taking the ferries to Liberty Island and Ellis Island. The experience reminded me of things I was in danger of forgetting. Here’s what I learned (again):

The Freedom Tower at Ground Zero is testament to our determination to maintain our footing. It affirms our commitment to our common causes and to the cultural values we share and cherish. Most of all, it gives form to our defiant resilience. Tear us down once, shame on you. Tear us down twice … not a chance.

Liberty Island and the Statue of Liberty remind us of what we are — a bold, brilliant, and bountiful experiment in self-rule. Lady Liberty stands, as she has for 129 years, at the mouth of New York harbor for all who enter that port to behold. A gift from France, our ally in the Revolutionary War, she is a work of art, symbolizing a nation of open arms, founded in defiant courage and paid for bravely in blood and bone.

Ellis Island is a lesson in the reality that, while resources are finite, hope is not. The largest and busiest inspection station for immigration entry into the United States from 1892 to 1954, the Internal Security Act of 1950 and the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1952 spelled its doom. But the dream of Ellis Island is the American Dream, and it lives on for the estimated 40 percent of Americans who trace the arrival of their ancestors back there. I’m one of them.

That dream also lives on in the words of the photographer, Eleni Mylonas, whose work is part of an exhibit at Ellis Island. She wrote these words after working on the deserted island in the fall of 1983:

Disturbed only by the sound of a pigeon’s wings, I heard the voices of the millions of people who came through here, building a temple with their highest joys and deepest sorrows — men, women, and children who made it through to a new life, or who died straining to look through a dusty mirror at what they knew they could not possess.

The Freedom Tower, Lady Liberty, and Ellis Island — all of them serve to remind us that we come here to possess, not to be possessed. We come here to fight for our liberty every day, not to surrender it to death by a thousand infringements. We come here to earn our way, to take pride in what we achieve, and to share our opportunities with those who share our dream.

We come here to pursue life and liberty. We come here to be Americans.

Image by PDPhotos, courtesy of pixabay.com.