On Sunday I found myself on the ferry headed toward Liberty Island, where the Statue of Liberty stands. It overlooks New York City and New Jersey,  Like fireworks on the 4th of July, taking pictures does it little justice and everything seems so much smaller than it does in person.

Fantasy or science fiction television shows and films often depict societies of old with great monuments that tower over the characters as they travel in their journeys. I am reminded of the “Lord of the Rings,” when the fellowship of the ring floats down the river and between two enormous statues, known as the “The Gates of Argonath.” Sometimes I wonder why we don’t have such monuments, but then of course, today I was reminded that we do — you just have to go out and see them for yourselves.

There is something about walking around something like that — something you’ve seen in movies, television and on the covers of a thousand magazines. You see all the dents and scrapes, all the rivets and seams, all the hidden corners that professional photographers and cinematographers have no interest in capturing. On top of the sheer majesty and size of it, you see those things.

The statue being built in France | Wikimedia Commons

The copper Lady Liberty was given to the United States as a gift from the French, dedicated in 1886. Libertas, the likeness of the statue, is a Roman goddess that was supposed to be the living embodiment of liberty itself.

The statue holds the torch in one hand and tablet in the other, symbolizing both freedom and law — a tedious balance we still struggle to find.

The man who designed her, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, initially had her holding a broken chain, but in the post-civil war days, this seemed too divisive. The chain is still there, but she stands on top of it. Her robes of freedom and light tower over the divisiveness, perhaps a reminder of where priorities ought to lie even today.

UNESCO said that the statue “endures as a highly potent symbol—inspiring contemplation, debate and protest—of ideals such as liberty, peace, human rights, abolition of slavery, democracy and opportunity” and that it is a “masterpiece of the human spirit.” Not all of these ideals had been fully realized when the statue was erected, and those that we do have now constantly seem under threat. Perhaps the statue isn’t only a commemoration of things we have achieved — perhaps it is also a goal to constantly strive toward.