Monday, January 30, 2017

A Battery Park Reflection

Yesterday I took the train from New Jersey into New York City to attend the immigration protest at Battery Park. For those of you who don't know, Battery Park sits at the extreme southern tip of Manhattan, so named for the batteries of guns there placed to fend of an invasion from New York harbor. 

I am not going to write about the protest, you can read about that in innumerable other places. No, I want to write about the Battery itself. It was probably the most apt place in this country to have a protest to defend immigrants and immigration. Millions and millions of people first set foot in America after docking in the harbor well before the Statue of Liberty was there. For that reason I often get emotionally overwhelmed when I look at the harbor.

It was the first thing in America that my German and Swedish migrant ancestors gazed upon. Could they have even contemplated one of their descendants would be standing there 100 years later as a migrant from the middle of the country? I also get overwhelmed thinking about the fact that so many African slaves used to work the docks on the harbor, and they too first set foot in America there. They were bought and sold just up Broadway on Wall Street, the street named for the wall built by slave labor. 

It is an eerie place. Once you reach the Battery, the skyscrapers of downtown melt away, and you find yourself in open ground, with water on three sides. It can be a jarring transition, and I often feel almost naked standing there, especially on a sunny day like yesterday. There is a real energy in the air that is inescapable. I do not believe in ghosts, but there are places where human history has left behind a psychic atmosphere, I am sure of this. I've felt it too at the Bloody Angle at the Chickamauga battlefield. I remember standing there where a horrifically savage fight had taken place, and my skin started tingling. The place still remembered what had happened there.

I get that same feeling when I go down to the Battery. I can feel the spiritual residue of the hopes and fears and pain of the people who passed through and by it vibrating in the air. It is a reminder that New York harbor must still be a golden door of hope, not a mockery of this country's stated but unheeded narratives about itself as a nation of immigrants and land of opportunity.

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