The Fallen Colossus?
Special thanks to Madison Laskarzewski for her significant contributions to this piece.
In the iconic final scene of the original Planet of the Apes (1968), Charlton Heston is riding along a desolate shoreline searching for answers. Listening to the waves break on the sand, he sees a massive figure up ahead blocking his path. As he approaches, he begins to realize that this fallen statue looks eerily familiar. Dismounting his horse and looking up in disbelief, it hits him – he’s home. This obstacle buried deep amidst the sand and rocks, worn and weathered, is none other than the Statue of Liberty. Sinking to his knees, he pounds his fist into the wet sand in despair crying, “You maniacs! You blew it up!”
Thankfully, Lady Liberty is still standing, although it can feel like the burdens of our entire country are weighing heavy on her shoulders at this moment. As Independence Day approaches this weekend, it is an opportunity to reflect on where our country is and what it truly means to be an American. Most Americans know the National Anthem and for those who choose to rise to their feet when it plays, do we really think of what we’re standing for and the values our nation was built on? For those who don’t stand, do we defend their right to do so, even if some of us disagree with this choice of free expression? The average lifespan of a civilization is 336 years. We are celebrating 244 years of the Great American Experiment at a divisive time in our country. How can we continue to be a nation that others aspire to be for the next 100, 250, 1000 years?
The final words of The New Colossus, cast in bronze at the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty are really the voice of the Lady herself, whispering in our ear, reminding us that many of our ancestors were exiles before arriving in this country. They were promised equality and respect for every man and woman in the Constitution, including freedom of speech and self-expression in the Bill of Rights. The Union has never been perfect, but do we still hold these truths to be self-evident? If so, why does it seem like we are a country adrift? Where have we gone wrong? We’ve seen troubling racial injustice, a lack of inclusion for many, and the questioning of science even as our country is at the forefront of research. We no longer tolerate the opinions of others that differ from our own, yet civil political discourse is as American as it gets.
The dramatic end to the Planet of the Apes is a cautionary tale – for now. The Colossus has not fallen and Lady Liberty has remained a beacon through moments that have tested our country’s resolve. As we make plans to safely celebrate the July 4th holiday this weekend, let’s remember that the Torch Bearer is once again inviting us to step across the threshold of the golden door. The only way for us to do so is together.
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
– Emma Lazarus
The New Colossus is a sonnet by American poet Emma Lazarus, written in 1883 to raise money to build the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. An interesting interpretation of The New Colossus can be found here.
To my fellow Americans, wishing you and yours a happy July 4th. May we continue to support each other with understanding, patience and genuine care as we make our way through our current hardships and adversity. Happy Birthday, America. #america #july4th #starsandstripesforever – Wayland K. Lum
Wayland K. Lum is the Founder and Managing Director of Copperbox, an Austin-based leadership advisory and development firm focused on accelerating leadership wisdom. You can learn about Wayland’s work with leaders at www.copperbox.co, and connect with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.