BY MARYBETH GRONEK
You owe me nothing, yet I owe you everything.
How do I begin to tell you what you mean to me?
My dad grew up fatherless in a garden apartment in a bad part of Chicago. More siblings in the house than pairs of shoes to share between them. My mom immigrated here from Italy in her adolescence. She often skipped school to accompany my grandfather on job interviews as his translator. She got him a city job as a cement worker. Decent pay, a pension, a godsend. She was the first in the family to attend college, paid for exclusively by her, working night jobs to do so. She bought her first house — in cash — in her late twenties.
America looked on these two with expectant eyes.
I see you. I have something wonderful for your future if you are willing to abide by my principals, Lady Liberty proclaimed.
Game on, my parents responded.
Most people would say I grew up in Chicago. Really, I grew up in a library and my bedroom desk. The library exposed me to successful people who came before me — Thomas Edison, Rosa Parks, Abraham Lincoln — people who dared to dream big and took massive action to create that reality. The library taught me that Liberty permits no excuses. It does, however, provide the terrain to chart your own course. You just need to know your end destination and be willing to play by the rules to get there. Oh and patience. You need patience.
In addition to the library, I grew up at my bedroom desk. That’s where I came home every day after school to study. Hours upon hours I sat in that seat, taking up Liberty’s challenge. Do you have what it takes? Will you apply yourself? Every day, for hours at a time, I said yes. I trusted Liberty that this, this right here, would get me where I needed to go. I’m not sure you can call it trust when you have no other options; it’s more like hope. Trust/hope I did.
Fast Forward. I’m now a 30 year old conquistador. My library & desk upbringing have molded me into an explorer. I’ve traversed the terrains of life: work, relationships, culture.
In this country we have the freedom to pursue that which brings success and fulfillment, and in so doing, conquer both. Each day holds refreshing and exciting opportunities. I could cry thinking of everything that is open to me.
Liberty’s call is precise: What is it you want? Are you willing to do what it takes to get there? If you approach these questions honestly and answer them in the affirmative, you WILL go places.
O America, how I adore you — let me count the ways.
Where else can a little, first generation girl grow up (with hard work and tenacity) to be a self-sufficient, confident, successful woman?
Where else can I own the wealth of my labor and choose how to spend it?
Where else can I choose the path of my life and pursue it unencumbered?
Where else is there a bright future for those bold enough to go after it? For those willing to get dirty and uncomfortable? The reward comes through the grime.
Where else can anyone, irrespective of creed, background, or identity, build a life for themselves & forge their own way?
I know no other place.
I can pick my job. I can pick my mate. Heck, I can pick myself.
Liberty isn’t doing whatever you want or getting all that you want— it’s wanting to do the right thing & having the choice to pursue it.
Liberty is birthed in the soil of personal responsibility, courage, and sacrifice. You will not find words like ‘owe’ ‘demand’ or ‘deserve’ in her neighborhood. Her acquaintances are of more humble and scrappy stock.
Lady Liberty speaks to all of us the same way. She says come on my terms and I can show you how to create your own destiny.
I hold hands with my brothers and sisters today. Young, old, male, female, red and yellow, black and white.
We genuflect, together, in front of you, Lady Liberty.
We salute you for all that you are. For all that you inspire us to be.
I can think of no other place on earth I’d rather be.
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