The pilot’s voice filters through my headset, jolting me out of a temporary daydream. I’m in shock that I’m actually in a helicopter over NYC, and it takes me a minute to come out of it.
“And if you look out the left side of the helicopter, you’ll see we are approaching Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.”
This is the moment I’ve been waiting for. This is the moment I’ve dreamt about; I promised I’d give myself this, one day. I can’t believe this is actually happening.
Ever since I learned about my grandparents’ arrival in America, I’ve dreamt about visiting the place they first set foot on American soil. Having spent hours imagining what their journey from the old country must have been like, I knew I had to see it for myself. With my grandparents’ passing still fresh in my heart, I realized there was no time like the present. However, after imagining it for so long, I knew that an ordinary trip to the Island wasn’t enough: I needed more; to experience it from every angle. I needed to fly in a helicopter over NYC, and see their port of arrival from up above.
I spent my first day in New York City visiting Ellis Island the traditional way: I took a boat there and wandered around, imagining what it must have looked like on the day my grandparents arrived. I’d already seen digital copies of the documents surrounding their immigration online, but to stand in the storied halls of Ellis Island was extraordinary, and brought me a feeling of peace and connection.
However, it wasn’t until the next day – the day of my helicopter over NYC and Ellis Island – that I truly understood how brave my grandparents were to have come to America. As we approached, I was struck by how little it was in comparison to the vast city and the open ocean beyond. Back then, a sea voyage to America was no joke, and some didn’t make it. I found myself tearing up as we got closer, as if I was looking at the Statue of Liberty through fresh eyes, just as they would have done so many years ago.
Although NYC helicopter tours are often less than 20 minutes, for me that was enough. My helicopter over NYC experience, and seeing the port of my grandparents’ arrival in America from the air, was a transformative experience that I’ll remember forever.