13 November 2009

Twenty years ago, the Berlin Wall fell, or more accurately, was pulled down.  It was a powerful time of change, and I experienced most of it listening to NPR news at the end of my workday, driving from my job to the childcare center to pick up my daughter on my way home.

I remember the day well, when the story about the Wall hit the news.  We started tuning into it at the office that afternoon.  All of us were amazed, excited, emotional.  Still, there was that pesky thing called work, and we couldn’t give the moment its fair due.  I jumped in my car at 5:01pm, turned on the radio, and spent the next ten minutes driving, tears of joy streaming down my face.  I imagine I wasn’t the only one trying to experience the incredible story in the small amount of time allotted me between maintaining a “work” face and the face of a calm and secure mother picking up her nine-year old.  I remember sitting in the car outside the day care center, wiping the tears from my eyes and trying to look normal.  As happy as I was, I knew my daughter wouldn’t quite interpret the tears and my blotchy red face as anything but “something’s wrong with mom!”

But I was happy.  Insanely happy.  The tears that flowed on that day come back to me now, as I write.  I have to blink them back to see the computer screen.

I was told, years ago, that tears of joy are really all the pent-up fear and despair and, sometimes, anger, finally getting a chance for release.  You maintain a calm during a crisis, or in the long years of endurance sometimes required of us, and when it’s over, the dam bursts.  This certainly applied to me and my reaction to the fall of the Wall. 

Somewhere in the muddy waters of childhood, I’d heard my folks refer to the Berlin Wall, and finally asked what it was.  I received some sort of limited explanation, couched in terms accessible to a kid, but clear enough.  I was amazed, outraged even.  A Wall? dividing a city? to keep people in? out? to separate families?  BerlinWallIt was weird, confusing, and seemed incredibly unfair, in that sense most kids have about fundamental issues of justice:  That’s Not Right!  You mean, they can’t just… you know… go into the other part of the city?  Adults are stupid!

As an older kid, and as an adult, I learned more about the Wall, and where it came from, and the political struggles that created it, and understood it better.  But that sense of outrage, of “Hey!  That’s just wrong!” never left me.

NPR played many stories this 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Wall.  There were historical analyses, and anecdotal accounts, replays of old news stories, and listener responses on call-in programs.  It was great to relive it, and painful to think about the wall itself.

I know the world is a complicated place.  I know that national borders exist for reasons, sometimes quite sensible reasons.  But there lies in me an outrage that will probably never die, when those borders are enforced so absolutely, so bleakly.  And I guess the thing to do is to cherish the outrage, the sense that an injustice is being done, and to know that sometimes, the walls do fall, and good things come of it.

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