Berlin Wall, Cold War, Coming-of-Age, Friends, Friendships, Introspection, Mihkail Gorbachev, Nuclear War, President Ronald Reagan, Self-Discovery
This Monday should’ve been a momentous occasion for us in the US. It was the twentieth anniversary of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, the effective end of the Iron Curtain and the Cold War. Although it would be a bit more than two years before the Soviet Union collapsed, and with it, the Warsaw Pact. Still, it meant that the fear that I and millions of others grew up with — the one about having a day of mushroom clouds and shock waves, gamma radiation and the end of civilization — was over, or at least, abated somehow. But knowing my fellow citizens as well as I do, I know that most of us gave as much thought to this as we do to where our tap water comes from.
More of us give more serious thought to Chris Brown and Rihanna, my Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants, and who our friends date and break up with than we do of our world beyond ourselves. Which is sad. Because if gave the larger world even a modicum of thought, maybe we would have the better world that so many of us want, but don’t want to work for. While the idiot American media spent as much time talking about where they were when the Berlin Wall began to come down, the rest of the world, at least, spent a bit of time thinking about what’s actually happened geopolitically speaking in the past generation.
When President Reagan said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” in Berlin in ’87, even our bungling fortieth president was talking about more than a wall. He was speaking of a geopolitical and cultural wall between peoples who otherwise had so much in common, so much so that it was disheartening, even criminal to maintain separation because another superpower needed nation-states as buffers. Really, what Reagan was speaking of was well beyond his own neo-conservative thinking. For the wall that really needed tearing down was the one in our own minds, the one that says that we can’t do or say or be a certain way because the cultural and political norms of our society say otherwise.
It’s what I took from the fall of the Berlin Wall in ’89 and Reagan’s speech in ’87 anyway. Sometimes, though, we must put a wall around those things in our minds that would keep us from thinking, being and doing those things that others in our lives would ridicule. In my little case, it was majoring in history, finishing my degree and possibly going to grad school for more degrees that would lead to steadier employment, if not high-paying jobs. In our money-is-everything world, that’s an invitation for family and so-called friends to clown on us, to say that what were about is like spending another decade in school to “earn another high school diploma.” It’s limited thinking, the kind of thinking common behind the Iron Curtain in the Cold War era. Or at least, that’s what our leaders and the international academic community have said.
It’s tough to walk to beat of our own drums, especially if we know in our bones, minds and spirits that we were born to do and say certain things in which others in our lives vehemently disagree. And when we become side-tracked by the pressures of people and events and things of this world, it becomes doubly-hard to find our way to our proper path. Without folks in our lives who can help, or at least listen, it can be a lonely, if rewarding road.
Not too many weeks after I was swept up in end-of-the-Cold-War-fever, I realized something about the previous eight-and-a-half years of my life. That I’d been living my life for the sake of others, be it God, my mother, my younger siblings, or for the euphoria of an A or A+. That just about all of the real friends I had came out of my Pittsburgh experience. That I was no longer living in fear of having my chest caved in (as he liked to say) by my now ex-stepfather.
At the beginning of ’90, I did a bit of an experiment. I still kept in contact with about a half-dozen or so of my former classmates from my Humanities days. Which in my case meant that I wrote them far more often than they wrote or called me, if they did any of that all at. I stopped writing. I only wrote them or called if they responded in kind. I found out fairly quickly that I really only had one friend from my gifted-track days.
So I built my own wall in the first few months of the 90s. I deliberately yet unconsciously managed to put everything bad that happened between April 13 of ’81 and September 2 of ’88 inside of that wall. I only opened it up to a handful of my closest friends, and often revealed the most gut-wrenching of events in the most academic and dispassionate of ways. It worked very successfully for nearly thirteen years. But in having a child, being a married man, working with thousands of students and doing work to benefit thousands more, I realized it was time to tear down this wall.
I couldn’t write and revise Boy @ The Window without tapping into this past, and all of the emotions involved with it. For most of us, it unfortunately takes an event like the fall of the Berlin Wall for us to be introspective and conscious of the world beyond our own nose. For me, that’s an everyday thing, something I think we all should aspire to at least a few times a year.