The fall of the Berlin Wall was one of my first historically conscious moments, the first time I was aware that what I was watching on TV would be in the history books. And that’s because it wasn’t supposed to happen.
The Cold War was a fact of life, an eternal not a bounded period. For people of my parents’ generation who had crawled underneath their desks for bomb drills, the end of the Cold War must have been even more surprising. In my childhood world, no one was actually going to use a nuclear weapon, but just as certainly, the Soviet Union would always be our enemy.
I’m imagining someone in their early twenties reading the paragraphs above, and I feel as if I’m trying to explain a time before cell phones. For them, the Berlin Wall has never existed. So perhaps for their children, there will always have been peace in the Middle East.
It sounds like a ridiculous and naïve suggestion, but if someone had said, in 1984, “In five years, there will be no Berlin Wall,” that person would have easily been shouted down by a world full of people with all the evidence on their side.
Which is why I wonder if the wall fell because of things that are usually not considered to effect such solid substances as concrete. I wonder if it fell because of small kindnesses, because of prayer, because of hope.
Richard Rohr says that as we grow we learn to have “aimless hope.” I don’t think I have it yet, but from his description, it is an underlying certainty that, as Julian of Norwich wrote, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” It is not believing in a specific impossible event—I will finish this newsletter on time despite not even having started one of the articles yet—but rather believing that, in ways our minds are too limited to grasp, things will be all right.
I have a knee-jerk reaction to this idea as being unreasonable and fantastical, not based in reality. And then I look at those pictures of pieces of the Berlin Wall scattered around the world, turned into memorials or pieces of art, and I remember that feeling of watching the impossible happen and think, well, maybe so.