Invisible walls are barriers, too

Published 9:12 am Wednesday, November 12, 2014

“And the walls came a tumblin’ down…”

Those were lyrics in a song I remember singing as a child. It had something to do with Joshua and the battle of Jericho, I think.

Those words played in my head a few days ago as I watched a story about the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I remember when it happened 25 years ago, and the joy you could feel in the scenes of people chipping away at the concrete barrier.

I was nine-years-old when that wall went up in August of 1961 and it remained in place for all of my growing up years and for a good portion of my early adult life. Every so often during those years, the news reported a story about someone trying to escape East Germany, but it seemed so far removed from my life.

When I heard the story about the 25th anniversary, I tried to imagine what it must have been like for people living in East Berlin on that August morning in 1961. Must have seemed like a nightmare to realize you were a prisoner in your own country.

The finished wall was a 66-mile concrete section that was 12 feet high, with another 41 miles of barbed wire fencing and more than 300 manned lookout towers. However, even manned towers and fear of guards did not stop people’s drive for freedom.

According to a study by the Center for Contemporary History, at least 138 people died at the Wall. That number, I am sure, does not indicate how many tried, failed and perhaps tried again only to return and continue living in imprisonment until that day in 1989.

People who were there when the division between east and west finally ended remember the spirit of the time. Here is what one person said when he recalled those first days of freedom.

“Over the next few weeks the feeling in the air was electric, as if some great force had been let loose, perhaps the greatest example of positive [collective] human will ever seen…”

I think some great force was loose. It is the force that drives us all to feel our connection to each other and to something greater than our small selves. It is that call for freedom, tolerance, compassion and love at the center of every being.

So, what lessons does the Berlin Wall, its rise and fall, have to teach me now 25 years later? I hope it shows me what happens when we put up walls whether they are material ones like the East Germans constructed or invisible ones that we construct to keep us separated from each other.

Walls of any kind are not what the spirit is about and surely, it will push us to remove them from our lives. Perhaps, the symbol of that wall dividing Germany pushes me to look at where I have my own walls, where I am closed off from life.

It also reminds me that when I stop considering different viewpoints, even if they do not agree with mine, I add bricks to my wall and become a prisoner in my own life. That is a hard brick to put down sometimes because this darn ego of mine so wants to be right and wants everyone to see things its way.

If I watch the news, I see a world of people living behind so many walls and holding on tightly to their bricks. We separate ourselves by our views on politics, religion, race, sexual preference, different cultures and on and on it goes. The walls are tall and strong, but not impossible to tear down.

Perhaps what we need is for that great force people felt in those days after the Berlin Wall fell to rise in the hearts of all humans, and I have to start with looking at myself and my personal walls.

Then and only then can I sing with real conviction —

“And the walls came a tumblin’ down…”