I was sitting in front of the boob tube with my college roommates when our regularly scheduled program was interrupted by images of people climbing onto and partying atop the Berlin Wall – after 28 years that seemed like several lifetimes, the wall was coming down. The magnitude of that moment will surely be lost on anyone who didn’t live through the Cold War – particularly the 80’s version, which was extra intense and super macho. Movies like The Day After and Red Dawn stoked fear of nuclear annihilation and paranoia of the Soviet agenda, and many was the night that I went to bed as a teenager, covers clutched up to my eyeballs, expecting to be awoken by a bright red missile. The Berlin Wall was such a potent symbol of the divide between the political spheres, that to see it come down through peaceful revolution that was by the people, for the people, etc, was simply stunning. If that TV footage had been of aliens partying atop the Space Needle my roommates and I wouldn’t have been more stunned.
I thought about John Lennon that day, especially his song ‘Imagine’. It’s a lofty, stirring song that challenges the listener to imagine a world without borders, religions, politics, and all the stuff that divides us. As Lennon sang, it isn’t hard to do. But the difference between imagination and reality is vast, and to see Lennon’s vision played out on the television before me was a moment I’ll never forget. The world snapped back to politics-as-usual soon enough, but the Cold War was dead and gone (replaced by Glasnost and Perestroika) and East/West relations have rarely been as chilly as they were during the darkness of the 80’s. But more importantly, the world was watching, and we were all inspired to see that the walls and borders and barriers that have been placed between us can be toppled by peaceful will and a brotherhood of man.