But the fall of the Wall was especially important to me. I had grown up very aware of the iron curtain, the cold war, the arms race, participating in nuclear attack drills at school, seeing commercials and debates about how to deal with the evil menace, seeing many forms of pop culture that satirized life on both sides of the Wall.
I gained a whole new perspective in 1981 when I was able to visit the Soviet Union with a student group. I met students, professionals, soldiers, laborers, children, religious leaders, seniors, even members of the old guard. What I saw - they were all very much like people anywhere. They were doing the best with what they had, they loved their families, they cared about their children's future, they had individual strong opinions, they were willing to sacrifice in hope of a better tomorrow, they were very friendly and helpful, and they loved anything from the west. It was rare to see anyone behave harshly, or abusing their position of power.
One day we visited a school for advanced students from 3 to 16 years old. The teenagers were like any I had known growing up, and we had a great time visiting with them. When we were getting ready to leave, our group gathered in the foyer waiting for the bus. Some of the younger students were also getting ready to go home. It was cold outside, and I noticed a man in a soldier uniform helping his little boy bundle up in his sweater, coat and scarf. The man stuck the boy's small mittens on his own little finger while he was carefully buttoning up the coat, then he tenderly held the little boy next to him, out of the way of the crowd, talking softly to him until we had moved outside and they could leave without getting bumped around. The love and tenderness was so evident. I knew this man would do anything to protect his son.
No one can force anyone to change, even when the change seems to be better. But if any part of a forceful action seems to threaten children, people will die before giving in.
I realized the Wall could never successfully come down by force. Military force and intimidation has never successfully changed a civilization.
That same year - 1981 - my father started an organization called Food for Poland (That story is another blog). Its purpose was to send food to the striking workers' Solidarity union in Poland so they could resist the severe government control. It was one of many ways that people behind the Wall refused to continue without freedom. As they built civil resistance movements, and received help from many groups in the west, the old regime began to fail. For years we had spoken with Solidarity leaders, hearing of their hardships and loss, and determination to create a new government.
So on November 9th, while rocking my 1 year old to sleep, I wept as I watched the live news feed of people pouring through the gate, helping each other on both sides climb up and dance on top of the wall. Then, with their own hands and simple tools, they tore down the Wall. No guns, no tanks, no bombs. People on both sides had decided the wall was no longer needed, and no one could stop them.
One Wall down. How many more to go?