1990 was a big year for me. It let me see what was possible.
It was the year after the Berlin Wall came down. And the fall of the wall made all the difference in the world.
[picapp src=”2/b/9/7/Germany_To_Mark_6c63.jpg?adImageId=7420051&imageId=6401834″ width=”500″ height=”333″ /] It was so ironic… and so unexpected to me. I had lived in western Europe (before the wall fell) in the mid 1980’s, and if there was one virtually undisputable, unassailable “fact” of life, it was that the East and West were permanently divided. Germany would never reunite. Both sides distrusted and disliked each other far too much to ever get together again. After all, they had a wall right through the heart of their nation.
So, when I heard that the Wall was coming down, I was flabbergasted. I could hardly conceive of it. How was it possible?! It wasn’t! What was going on?! How could this be?!
I puzzled and puzzled over it for days and weeks and months… hardly able to get my head around it. But in the end, there it was — the Berlin Wall had fallen. Germany was reuniting. It was the end of an old order that had utterly failed to live up to its dread promise.
And I began to think. In the last weeks of 1989, when my life was in a shambles, and I was more keenly aware, with each passing day, how skewed my path had become… in those final weeks of that year, as I contemplated the fall of the wall, I began to seriously question the other “absolutes” of my life that I — and everyone around me treated like divinely ordained directives.
I began to think that maybe, just maybe, I could extricate myself from the bad domestic situation I was in. I began to think that maybe, just maybe, I could do more with my life than I had, up to that point. I began to think that maybe, just maybe, I did NOT have to live as a dependent on another person who controlled all the money and time and activities and told me what I should and should not do with my life. I began to think… to believe that radical, life-transforming change was indeed possible, and I didn’t need to accept “inevitable truths” about my life.
I began to hope.
And I began to change. Over the course of 1990, I changed my activities, I changed my friends, I changed my job. I changed my living arrangement, stepping out onto cold, cold inner city streets with just a duffel bag of clothes, and heading to the home of an acquaintance who’d offered me their couch, in case I needed to step away from that life. I had seen that the Germans had done the “impossible”… the “unthinkable”… and lived to not only tell the tale, but celebrate it, as well.
I changed. First, I changed my choices, then I changed my actions. Then I changed my exoectations, and the results of these changes started to show up. It didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t the easiest thing in the world, but I’ve never been afraid of hard work, and I knew in my heart it was bound to pay off.
And it did.
I’m presently reading The Art of Possibility by Ben and Rosamund Zander. I tried reading it, 3-4 years ago, but I found it hard to digest. I also found some of the content somewhat academic and mildly annoying. But I think I was too focused on the idea that I had to pick up every single point they were making, and that over-attention to too many details threw me off.
Now, I’m just sort of skimming my way through, letting my eye catch different pices. I may not “get” the whole message, but it’s a lot more enjoyable, this time around. And I’m actually reading, which is a huge thing.
Thinking back over my life, there are a whole lot of years I spent living with my own version of a Berlin Wall running through my heart. Not knowing why I was doing the things I was, why I couldn’t manage to complete things I started, not understanding why I was having so many difficulties, led me to section off pieces of my life from the view of others. I screwed up so many interpersonal interactions, I failed at so many different activities, and yes, I had such a hard time, on and off, finishing reading what I’d started — and understanding what I did manage to read — that I figured the only way to keep viable in the world was to hide those parts of me away. To wall them off and not let the rest of the world in. I was a mix of bravado and intermittently crescendo’ing anxiety, and there were large parts of me that others had no idea were there. How could they know? I had walled them off, because I didn’t understand that the difficulties I was having were because of my neurology, not because of my innate nature.
Now, 20 years after the Berlin Wall came down, I am again thinking about the aspects of my life that mimicked that wall. I am thinking about the parts of me that have made me (and others) nervous for a very, very long time. And I am thinking about how to (re)incorporate them into my life. Now that I understand the true nature of my issues, I can go about addressing them. Now that I know that my most persistent difficulties are NOT a result of a flawed character or “sin”, I can approach them as logistical challenges, as learning experiences, rather than sources of shame and disgrace.
When I do this — when I take down the wall and look at what’s behind it, with an eye that is both accepting and inquisitive… and critical in the most positive sense — I transform my difficulties from burdens to teachers. In the Give Back Orlando material, they talk about how your Head Injured Moments are like gold — full of value for study and examination and learning.
When I first read that, I thought they were crazy, but now I see that the difference between my difficulties being burdens or bonuses, is how I approach them. If I stand off at a distance and keep the wall up, they become threatening and ominous… dark shadows that threaten the very fiber of my existence. But if I engage with them, if I take down the wall and let in the light of day, and I eagerly accept them as teachers, instead of dread skeletons in my closet, they become the compost that feeds the garden of my life. They’re the stuff that makes up fertile ground for future growth — and many, many abundant harvests.
As Thanksgiving approaches, I am deeply grateful for all that life has brought me. There has been plenty of pain and suffering, but there’s also been incredible joy and delight. And as I think back on the changes I went through, 20 years ago, I think about that Berlin Wall, how suddenly and unexpectedly it came down, and I think about how that sort of sudden, dramatic, positive, life-altering change can — and has — and will — take place in my own life.