Tuesday, November 3, 2009

November 9, 1989

Thank you, Leon de Haan, wherever you are.

Back in 1989, I wasn't the brightest guy in the world -- but at 17, who is. But I should have been. After all, Dad survived World War II as a civilian in Holland, just young enough not to be of interest to the work conscription parties. He never did talk much about what he saw, but World War II was a constant theme in our house. If foul weather made working outside with the family bricklaying company nasty, he'd always comment that what we were doing was a lot better than what happened "to those poor devils at the Russian front." What food we had was better than what they had during the war. And on. And on.

We agreed, but in that half-assed teenager way that causes one to agree with what your parents say just to jolly them along, I suppose. Youth knows callowness, after all.

But no Nov. 9, 1989, and in the days beyond, maybe a little bit of that callowness went away. Thanks to Leon.

Leon was an exchange student from The Netherlands living with us. When reports of the fall of the Berlin Wall came in on the television, he insisted we tape record them. "This is historical, this is historical," I remember him repeating. And it was. Though blind me did not recognize it much at the time.

Now I do.

Watching these videos gives me chills:

As does this one, when I hear that famous line:

And this one, that perhaps gave folks in Eastern Europe what J.R.R. Tolkein called "hope without guarantees":

People want to be free. And when a door opens, they take it, consequences be damned. That would be a good thing to keep in mind considering our current debates on freedom, including some on which I've commented here maybe not in the best, free light. But I won't comment on those, not today.

Freedom, we've seen, doesn't bring an end to struggle. Though we have seen democracy flourish in Eastern Europe, the shadow of the Cold War still exists, though faded. Mankind produces more ugliness that besmirches the victories. But always, there are people wanting freedom. I pray we find it. We still have that hope without guarantees, but at least we have hope.

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