Monday, 9 November 2009

Living In Different Worlds

Time, place. Experience. Sometimes its the seismic events of history that make me wonder if I really am of this world. Sometimes major events come and go and don't really affect me directly as much as I think it should.

There has been 2 huge historical events that have taken place in my lifetime. I wasn't born when man first stepped on the moon but I do remember the late evening tv pictures of 9th of November 1989. The fall of the Wall wasn't that spectacular. All you saw was a bunch of leather jacketed Berliners attacking reinforced concrete - mostly with hammers, with little success (although I bet you can buy those chippings on Ebay today). Nobody died, as far I remember. A lot of people got drunk, and stoned (d'oh bad pun). The wall itself wasn't an impressive structure. It wasn't even particular tall or especially forbidding. Its real power lay in the killing ground of mines, dog runs and razor wire behind it.

The concrete barrier was always more symbolic than anything else. It didn't matter that none of the crowds of scrambling people could do much damage to it without the help of some heavy equipment. What mattered was that they were climbing all over it, and hitting it ineffectually without getting machine gunned to oblivion. As a sudden and surprising symbol of hope and optimism and moment of time representing changing times those watching it could ask for no more. Those little hammers that couldn't do much damage to concrete had somehow on that night managed to put an end to an age of idiocy. A 40 year threat of worldwide nuclear holocaust seemed to evaporate that night.

I remember watching those tv pictures. I remember the hope and joy. But at the end of the day it didn't really affect me in the way I thought it would go on to. I was too young at the time. Too young perhaps to feel threatened by a possible looming Armageddon. It didn't feel real enough. I have never lived in a communist country, so I didn't feel get to feel any restrictions being lifted. The closest I've been to living in a divided city was in Glasgow on the day of Celtic - Rangers game, hardly the same thing.

So when the Wall fell I just went on living my life pretty much as I always had, albeit in a Europe with the map redrawn.

A dozen years went by from the day of the fall of the Wall before something as big happened again. This time it wasn't a chilly November night that brought hope but a bright September morning that brought shock and fear. The planes crashing into the Twin Towers in 2001 was just as unbelievable as the pictures of men clambering on the Wall with arms aloft.

For a while on that terrible Tuesday I was even afraid. I was in Scotland that day, but my mother had went abroad for the first time in her life that weekend. She was visiting her best friend who had moved to New York over 20 years previously. She had called me on Sunday from New York and had told me that she was going to visit the Towers on the upcoming Saturday. When I saw those aeroplanes crashing into the Tower my first thought was that maybe she had decided to change that day trip and brought it forward by a few days. The panic that came over me was horrible. I had no telephone number for where she was staying and couldn't get in touch with her. But whereas the whole world seemed to know what had happened that day, she was resting at her friend's holiday home situated on the banks of the Finger Lakes with no tv, no telephone or radio completely unaware what was happening just miles away. When she finally did get to hear of it and get a chance to call me my panic was replaced with a selfish relief.

After that although al-Qaida had attacked the USA I didn't think that I was personally living in a more dangerous world. I had lived in the UK when the IRA had bombed buildings in a regular basis. I wasn't one of those soldiers who had to go to War. I wasn't one of the grieving parents who had to suffer when their son was brought home in a box. I didn't believe in the war in Iraq but neither was I one of those who marched in the streets against it because I ultimately knew it wouldn't change the politicians minds. I didn't feel threatened by Muslims. There have always been extremists of one kind or another, and none of them have ever really affected my life directly.

When I remember the pictures of the Wall falling I remember happy times, I would have loved to have there that night but ultimately I wasn't, perhaps as a result I don't really feel that they had as a powerful effect on my life that it could and should have.

Strangely, as big as the fall of the Wall and the fall of the Twin Towers were as moments of the history of our time, it was the probably the collapse of the banks and markets beginning on September 2008 that had a bigger more direct impact on my life. Is that selfish? Do I really need to be a part of something to feel it? Am I really part of this thing we call the human race?

Listening to: Call Me Anytime - The Cops

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