Each anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall is a bit embarrassing for me. Everyone is supposed to remember where they were when the Wall came down, but I don’t. Thousands of East Germans came streaming into the West, and I didn’t notice. I didn’t realize anything had happened until two weeks later, when I saw it mentioned in passing in the Daily Universe.
In my defense, let me add that I was a freshman at BYU that fall. The Internet at the time was kept inside a closet in the engineering building, I didn’t have a TV, and I was dependent on the campus newspaper for national and international news. (“I clipped dozens of articles about the Wall from the Daily Universe,” my wife tells me now, so I can’t blame it for my ignorance.)
Also, while the Iron Curtain crumbled, I was preoccupied with a tempestuous relationship. I won’t kiss and tell, mostly because there was no kissing involved. But the tempestuousness of this relationship should not be underestimated! The tempest had to be all the stronger to compensate for its limitation to my side of the relationship. And let me tell you, it was tempestuous indeed! The whole affair played out in plain sight of my future wife, who found it quite amusing. (She promised herself at the time that whatever happened, she would never, ever get involved with me.)
So I just wasn’t paying attention when the Wall came down, even though I thought of myself as a well-read and informed person. Besides, when would I ever need to worry about Germany? (About eight months later, actually.) And even if I did, I already spoke German. (I didn’t.) And it’s not like distant events had any relevance to my future life as a mechanical engineer. (Oops.)
But mostly I missed the Fall of the Wall because I was a freshman too busy trying to figure out life as a university student to take any notice of the world beyond campus. Suddenly I found myself invested in people and activities whose existence was unknown to me just a few months previously, and watching intellectual vistas open up at the same time that an imminent mission made it unnecessary to think about their consequences. While college is often a time apart for students to re-invent themselves without obligation of continuity to their past life or allegiance to a future career, a BYU freshman year before leaving on a mission can resemble a bad collision between the monastic life and MMORPG aesthetics. (Also, fashion choices are questionable, and clerics can only use blunt weapons.)
November 9 is not a bad day, I think, to remember all the people who were distracted while history was happening, and ultimately surprised by the course it took.