Yesterday morning I went for a run and passed a wall freshly covered with graffiti. I was initially annoyed, but then the graffiti stirred a memory of a book I had purchased years ago that I had not thought about for a while. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, I purchased The Writings on the Wall, which came with an actual piece of the wall as part of the boxed book set. I confess buying the book for the chunk of cement with a little paint on it, wanting that piece of history, but I ended up being really moved by the book itself. I decided to peruse it again.
The book is a collection of photographs depicting graffiti art painted on the wall. It also includes photographs of the wall being demolished. These stunning pictures are interspersed with quotes from writers, activists, thinkers, and politicians, all promoting concepts of peace and unity. It’s impossible to look through this book without feeling inspired and hopeful.
Unfortunately, history has a nasty way of repeating itself. I can’t help thinking about the walls we are constructing today, whether it is to keep out immigrants, or to give us a false sense of security in our walled and gated communities, or whether they are the social barriers erected to keep us separated from those who are different. The types of walls may vary, but the resulting division is always the same.
The idealist in me hopes that someday we will abolish the walls we’ve created. It could happen, if we are able to let go of the “us and them” mentality that seems so prevalent nowadays. On that note, let me quote the opening paragraphs from Tillman’s book. Hopefully the words will help inspire us to “love our diversity.”
Before it began to be dismantled, the Berlin Wall was approximately one hundred and five miles long encircling the city. About forty five miles of the Wall was built of concrete. During several visits I walked or rode a bicycle along thirty of those miles and I was never out of site of graffiti. The graffiti were only on the West Berlin side of the Wall. In many places the graffiti is many layers deep. And most of it is only visible for a short time (often just a few days) because it is painted over by the next artist. The writing on the Wall seems to appear mysteriously. During the more than two hundred hours I spent near the Wall over fifteen days, I did not once see anyone painting on the Wall.
The message and experience of the writing on the Berlin Wall is strangely uplifting. It is a touching chronicle of human creativity, determination, hope, and unity. It seemed inevitable that the Wall would eventually come down. The graffiti prophesied that—literally the writing was on the wall. And the opening of the Wall is more than just the removal of a physical barrier and division. It is a joining, coming together of human consciousness. A new unity that is only possible when we love our diversity.