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Wednesday 16 June 2021
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You Are Here

Map of where the former Berlin Wall stood at the Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Strasse.

You are here. The sentence you see in bold letters next to a dot or pin shape on maps at rest stops, historical attraction city streets and airports.And in today’s world on our phones; the arrow on the Google map showing you in real time exactly where you are and where you have been.Rerouting you when you make a wrong turn.So much subtext in those syllables and symbols.You are here.But am I?Sometimes my mind is far away bushwhacking through a jungle of the past and future.Because being here means you can’t be there.These signs and arrows in their wise simplicity  point me back to my feet on the ground.

Being here means we must let go of where we have been and the longing for where we want to be.Sometimes it means being in an uncomfortable, confusing and uncertain place.It means we have to face exactly what is in front of us ranging from the frustrating to the terrifying.A global pandemic, shitty weather, heart break, lost wallets, world conflicts, a job you hate, illness a broken down car.The list goes on.And even when things are wonderful when the view is great or someone is kissing us, we know it will change.Our lives are a short but ever shifting journey, and we don’t even know the final destination.

I was thinking of all this on a cold rainy December day in Berlin in 2017 when my old college friend Stephan who grew up in East Germany and with whom I had reconnected with after 20 year years were visiting the Berlin Memorial Wall on Bernauer Strasse, an outdoor exhibit of where the Berlin wall had divided the city.We followed a succession of signs that outlined where the wall was and photos what you would have seen during that period.Each sign had a dotted path on the bottom with a red arrow saying “You are here.” Yes I am I thought.On this freezing day in December with someone I had not seen in over two decades experiencing the weight of time and a painful, brutal history curated in front of me.My mind leapt from the larger contemplation of world history to my personal history of why I had it taken me so long to get here.I studied German in college and planned to move to the country for awhile.I had fantasies I would translate German poetry and write about art between the wars.I made a different turn and went to southern California.Stephan returned to Germany.  We wrote some letters for awhile in the late nineties and then our lives drifted apart.We lost touch until I did detective work to find his email and sent him a message few years ago, nostalgically remembering our debates about capitalism and communism in the dim light of Hemingways Cafe ion the campus of the University of Pittsburgh.

Remnants of the Berlin Wall that divided the city at the Berlin wall Memorial on Bernauer Strasse.

But here I was now in Berlin, and instead of embracing this happy reconnection with my friend, my mind was not even there.I felt that nagging human wistfulness start emerging.It pained me that I could not speak German or any foreign language well that had always been a goal of mine.What would my life have look like had I packed up and come here after college?But there is that the sign staring at me reminding me I am  here with my friend now.I am still alive to feel the bone chilling rain, to read the descriptions of what happened to other people who were here under very different, terrible circumstances and who still had to live and love and find meaning.

What is here is always changing.Someone had spray painted the bottom of a sign and now it is fading. The grass grows and needs to be cut.The sidewalk we are walking on will need repair.Businesses will come and go.Unknown forces may knock cities and help them rise up again.Being in cities like Berlin one feels the weight of that.A city once divided now mended again.

It’s terrifying to be here with all the unknown that our religions, philosophies and even science can’t completely explain. They are guides not definitive answers.For me that phrase or that visual arrow on the phone or sign is a reminder to live in the fullness of time and place.It doesn’t matter where you have been or haven’t been.This challenges you to forget your ideas of the perfect path leading to that perfect life you were trying to reach.The sign dares you to live beyond stability and certainty.It invites you into the sacredness of uncertainty that draws you closer to the world, to others and to your own valuable heart.




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