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Memories – "I thought they took this down?"

November 9, 2009

This week is one that marks a pretty historic event – one which, for better or worse – I only really know about from news and history books, considering I was only about 3 years old the day the wall ‘fell.’ As news-media, historians, and the general public around the world consider what the historic implications of this event have been and might yet still be, I find myself thinking back to my own experience with an impossibly large wall – one that snakes it’s way through the neighborhoods of Belfast, Northern Ireland.

It was my first big trip abroad and I had been in Ireland for 3 weeks before traveling north. I can remember getting off the bus, standing in front of the wall, and instantly thinking – “I thought they took this down?” That moment and the weeks that followed likely set me on the path I find myself on today – and yet those walls still stand as constant reminders of past pain, triumph, security, conflict, and in some places community. So when is it the right time to consider taking down a wall? I have often thought, with the understanding that I am most certainly an outsider, that taking these physical walls down would help in the gradual healing of nations and peoples. Interesting that on this 20th anniversary of the ‘fall’ of the Berlin Wall, this article appeared in the Belfast Telegraph about young people in Northern Ireland’s capitol city and their thoughts on the ‘interface/peace’ walls.

In my limited experience, I have come to feel that while such walls might initially serve the purpose of tempering the direct threat of violence and therefore bringing about a sort of ‘negative peace,’ such walls do not in the end serve the purpose of producing a ‘positive peace’ but rather hamper people’s abilities to access each other and learn from their collective pains and histories.

Having shared this memory of a place quite important to me, I’d invite others to share their thoughts and stories on peace and walls and how/if they ever work together. Berlin and Belfast are certainly not the only places where walls of some sort have or still exist – so share your thoughts.

In peace,

~Rachael

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