Zen Spot #45 — Mindfulness, meditation and the legend of Checkpoint Charlie February 7, 2018 00:05

Child of the Cold War

I’ve learned not to tell my children about the past. Never discuss a building that covers a cornfield from my youth. Refuse to remark of the fistfights found at the 700 level in Veterans Stadium. Avoid tales of Warlocks thundering into the center of West Chester while their brother was on trial. Reject a comparison of the price of a candy bar, then and now.

Lobbing ICBMs

A radio documentary aired in 2005 described an evening in 1974 when warheads were close to being launched over the North Pole. At the time, I was oblivious. As reported, the rest of the population, even adults, was just as unknowing.

I forget why.

I was aware of a wall

It separated people in a funny way. On one side, life was lived in full color, with food and heat. On the other side, life was lived in black and white. Mostly black. Maybe dark grey. Cold. Tattered. People wanting to climb over.

My father explained the need for desperate hungry beings to dig tunnels. Like prison. He offered legends of people building improvised ramps to jump cars across.

He never explained no man’s land

I opened a National Geographic and saw pictures of the eighty-yard gap between the tangle of barbwire on the eastern side and the base of the wall on the western side. No man's land. With images of machine guns hovering, spotlights swiveling, voracious dogs waiting and land mines laid, I finally understood why people were trapped.

The story detailed death found by people with wire cutters and improvised ladders. Fuzzy silhouettes running from bullets blasting dirt at their feet.

Checkpoint Charlie

A funnel withered down into a path across the death zone -- just enough for a car to drive through -- with snipers and barriers on both sides. It was the only legal gateway. We could go in to the prison, but they couldn’t come out. 

We and they.

Almost overnight, in 1989, when I was 27, the wall fell. The death zone died. East Berlin was gone. People danced on top of a wall that, just weeks before, would have dripped blood.

Charlie died of cancer.

Johns Hopkins University

My son recently graduated from the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington D.C.

In a very small courtyard, in the front of the college’s main building, a piece of the Berlin Wall is alive and well. Shown above. 

During my first visit, walked by the chunk without notice. Passing by a second time, I noticed, surprised that I hadn’t felt its presence like a soul buzz -- Radio Free Europe broadcast into my dopamine. The visceral feeling I expect to experience when I kiss the ground in Scotland for the first time was notably absent. The light I felt radiating from Where The Wild Things Are as a five year old was elsewhere. More should have happened, but I just walked by a wall. Death on one side, life on the other.

I wanted to tell my son, but he already knew; he’d been walking by it every day for a full year. I wanted to implore him to understand the ICBMs and machine guns and dead people and misunderstanding and grey lives and cheap candy bars and open cornfields.

Find the mindfulness.


About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 DharmaMechanic has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?