According to a program I was watching the other night about chocolate, pirates once seized a ship headed for Spain expecting to find gold or silver in the hold. Instead they found what looked like dried rabbit droppings. They burned the cargo, not realizing that they were burning cocoa beans that were worth their weight in silver back in Spain.
Sometimes I wonder if a stranger coming into my house would recognize one of the most valuable things that I own, which is sitting in plain sight on one my bookshelves.
For Christmas in 1989 I received in the mail a small package from Germany. It came from Elli, a woman who started out as a customer of our mail order business, morphed into a translator of our materials into German, and in the process became a friend.
She sent some wonderful chocolate, a cassette tape of German Christmas carols, and in a small box nestled in cotton, a small piece of concrete painted orange on one side. I was somewhat puzzled by this painted concrete, until I read the note.
A piece of the Berlin Wall.
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the day the Berlin Wall ceased to be an official barrier between East and West Berlin, a prelude to the reunification a year later of the country that had been divided since the close of WW II.
The images of German citizens on the wall celebrating their freedom stick in the mind similar to the image of Nelson Mandela leaving prison in South Africa. They began attacking the wall, and eventually crews came to dismantle it. Not quite as neat and efficient a Joshua marching the Israelites around the walls of Jericho, but to me every bit as much a miracle.
For Elli this piece of concrete had deep symbolic meaning, because it was her country in which history was being made. I was deeply touched that she thought to send it to me.
Since 1989 it has sat on the bookshelf, propped up against my battered collection paperback books.
To the casual eye, just a bit of rubble that likely would quickly be thrown away; for me, a small symbol of freedom of immense value.
Sometimes people are confined by internal prisons of their own making, sometimes they are victimized by external prisons of concrete erected by others; and sometimes--just sometimes--those prisons are dismantled.