West side of the Berlin Wall, at the Newseum, Washington DC, 2011

The Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and I missed it. I was studying in Tübingen, (West) Germany, at the time so you’d think I would have been well positioned on November 9 when Günter Schabowski from the East German politburo announced that the border was open. So what do you think I did when I heard my landlord shout from the living room that his wife and I should come quickly to the TV, that history was being made? I ignored him. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to him, and what I did hear, I didn’t really believe would last. His wife and I continued our conversation in an adjacent room and the wall came down without us.

Of course, over the days following, I realized that the events of November 9 were real and would likely have lasting effect. I quickly caught up to and immersed myself in the occurrences of those weeks and months. Soon thereafter, I went to Berlin, where I crossed the border several times myself with only perfunctory checks by the nonplussed guards. I smuggled out East German marks and brought home my own piece of the wall.

I heard a saying recently that fits this situation perfectly: be open to the moment. That night in Tübingen, I had closed myself off from possibility and let history slide by. It wasn’t until much later in my life that I understood that my lack of participation that night could teach me a greater lesson. I can’t let myself get so wrapped up in my plans or my current activity that I miss an opportunity of greater value. These opportunities can be big or small. They can be at work or at home. The important thing is that I remember to look around once in a while and be open to the moment.

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