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MEANDERINGS: ON A FALLEN WALL AND STEPPING BEYOND OLD IDENTITIES

Sally's Apartment. Berlin. In the evening we go out for a while. Tomorrow we will be leaving for Czechoslovakia, so this is a brief chance to see a bit of the city. We decide to take a short drive and look at where the wall was at Brandenburg Gate.

As we go down the elevator, Andrew pushes the buttons so it stops on all floors and then races down the stairs to beat us to the bottom. Everyone is hungry. I need to resolve that. Should we get a snack from the pizza place across the street or some roasted chicken from the Greek cafe the other way?Something very intense is going on with me on a personal level. Who are these seven people with me? I'm swimming in confusion I've never felt before. Making decisions feels very uncomfortable, yet an inner urge keeps pushing me to control the situation, to make everything work out perfect. I feel uncomfortable . . . immersed in a conscious quietness, stepping back, trying to let go.

These other people suddenly seem too profoundly separate. I don't know quite how to deal with it.

We park the van under trees near Brandenburg Gate and walk over the cobble plaza. Decorative streetlights throw my shadow several directions at once. I almost cannot assimilate these people with me. No longer my children, they struggle for identity. Or is it just me struggling to step out of an identity?

The gate is bathed in a yellow light. We pass through one of its massive arches . . . a feat impossible a year and a half ago. The few people who pass, I can tell, are not speaking in tones of awe about profound changes, but more of little personal daily things.

On the East Berlin side, souvenir sellers have set up their wares: chips of the wall at 10 marks apiece, Soviet Army hats and jackets, and matchbox toy models of Trabants - the little cars that became so familiar when East Germans first began driving them across the border.

We look for where the wall had been. There is little left to indicate it was ever here, just a seam of concrete on a crown of asphalt that we touch with a toe.

We will see sections of the wall from time to time over the next two weeks, but nothing consistent. What is left is covered with graffiti, like slabs of scribbling from a giant kindergarten placed at random around the city. Here and there we see an abandoned watchtower, a row of light poles or a strip of bare land not yet replanted. Only when you look at an old map is there any continuity to it.

Suddenly, out of the dark, the starkest reminders of the wall appear: several white crosses cut from wood and sheet metal with names of people and dates - dates when each died trying to pass over the wall at this point.

Across the river, a Metro train passes, its window a blur of yellow squares reflected on the water. Sally says the Metros of the two sides have already been connected into one system, a fragile artery, re-attaching the bruised tissue of a new Berlin.

Back at the apartment I lie on the fold-out sofa and listen to the night traffic. Who is this woman lying beside me? And the people lying about me on the floor in sleeping bags? And in the next room, the three people crowded into Sally's cardboard bed watching German television?

Whose toothbrushes are clustered on a temporary corner of the bathroom wash basin? Whose face in the mirror with gray hair curling around the frames of his glasses?

Somehow, I feel him moving out of a place he held too long, where he tried to be responsible for everybody. The voices have become too individual not to see it. Somehow, during this trip I must go through a private ritual of stepping aside, of letting go.

I search through the dark with my hand for a touch of warmth. I feel so helpless and afraid of passage. A hand reaches over and covers my own, a message without speaking. We have been in this thing together 27 years, too long not to know when something is being said.

Something about this strange passage is similar for both of us. Something about our relationship is struggling for birth, something beyond the role of parent or lover, something deeper and less dangerous, something that has a ring about it of just holding on, and not trying to figure things out.

A new generation is demanding its own space. And though, for me, there is a tone of desperation in it, there is also something about it that speaks reassuringly of acceptance and liberation, of just letting things be the way they are and being all right with that.