Police in Hamburg, Germany block an entrance to a building that activists wanted to make a center to welcome refugees in 2014.
Oddly enough, about every two decades or so, I have found myself right in the middle of a moment of historic proportions. The first time I drove into Memphis, headed to new job and apartment, right past the Lorraine Motel early on the evening of April 4, 1968. All around me was pandemonium. For the next week, as the nation mourned the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the city was shut down and armored personnel carriers patrolled the street outside my window.
Twenty-three years later in the third week of August 1991, I found myself walking through the streets of Moscow, as the Soviet Union was disintegrating before my eyes. Blood still stained the pavement where several men had been killed by tanks as hardline Communists unsuccessfully tried to carry out a coup against reformer Mikhail Gorbachev. One of the many memorable moments of that trip was seeing a Soviet General in full-dress uniform with a chest of medals, sprawled dead drunk on the filthy floor of the Moscow subway, his otherwise neat tie askew and life as he had known it over.
So another 24 years later – in May, my wife and I found ourselves in yet another incident of momentous import. And it can tell us something about our moment now in Seattle.
We were on a train from Verona to Munich, in order to fly back to Seattle after spending a full month in the bucolic Italian countryside. Everyone on the train was oohing and aahhing at the magnificent Alps, topped with snow and dotted with enormous castles and tiny villages.
The train came to a stop at the last hamlet near the Italian border with Austria. Within minutes, hundreds of people boarded the train and hunkered down on every available seat. Into our compartment walked a mother with two children – a girl around 10 or 12 and a boy around 3. As we soon found out, all of them were various refugee families that were desperately headed for Germany, one of two countries in the European Union that would theoretically grant them asylum.