A Most Significant Rock


This side of the Berlin Wall was free. Free people were at liberty to deface it as they wished.

I like stuff. At some point my poor kids will have to sort through all my junk. They’ll have a massive yard sale and call in an auction company for the gun collection. Ideally a bunch of up-and-coming gun nerds will be very happy and my family will take a big trip to Australia or someplace similar to celebrate my passing.

It has gone by several names. Tangible atmosphere, priceless collectibles, cool-guy stuff, and the ever-popular Will crap are but a few. My extensive collection of junk fractionates into several tiers.

At the bottom is drink huggies with cool logos, accumulated 1970s-vintage gun magazines, or rechargeable stuff for which I cannot locate the power cords. This is nothing more than rank garbage. It is simply that I lack the personal discipline to just throw it away. On the other end, however, is the proper swag.

If the bottom ever falls out of the gun-writing gig and people suddenly stop abusing their bodies such that the modern practice of medicine is no longer a thing I would obviously begin the Great Liquidation sometime prior to my demise. I’d put the huggies, gun magazines, and derelict electronic gear on eBay and hope for the best. There are a few precious items, however, that they will have to pry out of my cold, dead hands.

One of those holy relics is the Yankee cannonball my dad and I deactivated one sultry afternoon at the base of the Mississippi River levee. As father-son projects go, that was one for the books. You can find the details here.

Another is the plexiglass grip my wife’s grandfather made from a downed German Fiesler Storch observation plane during World War II. The great man affixed that grip on the Colt M1911A1 pistol he carried in combat across North Africa, Sicily, and Italy. Throughout it all a photograph of his beaming bride kept him company in the dark places. That rig rides on a proper 1943-vintage Colt pistol today. I’ll literally never let that go.

One of the other priceless artifacts in the Will Dabbs military museum is just a rock — concrete, actually. It’s about the size of my fist. The quality is suboptimal — you can scrape bits loose with your fingernail — but that otherwise unremarkable piece of masonry embodies so much more. There is freedom in that old nasty rock.

It’s about four inches thick with two opposing flat sides. One facet is whitewashed and drab. The other is spraypainted a brilliant red and blue. This random chunk of cheap concrete was beaten loose by some nameless reveler with a sledgehammer. This is my own personal piece of the Berlin Wall.

Ours is such a hopelessly confused generation. We so vociferously gripe about the many-splendored warts adorning this grand American experiment. In so doing, we fail to appreciate both context and relativity.

his side of the Berlin Wall was enslaved. Anyone daring to approach had to brave
minefields and machineguns. There is some deep truth embedded in this crumbly old rock.

The Berlin Wall went into service in 1961. The bit separating East from West Berlin was 27 miles long. Each segment was just under twelve feet tall. What made this wall different from so many others was its mission. Most walls are designed to keep people and animals out. This one was intended to keep people in.

The Berlin Wall was part of an ideological cage. It was the physical demarcation between communism and freedom. The practical manifestations of that reality are obvious on the artifact. The white side is drab and dead. If anybody molested that side they were shot. The colorful side, by contrast, was chaotic and vibrant. People on that side of the wall were free to vent their spleens with Krylon any time they wished. The difference between the two competing ideologies simply couldn’t be more stark.

The communists had little patience with those attempting to flee their worker’s paradise. Between 1961 and 1989 at least 140 people lost their lives attempting just that. If you had the audacity to try to leave, they just gunned you down. There was no trial or undue fuss. It didn’t matter if you had a weapon or behaved in a threatening fashion. The youngest was a one-year-old toddler. The oldest was a 90-year-old grandmother. Say what you will about America, that doesn’t happen here.

Sometimes when I’m feeling sorry for myself I like to just fondle that cheap piece of communist concrete. I’ll hold it up to the light, rotate it in my hands, and appreciate it from various angles. The simple act of studying that thing usually helps put my problems in perspective. Freedom is a most precious thing purchased at enormous price. Sometimes you even can find it in a rock.

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