In 1987 Ronald Reagan stood at the infamous Berlin wall and said, “Mr.Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” That, of course, is precisely what Gorbachev had set out to do. As president of the Soviet Union he introduced perestroika and glasnost: openness and candor.
My brother Bill, a Russian language and literature scholar, studied at the University of Moscow during the dark days of the late 50’s. He taught Russian language and took groups of students to the Soviet Union annually for many years. I remember his excitement when a man named Mikhail Gorbachev inserted himself into the political scene. Before I, or most Americans, had heard of Gorbachev, Bill told me, “This man is going to bring astounding changes-he’s going to liberate the Russian people.”
Ronald Reagan won the Presidency in 1980. Perfect timing. Reagan, who called the Soviet Union, “The evil empire,” met Gorbachev in Geneva in 1985, and he knew that this was a new kind of Russian leader. Gorbachev was determined to tear down the cold war wall we called the iron curtain with its massive nuclear arms buildup.
Now President Reagan’s beloved wife Nancy, grandam of the Republican party, is insisting on the medical world’s brand of glasnost. Taking her cue from her husband, who was stranded behind the glass wall called Alzheimer’s, she is standing up to the current president and saying, “Mr. Bush, tear down this wall! Let science in! Stop preventing progress toward a cure for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, heart disease, diabetes and spinal cord injuries.”
New meanings emerge from Frost’s poem: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”
There’s nothing like personal experience to create a conversion and bring about a climate of compassion. The national two-week long memorial service for Ronald Reagan gives permission to the people who craft language to say nice things about him: he was an optimist who sat in the tempestuous waters like the famous duck who ‘can rest while the Atlantic heaves because he rests in it…he eases himself into it just where it touches him.’
Embryonic stem-cell research has become a victim in the religious war that is being waged in this country. Stem cells are taken from blastocysts-the initial stage of the joining of a sperm and egg. In humans the first eight weeks of development is called the embryonic stage. Blastocysts can fit on the head of a pin, reminding us of the old theological conundrum: how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Stem cells are the dancing angels of our time who hold the hope and promise for the millions who suffer.
Cruelly, most stem cells are discarded by fertility clinics, destroying the hope they hold. It’s a tragic irony that these angels are kept out by people who call themselves pro-life. Now Nancy knows about that cruel paradox. She longs to leave a wonderful legacy to her husband by convincing her Republican friends-Bush, Frist and company, to tear down that wall! God, who comes alive in human compassion, help her.