5 World Views Shaped by Sesame Street and the Berlin Wall

Oh, I saw you by the wall
Ten of your tin soldiers in a row.
–from Elton John and Nikita

{{Potd/2005-08-13 (en)}}In the last two days, Generation X has observed the anniversaries of two important events that contributed to both our individual and collective world views. Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and today, we mark the 40th anniversary of Seasame Street, which was created specifically for Gen Xers.

Both Sesame Street and the Berlin Wall (it’s existence and demise) helped create the framework for many of my beliefs and ideas. Both helped me interpret the world around me, and here are five examples.

Perhaps the biggest misconception I had about life was that man was basically good and people, by nature, are glad when good things happen for others. It took me a very long time to come to terms with the reality of the contrary. In fact, I think I still struggle with it.

I mostly remember watching Sesame Street in our house on London Lane in Colorado Springs. I was absolutely convinced Big Bird loved me, and he was my favorite character on the show. I trusted him. I took his kindness at face value, and I thought he’d do anything for me, not because I was wonderful, but because he was wonderful. On any day of the week, I would have folded myself right into his great big yellow feathers.

Life was full of rich experiences on what the L.A. Times calls the “down-in-the-heels” neighborhood of Sesame Street. I thought if lived near brownstones and busy streets, my life would be more exciting. My affection for the urban landscape, and specifically my own urban residence, can probably be traced to the show. On those urban streets, people came alive with dance, music, math and the alphabet. I loved the diversity and it planted seeds of desire in me, that I would one day live in a place where the people didn’t all look the same. London Lane wasn’t even remotely as interesting, diverse or exciting as Sesame Street, and as such I have absolutely winced at the thought of a suburban existence.

I love food. I’ve been reaching for it to make everything better my entire life, especially cookies! I wrote about dieting and weight more than a year ago. Here is that post. And, it goes without saying that every kid fantasized about stuffing cookies in their face like Cookie Monster. Some childhood fantasies are worth living out as an adult. Someone pass me the Chips Ahoy.

As a kid, I really thought I could befriend Oscar the Grouch. I just knew that if I lived on Sesame Street, I could love away his meanness. Did you think that, too? But, alas, my exposure to mean people during adulthood has led me to adopt a different world view: MEAN PEOPLE SHOULD LIVE IN TRASH CANS. That way, when we are breezing unsuspecting through life and we come across someone peeping their head out from underneath a silver metal lid, we can just say to ourselves, “Well, my, there’s a mean person. I should just keep. on. walking.”

The year I turned 11, I got a pen pal with whom I exchanged letters for several years. Her name was Helga Hosch and she lived in Oberfellendorf, a tiny hamlet in West Germany. I was young and impressionable and worried that somehow Helga might accidentally slip through the Berlin Wall and never, ever write me another letter again. But, we grow older and we lose touch with people, and before you know it, Elton John‘s Nikita video doesn’t make you cry anymore. Raisa and Mikhail are shopping for fashion on the streets of New York City, and the Berlin Wall is crumbling down. Today, Helga is probably a doctor in the enclave that was once surrounded by an iron curtain.

In 10 years time, I went from worrying that my German pen pal would be entombed alive and forever behind the Berlin Wall to buying a piece of it at Foley’s Department Store in Oklahoma City one Christmas Eve. Life is so unpredictable. I try to live as Li Young Le wrote, as if death were nowhere in the background. Life is a new gift each new day, and what of tomorrow, and this gift is not mine?

Happy birthday, Sesame Street. And, Helga Hosch, I think you owe me a letter.


  1. says

    @KRISTIN. T – Thank you for your comment. I never thought about that being the definition of grace, but you’re right! When I saw your name and profile pic I knew from reading your blog that the you shared my feelings about neighborhoods. I, too, spent formative years in rural communities. They don’t seem nearly as distant from urbia than suburbia. Maybe the urban landscape we love so much has, ironically, the feeling of community.

    @KIWIMOMMY – Thank you!

    @ANDI – I think Lord of the Flies ruined me. I had to read it when I was 17 and a freshman in college. I was the only person in my class who though man was basically good. I love that you think people are good. Maybe you’re right. I’m serious! Maybe I’m getting old and jaded. =/

    @ALICE – Thanks for that link. I’ll check it out.

    @LE – Which part – the mean people in trash cans. hahahahahahaha!!!

  2. says

    Great post and great lessons. One thing though, people may call me naive, and I often do get a reality-check, but I still believe people are inherently good. There have been some recent news story lately in the nation and locally in the SF Bay area that have made me question my beliefs, but I still hold firm to the fact that people are good.

  3. says

    What a great post, Jen! So much to think about, and so many rich images and memories to conjure.

    I especially like what you said about Big Bird: “I took his kindness at face value, and I thought he’d do anything for me, not because I was wonderful, but because he was wonderful.” (I think that’s what we call “grace,” isn’t it? :)

    I also can really relate to your feelings about urban neighborhoods. The first five years of my life, when Sesame Street was watched every day in my house (first by my older brother, eventually joined by me), we lived near downtown Lansing, MI. It was very urban, and very diverse. Then my dad got a teaching job in a small town 20 miles away, so we moved and I became a small town girl. My entire adult life has been rooted in neighborhoods with that urban feel, sometimes with a splash of small town thrown in. I never thought about how Sesame Street might have influenced my love for neighborhood and community.

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