I gather my belongings to board a flight to Prague to teach students from the University of New Orleans a class titled Prague Through The Lens. I kiss my daughter, cry as I watch my mother lying on the couch with fractured ribs saying goodbye, and hug my dad as he chokes back tears. I feel guilty for my summers teaching abroad given my mother’s health, leaving my daughter and other responsibilities, but I am entranced by the opportunity to see things anew.
My first day in Prague, I investigate my neighborhood in Mala Strana (Lesser Town) and head to familiar areas from my trip here two years ago. The Lennon Wall is one of those places, and freedom is still the overriding theme of the wall as it was in 1988 for the Czech students that created it as a way to protest the Communist authority. The lyrics of John Lennon’s Imagine, Let It Be, and hopeful graffiti messages irritated the communists enormously. They would white-wash the wall, only to find it again the next day covered in positive messages. The young Czechs elected Lennon a hero pacifist after his death in 1980 because he stood for their ideals of hope, freedom, and peace, both in his lyrics and in his life. Lennon’s unstoppable messaging wall and several other student protests eventually led to the Velvet Revolution (also the Gentle Revolution) in 1989 when the Czechs were freed of the communist regime.
Even now, the wall boasts homages to John Lennon and the Beatles’ music, as well as expressions of gratitude and peace from people all over the world, but it is much different than when I was last in Prague.
I search but can’t find a beautiful drawing I came to love before—a large set of blue eyes with “If they don’t let us dream” written inside them. Business cards, personal photos, Euro rail passes, bus passes, selfies, and personal notes add a textural, three-dimensional element on and around pieces of mirrors that form a heart shape.
Although some messages evoke social media fodder, there are touching sentiments, funny sayings, personal hopeful wishes, and evidence of caring and peaceful souls. I find a young woman’s plea to meet her biological mother, saying that she is okay and has great adoptive parents, but that she misses and loves her. There is a bucket list from someone in Australia who has identified many of my own personal goals of travel and adventure. There are thankful messages to mothers and fathers around the world for their support, and even a plea to administrators to pay teachers more money and for “Jacob” to do something about it. There are quotes from the Bible, Buddha, and Mohammed Ali.
[callout]“Whatever it is that people leave behind on the Lennon Wall, I appreciate the fact that they’ve left something here, that they’ve joined a concrete section of the world to be a part of dialogue about peace, love, friends, family, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and cheese.”[/callout]
I visit the wall almost every other day to find new wisdom and words to live by, plus a good laugh now and then. I ignore the tourists having their pictures made in front of the most colorful portions of the graffiti and the Segways that buzz like flies past for a quick glance to say they saw the wall. It’s very strange, but it takes on a completely different look given your distance from it. Standing back, you see the color, the line, the glistening of glossy paint in the sun and the large-scale images. Upon moving closer, the shapes are gone, but the words and details come into focus. You can see the thickness of layer upon layer as if it’s growing new skin over old scars.
On my most recent visit, the adopted girl’s message was gone, and the Australian no longer had a bucket list. Instead I find a helpful tip of the day, “Keep your ski tips up” from A&J. “Why does Swiss cheese have holes?” from anonymous. “Sometimes Frisbees go where you least expect” with a signature reading W. Churchill.
Of course, there are the philosophers, too. Besides the wishful lyrics from Lennon and the Beatles, there are other lyricists and poets on the wall, “When words fail, music speaks.” The rather common play on words, “Live the life you love, love the life you live.” “Living is easy with closed eyes, misunderstanding what you see,” would have been more poignant if misunderstanding was not misspelled. And then there are the ordinary tired and overused expressions, “Wish you were here.” “Roger, Mirik, Sergey, Massi, Claudia, etc., were here.” Everyone was here, obviously. Even though we are in Europe, in the Czech Republic, in Prague where language is plentiful and most people speak several of them, most of the wall is written in English. I’ve yet to spot anything that says, “Kim Kardashian rocks,” “my bad,” “just sayin’,” nor a mention of Justin Bieber (thankfully). There is nothing racist, no profanity, nothing preachy or sexist, and nothing right, left, or in-between in the words written on the wall. I guess the visitors know what would be bad taste and save their lewd comments for the multitudes of other graffiti walls in the city.
The wall seems to hold many personal secrets and stories, much like a bohemian Wailing Wall, graffiti-style, with a touch of Facebook influence. I am amazed at the people that have touched it and given thought to their legacy. I’ve often thought about leaving something here myself, but the pressure seems great and the words don’t come to mind. Who can beat, “Why does Swiss cheese have holes?” I can’t be that prolific on command. Should I be one of the “I was here” people, reiterate the Lennon lyrics, or send appreciation and gratitude to my parents? I don’t think the “Polly plus so-and-so” works for someone my age.
Whatever it is that people leave behind on the Lennon Wall, I appreciate the fact that they’ve left something here, that they’ve joined a concrete section of the world to be a part of dialogue about peace, love, friends, family, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and cheese. I like their handwriting, each diverse word and curve, every peace sign and mark that designates we are all here, a collective bunch, common and uncommon, funny, profound, silly, and sometimes not good with drawing or words. It’s visceral and moving. I’m very happy they haven’t included a place for the thumbs-up universal “like” at the wall; some things should remain without the ability to individually like them in a public forum.
I once heard a tour guide say that the Lennon Wall is alive, and I listened closely as he explained the daily changes in the etchings by travelers, the autographs, sayings, and drawings from young and old. Their presence and then absence is represented in this place. The Lennon Wall is a piece of art, progressing with the next hand, shifting with each generation. When I make my mark on the wall, it will disappear in a few days like they all do, but I will know it was there. If only for a short time, I was here, too.