“Good fences make good neighbors.”
Robert Frost, a man full of infinite poignancy, struggled to buy into that statement.
In the poem Mending Wall, despite having no livestock to corral, the speaker describes the yearly efforts to wall in a pastoral life, rebuilding his shield of rock alongside his neighbor, a neighbor with whom this was likely his only interaction.
The ironic sting of this camaraderie seriously messed with his mind. He could never quite determine what he was adamantly protecting. He recognized that there was something fundamentally incoherent about their endeavor, so he asks himself why, and he yearns to challenge his neighbor to do the same. His neighbor is content to leave well enough alone.
I share something with this fence-loving neighbor, diligently determined to make his space his own. I do not build a physical stone barricade, but I am effective at the ability to “duck and cover” in order to avoid my neighbors. It plays out something like this: I grab my grocery totes in as few trips as possible or perhaps linger in the car a few seconds longer, granting a charitable wave or a head nod in a person’s general direction from behind the safety of my blue Honda Civic. In observing my neighbors from afar, I have determined this is a mutual pact, only broken if there is a grievance such as a dispute over garbage collection or noise. By avoiding interactions with these individuals, I do not always make room for extraordinary moments to take place beyond the fence. There was a time I did.
Fences have fond memories for the simple intrigue on the other side. When I was a little girl they represented opportunities for discovery. Like Harriet the Spy, I would squeeze through the broken rails in the fence behind my apartment complex, emerging to discover the wilderness near my neighborhood baseball field. It wasn’t dense forestry, I’ll admit, however the world it uncovered waxed magical to my urbanite, plastic framed, six-year-old eyes. That fence was a doorway into another world, and as I would crawl back through for dinner, slightly disheveled, I would remember the wonderland that lurked just beyond my fence.
When my curiosity got the better of me as an adolescent, I made a friend over this fence. Palm-to-palm, with only a fence between, my new friend and I would discuss the details of our lives. Important things, like whether or not there were any attractive and eligible eleven-year-old boys on the other side, or if we were doing anything fabulous on the weekend. This invisible exchange served to keep our friendship alive for almost two summer months. Phone numbers were exchanged, but our preferred method of connection was good old-fashioned shouting. Peering with one eye squeezed shut into the other’s domain was enough visibility to fuel our friendship. One day we finally arranged a meeting, at the end of the fence about the length of three city blocks. We ran around the corner triumphantly, prepared to unveil the mystery we had long awaited to determine: would we enjoy the unbridled freedom of the other’s presence? Would it be the same? As it happens, our friendship fizzled out once we had met several times, and, though I cannot remember much about her today, I do remember the feeling of unearthing what was behind.
I have always lived in close proximity to others. My little row house apartment in downtown Baltimore, sits snuggly between others of it’s kind, separated from one another by quaint Civil War era alleyways, and often fences. I am ashamed to admit, despite the best of intentions, I do not know many of the faces behind these doors.
My nearest neighbors are Democrats. At least this is what my husband and I have decided, since we frequently hear words in punctuated bursts as they wildly discuss into the wee hours on these warm summer evenings. My next-door neighbor is dying, and despite his prognosis, the revs from his motorcycle speak life for him almost daily.
In my desire for separateness, I hide behind my fences of words and wood alike. With childlike wonder I want to enter The Sandlot ready to face the Boo Radleys with neighborly offers of community. If I’m honest with myself, I find myself clinging to the safety of my walls instead. Frost, something of a Transcendentalist, suggests that there is something intrinsic in nature that does not love these walls, something that wants them down. I agree.
So I have begun to ask Jesus what I am “walling in or walling out, and to whom I am like to give offense,” as I am ever tempted to neglect my neighbors. So far the answer seems to be an opportunity to discover there’s more.
This is Aubrie Hills’ second guest contribution for BreakfastReading. The last one detailed the dignity of a vulnerable life.
Image credit: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mendingwall.JPG and flickr.com/photos/sparkleponylove