April 2018

Friday, May 26, 2017

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

Ann and I have been working with our neighbors Sue and Robin recently to have a fence built between our yards. The people who owned their home, the house next door, when we moved here in 1996 had the current fence built by someone who didn’t know much about building fences but didn’t charge much. It was never a lovely fence and has deteriorated over the decades, particularly where squirrels have chewed the top.

It would be nice to leave the space open, without a fence. After all, the yards’ gardens are lovely, and it would be easier to visit one another that way. However, each couple plans to get a dog, so we need a fence. The posts are already in, and in a few weeks we’ll have the boards.

As we’ve been working towards this fence, I’ve been thinking about Robert Frost’s poem, “Mending Wall,”  that ends repeating its most famous line, “‘Good fences make good neighbors.'” Though critics differ in their poetic analyses of this poem, all agree that this last line does not summarize Frost’s thinking on the subject of fences and walls. Frost is at the very least questioning the value of walls and using this last line ironically, though there’s some disagreement about exactly what Frost means to say.

It seems to me that Frost criticizes the kind of thinking that builds walls, the kind of thinking that derives from a darkness that is “Not of woods only and the shade of trees.” There’s a “savage” quality to such thinking.

Though Frost wrote the poem in 1915, his reading to the Russians in 1962, the year following the beginnings of the Berlin Wall, suggests political implications. The poem begins, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” It seems to me that Frost is aligned with that “Something.”

We used this first line, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” on the front of our church bulletin when a group of us organized a service to share our experiences from a trip to learn about the border and immigration issues at the El Paso, USA/Juarez, Mexico border.

I feel sure that Frost would similarly criticize the thinking behind the U.S./Mexico wall. Writer Alexander Nazaryan argues that Trump should read the poem, but I suspect, if anything, he’d skim to the last line and announce on Twitter that the great American poet Robert Frost agrees with him about the border. “So glad.”

Much of what we learned at the border was painful, and fears of Trump’s leadership deepen the pain, but we saw hope in quiet fighters for justice who devote their lives to supporting vulnerable neighbors on both sides of the border.

I realize my writing has often been amusing, even about difficult subjects like my brain tumors and disabilities, but I haven’t been funny since Trump’s election. I do not find humor in the pain he causes. However, I am beginning to see hope again, and my funny bone is healing. I’ll write about that next time.

For now, let’s in all seriousness challenge the idea that good fences make good neighbors. Let’s wonder with the poet what we are walling in and walling out. Let’s create hope.

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