Thursday, January 23, 2014


... make good neighbors."  The Robert Frost poem from which the familiar line is taken ("Mending Wall") is about the mischievous natural forces ("elves"?) that seem to want to bring walls down despite all human efforts to maintain them; and the poet's own whimsical thoughts about their necessity--or not.    It came to mind in the context of our current ongoing conversation with our neighbor about the hedge that was destroyed, to our dismay, a couple of weeks ago, along the property line between our two houses, and the new fence that's now in the process of construction.

The yellow strings follow the property line, which apparently some part of our own fence transgressed, from long ago, so part of the work involved shifting that fence back a few inches toward our house--one the left in the picture.  I'm not too concerned, myself, about a couple of inches this way or that, and the whole idea of a "property line"--while clearly essential from a civic and legal point of view--seems faintly comical in the light of Buddhist concepts of what is "mine."

As you'll know if you read my earlier post about this story (see link, above) the "good fence" in this case, threatened for a while to make for rather bad neighbors.  We have since patched up our differences, exchanged apologies, and pored over construction plans to be sure we're in agreement.  The work proceeds.  Both Ellie and I would have preferred our nice green hedge, but we are persuaded that the new wall and fence will provide us with the privacy and security we valued.

Still, I am left with my own thoughts about walls and fences.  I tend to side more with Frost than with his neighbor, who "will not go behind his father's saying" that "good fences make good neighbors."  It's a sad reflection on our species, that we need to protect ourselves and our "properties" from those who occupy the space adjacent to the one we happen to occupy at this moment in our lives.  It is much worse, in my view, on the macro scale, where we create artificial borders to separate one country from another, one nation from the next, and erect barriers to keep our neighbors out.  Longtime readers of The Buddha Diaries will know that political nationalism and its emotional counterpart, patriotism, are both anathema to me.  Unless we can learn to take responsibility for others as well as for ourselves in this, the twenty-first century--plus another few millennia of known human history--our species faces a dim future and the real possibility of self-caused extinction.

Unrepentant leftie that I am, I never imagined myself paraphrasing the right-wing's sainted Ronald Reagan in any positive context, but let me just say that it's time to tear down those walls that separate us and cause so much discord and harm.  Hadrian's Wall, built to keep the barbarous Scots out of righteous Roman England, lies in ruins now.  The Great Wall of China stands only as a monument to human tenacity and a tourist attraction.  The Berlin Wall is gone--though the wall around Jerusalem still stands as the sad reminder of the intransigence of nations.  And some among us are keen to build an impenetrable fence along the southern border of the "United States of America", to keep all other kinds of "Americans" away.

I know, we're a long way now from the little fence that will soon separate us from our neighbors.  Still, the Buddhist principle holds good.  We humans cling to the illusion of possession and identity, with often unintended, sometimes tragical results.  Better, though, to live in the heart than the head.  Better to be open than closed-off.  But that as always is the harder path.


robin andrea said...

Fences are what happens when we live our lives among people we do not know, who are not kin, who are not even real friends. We are all strangers with hearts that long for the old fenceless world.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

You could even say that is the road not taken. I feel as you do regarding national boundaries, and find particularly absurd the notion that only US citizens are Americans, completely disregarding all people of South and Central America. How very like spoiled children who won't share their toys. I'm sorry you lost your hedge - somehow, a natural division seems less forbidding than a structure erected for the express purpose of keeping others out. Hopefully, it will become part of the landscape and hardly noticed in time.

PeterAtLarge said...

Thanks to both for your responses. We do seem to have lost all connection with the realization that we are all "one."