Mending Fences

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 (Richard Friedlander)

"Something there is that doesn't love a wall," writes Robert Frost in his poem, "Mending Wall".  And his neighbor counters, "Good fences make good neighbors." The 'something' that doesn't love a wall is nature, while we continue to need fences because of our own nature, one that disrespects the other, unwilling to love because unwilling to respect.

Look how many kinds of barriers exist today. Under sudden pressure from the unfamiliar a Europe bent on dismantling economic, social and perhaps national barriers instinctively  has retreated to its old ethnic and territorial frontiers, rolling out barbed wire and erecting walls for protection.

In our own country, gated communities gentrify suspect neighborhoods. On a walk  last night, in the shadow of one of these looming besides me, I truly felt I was in the Middle Ages, being passed along a wall thrown up to let those inside get on their lives in what passes for peace.

These are the obvious walls. But everywhere you look invisible barriers keep people apart. Religions that preach universal love restrict love in practice to the like-minded, while their dissident sects reject even those who profess the same faith. In the United States, the American Dream of equal opportunity is now a towering myth that protects an otherwise indefensible status quo. For all the bad press and resistance, the issue of race may be where personally, if not institutionally we are perhaps progressing in spite of ourselves. Individual by individual, a step forward and two back, people are gradually, often painfully, finding common ground that in time will make that wall a bad memory.

The safety walls symbolize is illusory, as Edgar Allen Poe points out in "The Masque of the Red Death", where castle walls are helpless to keep out the Plague. If you must feel safe before you can risk love or peace, how far on the road to civilization have we actually come? The world is a dangerous place, and that won't change overnight, but can we feel truly safe without being ready to risk given the opportunity? That willingness tore down the Berlin Wall. It was spontaneous, joyful, illuminating ... and brief as a Roman candle. 


The conundrum of Frost's poem remains a daily one.

With a Perspective, I'm Richard Friedlander.

Richard Friedlander is an East Bay actor and mediator.