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Fences, Neighbors, and Learning About Each Other

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I enjoy an experience since I moved into Sandpoint from its rural environs.  My neighbor and I talk over our adjoining fence.  My town veggie garden separates our yards and I share my harvest with her each year.  I never grew up experiencing sharing a fence and neighbor conversation.   I remember Robert Frost’s poem relating that “good fences make good neighbors.”  It always struck me that good fences meant separation so that each participant could remain themselves and not be totally influenced by the participant on the other side.  I thought then, “okay, separation must mean being able to remain an individual while being “friendly.”

As my experience has grown sharing my fence conversations with my neighbor, I have come to a different interpretation of “good fences.”  My neighbor and I keep in touch with each other and our individual needs.  We check on each other each week – not to invade privacy but to make sure each of us is okay.  As we are both getting on in years, I see the value of sharing contact.  During Sandpoint winters, we call, but during the late spring and summer we share over the fence, pass over what is ready for harvest, and share stories.

Listening to the news of late, I began to feel such personal communications and connections seem to have fallen out of grace and practice among people and neighbors.  Too often we hear that people don’t even know their neighbors or their stories.

Differences are what has become the onus of global division.  Struggles to survive, maintain, and become safe in life experiences have become the focus of life in America.  Listening to stories on NPR of people having to flee their native countries to try to survive against the cruelest of obstacles to human experience brings to my mind the discomfort of recognition that people have lost the loving ability to talk over fences, fences of different opinions yet differences shared over a safe boundary of neighborliness.

People in every culture have the same hopes and dreams of loving and being loved, of raising their children to be productive and happy individuals, who seek to fulfill their dreams and interact with others in community, learning, growing, and contributing.

When did talking over proverbial fences fade from human interaction?  When did societies become so entrenched in their own philosophies and practices that they dissolved the opportunities to learn from their neighbors?  We may have different experiences, different faiths, different approaches to solutions from the background of our experiences in culture, in life unfoldings, but yet grand information worth sharing with each other.

The current global tragedy of people fleeing their native countries to seek safety at the expense of separating and stressing their families with their hope-filled treks and the nations trying desperately to cope with the influx of so many people seeking safety and opportunity lost in their own countries cries at us for understanding the loss of communication of conversations over fences of discord, of differences of opinion, or religious practices. Culture and faith come to fruition from geology of location, experience in that location, evolutionary development meeting immediate needs, and the humanistic practice of recording life occurrences.

Literature teaches us.  I wonder if our leaders and our population began reading the literature of our enemies, the Arab nations, seemingly so contentious at the present time, to gain a grip on understanding why there is the dissention and undermining of American participation to bring democracy and personal freedom to the region, we might gain some insight into the why the struggle continues.

The global community is rallying as best it can with the present situation of displaced persons.  My belief is that we must walk in other shoes of global experience before we can judge, condemn, or accept our country’s ability to intercept.

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors, but there are times when fences can open gateways to an incredible opportunity for understanding others in the world who think, feel, and hope as we do.  I am just saying, I believe, fences make good neighbors and fences can also bridge gaps.  Fences only exist until understanding differences enables honest discussion and problem solving and then opens the gate to deeper understanding of each other.

By Krystle Shapiro

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