In the 1914 poem “Mending Wall” Robert Frost popularized a 17th century proverb, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Even now when the group Restless Heart sings of reconciling with others they still speak of “Mending Fences.”
I grew up fixing fence. There are few sentences that still cause more of a visceral reaction than, “The cows are out.” The whole family had to drop everything, night or day, in order to locate the gap where the cattle escaped, drive the escapees out of the neighbor’s garden, and re-stretch new wire in the broken places.
Boundaries kept the neighborhood at peace.
I, like Frost, grew up in a world where houses had porches which formalized entry into another’s space. Before Funeral homes ruined the word, front rooms were called “parlors,” which were formally decorated in order to honor and receive guests. People came over by invitation, or else apologized for “dropping by” just for a moment. Once guests arrived at another’s home, they did not roam through that person’s house without being shown into the other rooms. Both host and guest paid respectful attention to boundaries.
Healthy neighbors take responsibility for transitional space.
A few weeks ago one of the wood slats from my neighbors’ new fence was somehow knocked off into my yard. I propped it up on their side of the fence, assuming they were the ones who busted it. The next week I again discovered the slat thrown in my yard—probably by the professional crew that mows my neighbor’s place. I started to get irritated.
Then I remembered my baptism. Jesus does not ask me to like how my neighbor or his renters keep fence. He commanded me to love my neighbor. And so, I didn’t throw the slat on the other side of the fence, again. I didn’t anonymously call code enforcement about other things that might irritate me. Christians must not create resentment and suspicion like that.
I fixed my neighbors’ fence. Love cannot do less. Now, I just need for people to pray that I will enjoy it more next time.