“Good fences make good neighbors,” Robert Frost wrote in his poem, Mending Wall. It’s a line that has always resonated with me. I love parties and social events and filling my home with crowds of people, but I also appreciate those physical as well as metaphorical fences that establish the boundaries and protect my privacy. I love to have close friends, but I sometimes struggle with letting people get too close where they could get a good look at my flaws and imperfections (somehow oblivious to the fact that my flaws are just as apparent at the 100 yard line!); and I’m zealous about guarding my own time.
It’s silly and selfish, I know. More than that, it’s my pride. Last weekend, my neighbors rang my doorbell at 10 on Sunday morning. My kids were with their dad for the weekend, and I was enjoying the freedom of staying out late and sleeping in. So when the doorbell rang, I was semi-awake but certainly not showered or dressed. I ignored the doorbell and hoped they’d go away. I didn’t want to admit that I was this lazy person who wasn’t even out of bed at 10 a.m. I didn’t want to greet my neighbors in my pajamas with disheveled hair and sans makeup. And I didn’t feel like talking. Just let me get up, browse the Sunday news via the internet, and leave me alone.
My neighbors finally gave up and left. Then they called me later to check if everything was all right and asked if I wanted some fruits and vegetables from their garden. I felt incredibly sheepish for ignoring them at my door.
Slowly, slowly, I’m trying to figure out how to worry less about what people think, open up more to the “inconvenience” of building relationships, and invite people into the woof and warp of my life. It comes naturally to some people. It’s not always natural for me.
It’s hard for me to trade freedom and autonomy and my need for perfection, for the messy, demanding requirements of becoming deeply involved and close to other people. Amazing thing is, there is so much to gain when you finally let people in. Literally.
Last summer, I was faced with the huge task of moving homes. For all kinds of reasons, my move was daunting and emotional and just plain overwhelming. Friends kept saying, “Let us know if we can help.” I kept responding, “Oh, thanks, but I can manage.” It’s uncomfortable to admit that you need help. And it’s a little daunting to allow people to go through your home/your life. Finally I realized, Hell, I really need the help. I swallowed my pride and sent out an email asking everyone to come over for a packing party.
Neighbors, co-workers, family, friends—even parents of my children’s friends—showed up. A group of people assembled boxes in my garage while others fanned out to rooms in my house wrapping dishes and glasses, packing clothes and toys, disassembling beds and furniture. In 5 hours, 35+ friends packed up my entire 3-story house into 247 boxes—all captured by a girlfriend who entered the contents of each numbered box into a computer spreadsheet, a packing manifest! If you’re thinking about the body of Christ, these friends were his hands and feet to someone in need. A year later, I’m still in awe thinking of what an amazing gift of time and energy my friends lavished on me. And I’m inspired to figure out ways to get past my selfishness so I can pass it forward to others.
Sure, I still desire a good fence that delineates my space from yours. That might not change soon. But I’m growing more appreciative of the gates that swing open to invite people in as well as draw me out of my own backyard and into the neighborhood.
“…Before I built a wall, I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out
And to whom I was like to give offence
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall
That wants it down…”
Mending Wall, by Robert Frost