I’ve been reading Robert Frost poems my whole life. There was a giant book of them on the dusty book shelf in my mother’s living room next to the record player, just to the right of the 1985 World Book Encyclopedia set she was always pulling off the shelf.
Before “Alexa” there was an index finger along the spine of neatly rowed, alphabetized knowledge. Then thumbing through gilt edge pages to discovery. Or disappointment.
The Encyclopedia was good. The Robert Frost book was glorious.
It had a torn jacket, worn from use. There was a coffee stain on the inside of the cover. There was a picture of a tree on the front. It was published in 1967, her junior year in college.
I won’t pretend that I’m one for poetry. But for some reason, that book held onto me. To me, with the mind of a kid, without anyone telling me what it meant, it was about the world outside my world. There was something about humanity against the backdrop of a cold and cruel nature. A man on a journey in the woods.
…with miles to go before he slept.
Last night Malcolm Gladwell reminded me of one of my favorites, The Mending Wall. In his Podcast Revisionist History, Gladwell makes a Gladwell like point, I think, about how we’ve gone ahead and gummed up our immigration policy by militarizing our borders. It may have been a good point. I never really got past the poem though. Because I think it’s the key.
In it, the narrator is describing the act that he and his neighbor must go through each spring to carry out the task of rebuilding the gaps in the walls that open up. Be it by wind or rain or hunter, they always open up. The narrator challenges why they need the wall, when so much of the natural order breaks it down. And so much of what is to be protected is not harmed by anything on the other side.
The neighbors response, famously, “Good Walls Make Good Neighbors”.
And so it is. One sees no reason for the wall. The other sees it as foundational to their relationship.
The challenge stands.
“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 offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,”
There is something in me that hates the wall–even though I know why it’s there. That feeling has always been there. It’s survived war and trauma and witness to the worst things man can do to man. Yet it’s there. It’s a belief that my liberty can’t be used as a weapon against anothers. It’s a concern for what’s outside my walls over what’s inside of them.
And I don’t think feelings like that change.
And so I think that there’s something in others, like the neighbor, that needs that wall. They don’t know why good fences make good neighbors. They simply do. And I don’t think feelings like that change either.
And so we are as a people, looking at the world over Frost’s mending wall with feelings that don’t change, stacking the bricks up…because we don’t know how to stop.
And I’m not sure it gets much more complicated. And it makes me sad that something so simple is hurting so many.