Thursday, May 29, 2014

Do Good Fences Really Make Good Neighbors?

The fence along my driveway
I've been thinking a lot lately about the old saying 'Good fences make good neighbors.' I've also been thinking about the biblical directive to 'love they neighbor as thyself.' One is about building up walls, the other is about breaking them down, meaning they totally contradict each other. Which one should I choose to live by? Should I be building barriers, or knocking them down?

When I look around me, the people I see who have achieved their goals in life all seem to have clear, firm boundaries. They may give generously of themselves and their resources, but they always make sure they have enough of what they need first, and they never let giving derail their personal goals. Their lives are wrapped up in nice tidy picket fences, so to speak. I admire and respect them, but I'm not sure I can be them, either.

Then I look at Jesus Christ, who had no boundaries of any kind. He invited everyone in, excluded no one, and encouraged us all to give of ourselves to others just as freely. He owned nothing, judged no one, and he had no goal or agenda except to teach others how to love.  Sadly, I will never be as selfless or as giving as he was.

When I visited Mexico many of the people I visited were very poor, on a level we don't often see in this country. Yet all of them, even people I didn't know that well (if at all), invited me in and shared what little they had with me. I've never seen that level of hospitality and generosity happen here, despite the fact that most of us have much more than we think we do, and could afford to share more of it than we think we can. I've been trying to give more with fewer expectations ever since.

Just the same, at home I feel like I'm going out of my mind sometimes. The kids and their mom don't do boundaries well. They make noise when we're sleeping, or they make a huge mess everywhere and leave it there for days on end. They out number us, so they take up more of the space and resources in the house without even noticing they do it. It isn't intentional, it's just that they are so wrapped up in themselves after being apart for so long, they are simply oblivious to Big Brother and I and our needs.

Big Brother and I are not happy living this way. We deal with it because we are aware that all of us living together has been good for the kids in terms of their emotional and mental healing. In theory giving them that has been worth a few blurred boundaries, but just knowing we did a good thing isn't enough to sustain us any longer. Like the kids and their mom, we, too, have been through a lot. Our little family of two needs time and space to heal, and we can't wait anymore. We need it now.

I knew a man on facebook, another community activist who was a friend of a friend who somehow friended me. He was clearly beloved by all who knew him, and had done much good in his community. He was something of a legend in that respect. But he hadn't done a good job of maintaining his own boundaries. He put service to others first to the point where he lost his job, then his home, and finally, his health. By the time others noticed how dire things had become, and rallied round to help him, it was too late. He was dead. 

Jesus Christ didn't last too long, either. Not in the flesh, anyway.

I've been grappling with all of this as I try to figure out how to resolve our housing situation in a way that meets everyone's needs. The problem is, what would work best for the kids' mother simply doesn't work for Big Brother and I. Yet what would be best for Big Brother and I would make things harder on the kids. The best solution for the kids is to leave things as they are, of course, which doesn't work for anyone else. So, whose needs come first in this situation?

The answer is there is no easy answer. What I've decided on is a compromise, where nobody gets exactly what they want, but everyone gets at least some of what they need. It won't be a perfect solution, but I hope all involved will find it fair.

I've learned a lot in the past few years about just how true it is that good fences make for good neighbors. I'll be constructing several of my own very soon. But I've also learned that every fence needs to have a gate, so when your neighbors are in need you can open up, and let them in.

No comments:

Post a Comment