Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast…
The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
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.'
~ Robert Frost
Life has been very kind to me. I have been blessed most all my life with good neighbors.
I was reminded yesterday. On one side of our house these days we have a young family with three little kids. Mostly giggling, sometimes crying, very active little kids. Their folks are kind and forward thinking. Daddy Mark is faithfully talking about the benefits of buying an electric lawn mower (and not one with one of those long, dangling cords). They are on the move, these folks.
On the other side of our house is a beautiful, 80 something-year-old woman, Miss Ola Kate. She continues to take college classes (“this math is just too hard”) and wear her hats on Sunday morning to church. Yesterday when I was finishing something in the front yard, Miss Ola was getting out of the car and unfolding her walker to head on into her house. I went over and held her arm (for me more than her) as she maneuvered across the magnolia roots on the ground in front of her ramp. “I’ve had one of the best days of my life,” she said to me. “I went to the beauty parlor and had a lady wash my hair – can you image that? – my arthritis is just too back these days. And then me and my son went to the Golden Corral and I just sat there long after I was full. I just sat there thinking about the things I wish I could still eat.” Miss Ola is a woman whose glass is almost more half full.
How blessed I am. And the folks across the street, Emily and Eric who are raising their two little boys (3 years apart, just like Bro and Sam). Oldest son, Natie just started kindergarten. Good boys. Weary and great parents. Life is truly kind.
We grew up on a corner lot in Mattoon, IL. We lived there from the time Mom and Dad brought baby Betsey home from the hospital until moving down to Georgia, low those many years later. All our growing up we had one neighbor, Dewey Clark. She was a widow who lived next door to us. I remember a couple of things so clearly about her: she wanted to see our report cards on the day we got them from 1st grade through 12th and she really hated it when we hit baseballs up on her roof. She was watchful and connected. She was stern, but always with something sweet attached to it. She was our first neighbor and she set the standard for all that was to come.
My neighbors in the dorm at Hamilton Hall at Illinois State are still good friends. Except for the night they stole my stuffed dog, Brownie and dangled him outside my 8th floor window – with a ransom note, no less (something involving pizza, I’m sure) – except for that one criminal act, those girls truly got me through college and into what was next. When we met 35+ years later this past summer and had pizza bread at Avanti’s nothing had changed a bit. We could still laugh loud and hard enough – loud enough for the manager to come to our table and `speak to us.’
When Linda and I moved into our first house we were introduced to our older-than-our-parents-next-door neighbor with her (introductory) questions: “Is that some part of the ritual you have? Is that what you all do?” It was several weeks later that we came to understand what she was asking. When we were moving-in all the folks who helped us move were women. And Miss Eva (honestly) thought that it was a Lesbian initiation ritual that one had to do manual labor to “enter into the club.” As years past, and our families visited and our children were born, as we mowed her yard and helped her with projects, she came to realize that Linda and I weren’t members of some club. As the years past, she came to call us her favorite neighbors.
Now I think about how quickly the world is spinning these days and all the places that feel tender and broken. I wonder what would happen to us all if we incorporated the word “neighbor” more into the rhythm of our lives. Can it become a verb for us? Can it be an intention? Can this notion of being neighborly become something we are more mindful of?
Especially in these days, I’m mindful of the importance of Frost’s question: What I was walling in or walling out? I’m as guilty of this as the next person of this walling business. Living in ATL can sometimes invite us to compartmentalize ourselves. It’s overwhelming to think about the sheer volume of the people that live within a square mile of our yard. What’s to be gained by walling others out or me in? What is so often lost?
I like playing with the dogs in our backyard and hearing the kids giggling and so obviously “up to something” next door. I am grateful for Miss Ola’s hats and her calling out “good morning” every time she sees one of us.
Mrs. Clark taught me well: my sisters and I mattered. Mom and Dad mattered to her. Our dog, Sloopy mattered to her. Our grades mattered to her. Buying Girl Scout cookies and candles for our choir trips mattered to her. It wasn’t OK to hit baseballs on her roof (even if that meant I really `got a hold of one’). We were connected to her. Seen by her. Known to one another. We were her neighbors and she ours.
Working as a Hospice Chaplain, Lesley is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. A Candler School of Theology graduate, Lesley has just published her second book, Grief and the Psalms: Companioning the Moon for 29 Days (available on this website). She and her partner, Linda Ellis are raising their two sons, Brogan and Sam in Decatur, GA.