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.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
— Robert Frost, “Mending Wall”
Fences, in my experience, do not make good neighbors. In fact, it seems to be just the opposite. Fences — and the property boundaries they represent — make for horrible neighbors. What’s mine, what’s yours, who’s responsible for this, who’s responsible for that. On our tiny plot of carefully manicured suburbia, we’ve become so territorial and defensive that we’ve forgotten how to be neighbors. How to be respectful of each other. How to be (dare I say it) nice to one another.
You might recall that I haven’t exactly had a great history with my neighbors. I’ve yelled at them and called the cops on them. More than once. And more than one set of neighbors. Mister Rogers would be so disappointed in me.
The latest brouhaha, however, was none of my doing, at least not directly. My next door neighbor, who seems to have a never-ending grudge against me, is extending his fence about 8 feet to enlarge his backyard. Before he could break ground, however, he needed to get a survey done to determine the exact property line and to have the gas and telco lines flagged. When it was time for me to mow the yard, I respectfully avoided disturbing the flags. Thinking I had been a good neighbor, I went inside afterward and didn’t think anything else about it. The next morning, however, there was a note under the windshield wiper of my car:
“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” I thought. “Seriously?” Apparently in mowing the grass, I had somehow crossed a foot or two over the property line, although you’d never be able to tell by looking at it and is extremely common anyway. Besides, despite him spending “a lot of $$$” treating his yard, it still looks like crap. So it’s not as if by somehow crossing this invisible Maginot Line I was somehow ruining it. If anything, the strip of grass I was inadvertently cutting looked a lot greener and healthier than the rest of his yard.
It should also be noted (while we’re picking nits) that the orange flags he mentions do not denote the property line. There are actually two sets of flags. The set at the back of the yard by the fence do demarcate our properties. But the second set of flags near the street are from AT&T and only show the location of underground fiber cables. The AT&T flags are not necessarily directly on the property line (in fact, they seem to be on my side), but he is acting as if they do. So by me mowing around the AT&T flags, I was in violation of some unspoken treaty between us. And that was clearly unacceptable.
Like I said, fences do not make good neighbors.
I didn’t write him back to apologize or go knock on his door. He doesn’t want to talk to us even when we’re being civil. But when it came time to mow again, I did respect his wishes and stayed safely on my side of the line. Not because he was right but because I have no desire to escalate any feud between us. If extending the fence between us is what he wants, then so be it. As for me, I’m done yelling at him and calling the cops on him. I take full responsibility for my past mistakes and have apologized to him for it. I’m ready to move on. I hope one day he is, too.
Christy wants more than anything else to sell our house and move as far away from our neighbors as possible (or more specifically as far away from any neighbors as possible). To her, they’re a menace, a constant threat to an otherwise friendly and peaceful existence on the outskirts of town. But the reality is, we’re not financially prepared to move just yet. There are some improvements we need to make, plus we need to pay down some debt and save up more money. That stuff takes time. In a year or two, who knows. But for now, we’re staying where we are, as are the neighbors. In the meantime we can either be mad at each other or begin to mend the damaged fences between us.
I’ve started reading Love Does by Bob Goff, a book that I’ve actively avoided for a long time because I was afraid of it. Because real love, godly love, does indeed involve action, and I’d prefer to pretend it didn’t. I’d prefer to say I love someone and that was enough, but I know that’s not true. If we truly do love others like Jesus loved us, eventually that requires doing something, and that’s hard, particularly when they don’t want to be loved. But then, it’s not up to them whether they’re loved. It’s up to us. When they choose to leave angry notes on our windshield, we can choose to respect their wishes. When they choose to plant flags of demarcation, we can choose to honor them. When they choose to hold grudges, we can choose grace.
I don’t know if my neighbor and I will ever have a friendly relationship. Probably not. But believe it or not, I don’t have any ill feelings against him. If the fence is that important to him, then I’m fine with that. It may not make for good neighbors, but I can at least hope it doesn’t make for worse enemies.