Being a fledgling writer (is there a rung below that? I’ll put myself there), I appreciate well-crafted writing. Especially poetry. Its economy of words, when strategically joined together, that can make me feel connected to a complete stranger (the poet): a shared intimacy that sometimes feels deeper and more satisfying than many relationships.
Poems I’ve read return to me at odd times. I hear them in my mind like gentle whispers – not overtaking whatever I’m experiencing at the moment, but adding to my experience by reminding me that human perceptions and emotions can feel amazingly ‘universal’: across time, across countries and cultures; across all other real or imagined boundaries that might divide us.
During my recent trip to northern Africa, a poem by Robert Frost came to mind. “Mending Wall” is about Frost’s experience with a farmer-neighbor who insists that each Spring they both walk the waist-high stone wall separating them, re-positioning the boulders. “Good fences make good neighbors”, the farmer says. But Frost is not so sure. He says to the farmer, “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.”
Global travel brings me into contact with ‘walls’ of all kinds. The surprising attitudes of my travel companions as they clutch their home culture, its behaviors and its expectations, as opposed to relaxing into the new country. What clearly feels like hostility from Passport Control, in completely unfamiliar surroundings and language. The potential is great, to allow those walls to impact the full experience I’m seeking.
I’m acutely aware that, being viewed as a ‘foreigner’, I’m not always enthusiastically welcomed in my new country. I’ve felt this before, especially while traveling in the middle east. I get it, and I’m not offended by it. But…who built these ‘walls’? And who consistently walks them, re-positioning the boulders? It doesn’t really matter at this point; the barriers travelers encounter are as real and as palpable as actual stone.
As poet Robert Frost writes in “Mending Wall”, “Spring is the mischief in me”: he gently prods his neighbor about why the stone fence is so important to him. After all, Frost says, “You have no cows.” To that, the farmer has no response other than to say that his father before him always maintained the wall. Frost muses about this, but says nothing.
We can choose not to travel, to accept the walls between us; or, we can decide to playfully disregard our role in re-positioning the boulders that dislodge over time. I accept that barriers provide some comfort and security, but, as Frost writes in the opening and closing of his poem, “Something there is, that doesn’t love a wall.” I don’t want to tear it down…just continue to look for openings where I can see, know, experience and feel what’s on the other side.