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Good neighbor fences

August 24, 2021

Hey friends,

I hope this message finds you well. I’m already loving the back-to-school pictures so many of you have posted. If you missed last week’s newsletter regarding giving each other grace as we return to school, you can find it here.

I recently got home from a week in the Midwest. I grew up in the cornfields of Iowa, but, as of this past year, I’ve now lived in Oregon longer than my growing-up years in the Midwest. Yet every time I go back, I’m reminded of how amazing Midwesterners are as humans. Kind, compassionate, hard-working people with a sense of loyalty and dedication to each other and their communities. As many obstacles face our country, I was reflecting on what creates the fabric of Iowans. Here’s one factor that is a symbol of so much: good neighbor fences. Not sure what that is? I’m happy to share.

Robert Frost, in his poem Mending Wall, said that “good fences make good neighbors.” Since then, good neighbor fences have come to mean fences that divide two properties but are finished on both sides. Meaning, both neighbors have a nice, finished fence that divides their property. What is sometimes overlooked is that Mr. Frost was quoting a “neighbor” in this poem and went on to say:

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.

You see, in Iowa, there are many neighborhoods without fences at all. I remember growing up as a child and running between the yards of my neighbors’ homes. If there was a fence, it was chain-link, meant to keep pets in and children safe, but still allow for conversation. I remember leaving my house unlocked most days and nights. And, I remember going into my best friends’ home while she was on vacation and using her pool, then simply leaving her a note that we’d dropped by.

Good neighbor fences back then meant fences that allowed for connection and conversation, or no fence at all. After all, how would you know if a child needed a boost, what vegetables you could share with a neighbor, or how to help someone in need if you can never see them? And if we weren’t running through each other’s yards, we were collectively in the front of our homes chatting and playing “kick the can” until the street lights came on.

When my family goes to Iowa with me, I remind them of the values that were instilled in me as I grew. That while the landscape is flat and landlocked, it allows for people to relate to each other vs isolating. That it’s important to wave to your neighbor at the intersection of main street. That kindness and consideration go a long way. And that good fences don’t always make good neighbors, but they do make lonely, estranged people.

With all of the chaos in our world today, a bit more connection and looking out for others would certainly be welcome. After all, what are we walling in or walling out?

Check on your people, my friends.

With compassion,

Dr. Amy

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