In North of Boston, his second collection of poetry, Robert Frost includes a poem entitled, “Mending Wall.” The poem conveys the story of two neighbors who meet and converse over a traditional New England stone wall that needs springtime repair. It is, however, obvious that this portrayal is a metaphor for the relationship between two people. The wall is the manifestation of the emotional barricade that separates them. The poem begins with these words:
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.
The interesting thing about walls is that they block sight. They restrict relationship between the two sides. Even in Frost’s poem in which one of the characters twice proclaims, “Good fences make good neighbors,” the gist of the poem is one of careful consideration about the usefulness of walls or fences.
Clearly, although the wall has kept the property lines clear and the wildlife at bay, the narrator of the poem finds something innately disturbing about walls. Walls are inherently exclusive, as opposed to inclusive. They force boundaries rather than allowing for open relationships. Walls demarcate lines of power and dominion, hierarchical inequality, and privileges of membership. They hide, separate, alienate and, ultimately, prevent us from dealing with one another face to face, in real and personal ways.
Once one begins to question the wall and the dividing wall begins to fall, what does one do with the rubble? Does one act as those people portrayed in the film The Pianist, in which Polish Jews – abused, oppressed and excluded people during World War Two by the Nazis – are required to take down a wall that was built and haul off the rubble until it was decided to use the rubble to build another wall? The message should be clear to each of us. Obviously, each of us must work with others to remove the rubble once and for all and to build something beautiful out of that ugly rubble.
As was realized in the case of the destruction of the Berlin Wall, “wanting” a wall down and “taking” such a structure down are two different things. Taking a wall down requires serious commitment and hard work – the “blood, toil, tears, and sweat” kind of hard work – to invoke Winston Churchill’s famous phrase. Taking a wall down requires us not only to question the usefulness of a wall, but also to recognize that sometimes what we have revered as infallible, irreversible and necessary may have become a source of destruction, discrimination or dissolution. And that “infallible” source of exclusion may even include scripture, canon law and commandments. What we must recognize is that the overriding value – the fence-leveling value, wall-toppling value – comes from the conviction that people come first – not scripture, not the canons, not the Ten Commandments, not the dividing walls – but people.
The Reverend Canon Eugene Taylor Sutton, (now the fourteenth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland) in his baccalaureate address to the seniors at Hope College, told the following story that illustrates this point. It seems that a young man applied for a position in his local school system. He wanted to teach, and felt that he could make a positive difference in young peoples’ lives. He wanted to give something back to the city system that prepared him well enough to make it through the tough college from which he had just graduated. Receiving his application, the receptionist looked it over to see if everything was completed, and then noticed that he missed an important section of the form.
“I notice here at the top that you didn’t check one of the boxes under ‘Race,’” she pointed out to him.
His light skin normally would have moved her to check the appropriate box for him, but there was something about his dreadlocked hair and thick lips that threw her off.
“I see that you wrote ‘Human’”
“Yeah, I know,” he answered. “I wrote it down.”
“No, you see,” she insisted, “you need to check something here: White, Black, Latino, Pacific/Asian, Native American; or you can write in a race if you like.”
“I did,” he answered. “It’s human. The race is human.”
The answer that the Right Reverend Larry Earl Maze, formerly the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas, gave to his people when asked why he signed a controversial document regarding human sexuality is apropos here. His response was this: “When faced with the decision of to exclude or to include, I will always choose the way of inclusion…”
Later in his poem, Frost has the line: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall/ That wants it down.” For some, the “Something” of which Frost wrote is what African-American poet Maya Angelou may have had in mind when she penned: “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” That is to say, our better natures beckon us to come together as members of the human race to work together to build a common dwelling place – to build a place of inclusion, a place that has no dividing walls. Yes, SOMETHING THERE IS that doesn’t love a wall. . .”