The Day the Fence Fell

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Now that I think about it, it was really only this fence, this divider between our homes, that connected us.

You see, my neighbor and I seemed to have nothing in common except for a fence. The truth is that I never knew her.

We never enjoyed any neighborly talk. She never asked about the kids. We never swapped recipes. I never loaned her sugar. She never picked up the newspaper on our driveway while we were out of town. Or vice versa.

Like anyone, we just wanted to live somewhere safe, in a neighborhood with good schools and some coastal air. Nothing especially fancy. But when we settled in our home, I had no idea that a neighbor I would never actually know would leave me feeling so unsettled.

I would never know her because the year we moved in, was the year she fell in her living room and needed to move into a care facility. All we ever knew of her was what the neighbors would whisper. Reclusive. Eccentric. Smart as a whip but cantankerous.

We were told she kept to herself. For decades. And to the aggravation of the neighbors who tended to their roses, she cared nothing for her property. We discovered her only family was an aging sister who lived states away.

So her house remained empty, forgotten, without any hope of life. I’d go over there sometimes and take off the accumulation of flyers on her front gate. Sometimes I’d pick up the trash off her driveway.

But though I didn’t know her, it became clear that I had to care about her.

One spring, the wisteria that had been crawling thickly on the top of both of our fences became too heavy, and her termite-infested fence collapsed. And what do you know? It brought our fence down with it.

I felt sad for her. Very sad. But I won’t lie– it was aggravating to live next to a disaster. I pathetically wondered how it reflected on me.

Her fallen fence, our fence, was the thing that pushed me over the edge. I decided something had to be done.

I had to talk to her.

I walked into that care facility one afternoon, and despite the unmistakable staleness in the air, I felt hopeful, armed with a bouquet of freshly cut flowers.

“Hi, I’m Kim,” I introduced myself, finding a slender woman curled on her side in a bed, her sparse whitish gray hair pulled back.

She just grunted.

“I’m your new neighbor,” I said. My cheerfulness was clearly out of place. “I brought you some flowers?”

“Just put it on the table,” she muttered, not bothering to look up.

I glanced around her sterile quiet room, not sure how to say what I was supposed to say.  “I just…umm…wanted to let you know about your fence.”

“What about it?” she asked, annoyed.

Somehow the fence was feeling less important now. But I took a deep breath and continued, “It fell down. I’m sorry.”

“Oh.”

“We want to help you,” I jumped in quickly.  “We’ll fix it for you?”

She lifted her thin face tiredly, looked at me with surprisingly clear blue eyes. “I don’t need your help.”  She made some indistinguishable disgruntled sounds. “How do I know I can trust you?” Her thinning voice went even more quiet, “I don’t trust anyone.”

Certain that I had made a mistake by coming, I apologized for bothering her and turned to leave. But something made me turn back to ask, “Is there anything I can bring you?”

“Crossword puzzles,” she answered matter-of-factly. Then she added, “And not the ones that are too hard.”

I smiled.

That was it.

I never found the courage to visit her again. But I did leave some crossword puzzles at the front desk.

Four years later, she’s gone. And her house is up for sale. Some workers came by and emptied everything out, piling up a truck with her old, rusty, broken possessions.

Her house did get a quick paint over and gardeners finally came to cut back the overgrown trees that shrouded her front window all these years … and the fence was fixed.

Yesterday, as I was pulling up into our driveway, a realtor came up to me. There was a young couple with her, presumably prospective buyers.

“Excuse me, did you know the person who used to live here?” the realtor asked me.

What was I to say? I knew about her. But I never knew her.

I stood there, absent-mindedly staring through her front window now shadeless and unobstructed, my eyes tracing the sadly neglected interior.

Her space had been hollowed out, exposed for anybody’s curiosity now – left open despite a lifetime of living closed.

They say we all build walls around ourselves.

God knows there’s nothing safe about being connected.

But some fences, I believe more than ever now, need to fall.

 

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20 thoughts on “The Day the Fence Fell

  1. Agree, Kim. They do need to fall. I’m sure your neighbor appreciated you bringing those puzzles, even if you never witnessed it. There have been so many times I wished I’d reached out to someone and didn’t because I was afraid of rejection, awkwardness, or whatever. Thanks for this push to move past my fear.

    1. Abby, you are right. Fear definitely gets in the way of reaching out to others. I do encourage you to move past your fear… and I will do the same! Blessings.

  2. Kim, This post is beautifully written, honest and heart felt. It is filled with so many lessons. Building walls and keeping others out isn’t really what makes us safe. What a sad, lonely life your neighbor lived trying to keep herself safe because her lost trust was really a loss of her faith in humanity and no one ever bothered to really show her hope again. So you are right…some fences don’t just need to fall they need to be pushed down in order provide those in need comfort even if they are reluctant to accept it.

    1. In many ways, it is a sad story… a sad, true account of someone’s life of which I only knew a piece. She did seem to lose her faith in “humanity” from how she interacted with others….I will never know her full story. But she taught me so much. I will always remember meeting her… and that glimmer of life in her eyes when she asked for the crossword puzzles. Yep, some fences need to crash down. Life is short… way too short to close our hearts completely no matter the risks.

  3. I agree with pp. I’m sure she appreciated you bringing her those puzzles and taking the time to care. Thanks for the inspiration! My family has moved recently and I’ve been feeling that I need to connect with some of our neighbors that we haven’t met yet. I’ll take this as a confirmation that I need to go knock on a couple doors. 🙂

    1. Megan, yes! I do hope that you will be able to find the courage to reach out to your neighbors! You never know. We just have to be faithful in loving others the best we can… but thank God He is responsible for the results. 🙂

  4. It makes me wonder how many, like your neighbor, feel lost in the lonliness and hide behind those fences. The ones who need grace and kindness and a little TLC. Kinda sad, but necessary to reach out and show the love. Thanks for sharing…you really got me thinking.

    1. Tiffany, you have me thinking me too… her life was an obvious picture of isolation. But what about those who “look” fine on the outside but who are still achingly lonely?? Gosh it makes me think, we all need a little TLC!

    1. Thank you! I know when I scratched this out (and it took a while to write this one!) I found that the story unfolded on its own… it was like God was showing me more and more things as I wrote. There is a lot of symbolism here…. I hope it encourages you. Thanks for your comment.:)

    1. Hannah, so good to hear from you! I love what you are doing with your new website. 🙂 Yes this is a challenging post… even for myself. Goodness, I am still processing what I wrote and the lessons I have learned from this woman’s life.

    1. Jenn, I am sorry to make you weep…. but so encouraged that it was in a good way. 🙂 God is so amazing in what He shows us through the ordinary moments of our lives. I am constantly in awe of the lessons I’m learning… still processing so much of it

  5. Oh, I feel so sorry for her! It makes you wonder what could have happened in her life to make her build such high fences. What you did was so kind. I’m sure it meant a great deal to her, and what a powerful lesson you teach. I had to wipe away tears as I read this. It gives me a new resolve to reach out, even when those walls seem too strong to fall. And also to let my own fences down. Thanks, Kim!

    1. Chelsi, you are such a kind soul. You always have comments that bring ME to tears. Anyway, here’s to trying to reach out more, letting those walls fall as they need to… and seeing and loving those around us, no matter how hard. It won’t be perfect, but I know just in trying, we will find some beautiful lessons… hope you are doing well!

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