Monday, November 01, 2010

The Nature of Borders

A recent conversation with a friend of mine reminded me of the borders that are so easy to construct in our relationships with others. The role we play in keeping people at a distance.

And simply the fact that so many of my friends are single. The nature of my very business with the Choice Mom community is working with women around the world who are raising kids alone.

Why is this, I wondered? Why, at this middle age point and beyond, is it sometimes so easy to find that we have fewer people meaningfully in our lives, rather than regularly adding to our existing company of close friends?

In a conversation led by the Rev. Karen Hering, a guest at our First Universalist Church of Minneapolis, the nature of borders was discussed. How borders are man-made, creating differences between neighbors that don't naturally exist.

She told the story of how a childhood friend believed, until she was old enough to drive, that there was a physical speed bump between states because her father would always brake slightly and announce they were crossing borders.

Wouldn't it be something if there was a physical barrier that we could see and point to as a reason for our separations? A concrete excuse for losing contact with someone. For not having an intimate connection. For making it too hard for us to sustain a social life.

I'm in one of those current lulls. In the past few years I proudly made about 20 new friendships. All with much younger people who I simply enjoyed seeing at music events. In the meantime, I also let go of a few friendships I could have maintained but chose not to. And lost a relationship with a family member for reasons I haven't forced to become explained.

I've also heard from Choice Moms who are feeling isolated, especially in these early days of motherhood when our infants, toddlers and young school-aged kids seem to take priority and sap us of the energy, inclination, time or funds for maintaining our own adult lives.

In the conversation with Rev. Hering, she told the stories of families who were separated by government walls in other countries. People who spoke poems to each other on either side of borders erected by their governments, as a form of protest. About the U.S. fence constructed over a prehistoric First Nation village, in a former gateway community archeologists had discovered had featured a melding of tribes.

Is this what security looks and feels like, she asked?

She talked about how yin and yang translate as sunlight and shadow, light and dark. I was especially interested in learning that this long admired symbol represents the waxing and waning of the moon. She explained it as a "fluid relationship of polarities held together in a larger whole. The line between them, that curving edge, is understood not as a barrier that cuts in two, but as a meeting place, a point of relationship, a place of identity embedded in interconnectedness...It does not stand still in time, fixed and hard, a cutting reality, but but it waxes and wanes with a rhythmic fluidity that defies solid walls and wire fences, and separations whether visible or invisible."

She quoted Desmond Tutu: "We are made different in order to know that we need one another. We are made to complement one another...A person is a person through other persons. In order for me to be me, you must be you. We are meant for togetherness, as those who belong in one family."

She asked us to think about who, as a nation and individually, we wish to lock out and fence out? "Who are these so-called strangers that we turn away? What part of ourselves do we turn away when we do? What does it mean to make a border into a wall? Are we really safer by barring passage, communication, trade and relationship?"

We all know how racism, sexism, and nationalism fence us off. We know about Choice Moms who have had to sever relationships with family and friends who don't accept our choice to become a single parent.

She encouraged us to think about erecting steps to cross over fences, or to erase a line of conflict drawn in the sand with another. To let go of the sharp edge of religious or political difference that is separating us from another.

In this week of U.S. elections, I welcome each of us to contemplate what barriers have become rigid in our lives that we'd like to soften. As Rev. Hering encouraged, "Think of a way in order to reach across this border. Something you might say or do, or not say or do, that would make a little opening, invite a little movement or invitation to cross that border to build connections."

I'm contemplating which of several new openings I could create in an old fence.
What connection would you like to make, or mend?


For a full podcast of the Rev. Hering's talk, click here.

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