Fences, No Fences, and 360’s

When I was a teenager, my sister and brother-in-law occasionally took me bowling. I didn’t go often, so – no surprise here – I wasn’t very good at it, and got discouraged and embarrassed as ball after ball either went into the gutter or clipped off just a few pins. And, of course, I was a teenager, eager to be competent, cool, capable…

My dear brother-in-law used to draw “fences” on the score sheet, telling me he was keeping the bad luck out of the next frame. Fifty years later, I still remember those fences, because I still try to employ them. I still try to keep yesterday’s bleakness, bad luck, unfortunate happening, ___________ , (you fill in the blank) from recurring today.  The irony is that the very act of trying to limit a feeling often magnifies it. I guess you could say I’m not a very quick study!

Fast forward to a brand-new magazine featuring an article by my son, Ned: it opens with a gorgeous, expansive, double-page picture of the African desert, all blue sky, ethereal clouds, surreal light revealing dustlets of sand whipped up behind a lone motorcycle, with the title No Fences to be Found. Hmmm. Something to be learned from these two vignettes, I’m thinking.

First, fences have their place. I am grateful for the idea that I can draw a line in the sand (or my life) and say, “That was then, this is now. I intend to make now different.” Fences (even imaginary ones) help me do that, help me avoid the temptation to stop dead in yesterday’s mindset.

Ah, but no fences: Once I’ve been brave enough to say what was will be no more, how wonderful to have an image of no fences. This can help me cultivate “eyes of wonder,” ready to see new possibilities, think new thoughts. The trick is to balance these things, because my courage has its limits. The fences can help keep me grounded, help me think that I can stop the momentum of a negative mood or happening. I need to be careful, however, that they are not literally fencing me in, keeping me from going to the new places where I need to go.

My current and on-going bugaboo (all these theories lack punch minus the specifics) is the challenge of being solitary, single. After almost four years, you’d think I’d get used to it. In many ways, I have adjusted. However, the challenge, while changing, continues. Fences don’t magically keep the feelings contained in their own little cage marked “yesterday.” I’ve “contained” all the sadness I could contain, and trying to pretend it will stop at the fence indeed only magnifies it. It’s good to know that.

Here’s the thing I’m learning: “no fences”  lets all that sadness leech out. – ! – Who knew?!? Trying to be “strong” weakens; allowing vulnerability strengthens. What a blessing.  Fences imply neat demarcations. Life is not like that. Life rejects our efforts to neatly compartmentalize things. Ironically, it is only by exhausting myself trying that I am finally learning that the answer is not to try!

More serendipity came into my inbox as I was thinking these thoughts: pictures from a friend of my daughter’s, taken with a sophisticated 360 degree lens. To me, the pictures seemed almost – ? – exotic, I guess would be the best descriptor. Able to see the big picture, but unable to see the specifics. Aha! Just like fences or no fences… You can’t have it both ways. “Today” is the close-up lens; tomorrow and beyond, the 360… We really aren’t in the position to know “tomorrow and beyond,” but we need, as we work hard to stay in “today”, to know that the future exists. We need to remember that it will not, absolutely not, be a carbon copy of today. We must cultivate our belief in this larger sense of things, something we already “know”, but often neglect to remember. Tomorrow will bring its own challenges, but also its own solutions. Neither of those are within in the purview of the close-up lens of today.

Somehow, perhaps because it is Easter and the season of renewal, this brings to mind the words of St. Julian of Norwich, who wrote these words in the fourteenth century, in midst of one wave after another of the Black Death:

If she (yes, St. Julian was a “she”) could hold that remarkable thought in midst of such discouraging, frightful times, surely she has something to say to our everyday sadnesses and challenges.
Use fences now and then, and then tear them down. Switch out the lenses in your personal “camera.” Shake it up! It’s a beautiful world out there, but it still takes a lot of courage (and remember that courage means “heart”) to embrace it.

Blessings to you and yours in this special time of renewal.

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