I have this Intro to Literature class looming over me for the fall semester. I haven’t taught the course for years, which means much of my pleasure reading for the summer is being tossed aside to make room for the heavy preparation the class requires. Half-reclined on the couch with the anthology opened to page 342, I read and re-read Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall.” Much to the displeasure of some of my colleagues who detest Frost, I have obsessed over the man since I encountered him as a knowledge-hungry college student in 2001.
You’ve heard the poem. It has that famous line: “Good fences make good neighbors,” which I’ve always thought the majority of casual readers have misconstrued as something that means you have to have a nice fence in your yard in order to maintain positive relations with your neighbor. If you’ve read Frost enough, you know he was always up to something. He also writes in that poem, “Before I build a wall, I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out and to whom I was like to give offense.” He begins to question why the fence should be built in the first place. All the while, his neighbor keeps telling him that “good fences make good neighbors.”
It makes sense that, as a college student, I embraced this poem. It asks essentially “Why do we do the things we’ve always done?” Why do we evolve the way we do? Or perhaps, why do we not evolve when we should?
As I finished the poem a second time earlier this week, I removed my glasses and looked up at the scrolling marquee across the bottom of the television. “SUPREME COURT STRIKES DOWN DOMA.” There were images of crowds bursting with shouts and cheers, men and women hugging their partners. While perhaps several years later than it should have been, the court decision addressed one of the largest civil rights issues of my lifetime.
Perhaps reluctantly, and always with one eye open, I opened up Facebook. As per usual, the vitriol poured down my news feed. Folks defending traditional marriage. Gay-marriage proponents bashing traditional views. Liberals and Conservatives slinging turds at one another. With Robert Frost staring up at me from my lap, I asked him with my eyes what he thought of all this. The words on the page, written decades ago, seemed to hurl themselves at the TV. Preserve tradition, yes. But understand why. And if the need arises that the wall you’ve built for years shows decay, it’s time to tear it down and build another one. It’s time to redefine it. Redecorate it. Reinforce it. After all, who doesn’t like a quality renovation from time to time?