By: Katie Choi
We are selling our house, and this process has made my husband and I feel so nostalgic. We love our backyard. It has beautiful, mature trees. Our lot is situated in a way where our backyard and our neighbor’s backyard merge together as one. We love our neighbors. My husband, Ben, has known Paul since middle school, and it was very much a happy coincidence that we moved next door. We have this slight hill in the back, but it is just enough of an incline to make for a great little sledding hill for the kids on our street. Before we decided to sell our house, we got a bid for some landscaping in the back. We made sure to say that the hill was sacred and we didn’t want to interfere with any sledding. Fast forward to now, we are getting all sorts of feedback (solicited and otherwise) on our house. Think you have humility and a level head? Well, get some feedback on a house and property you love and see how quickly you jump in to defend it.
Technology is pretty amazing today with being able to upload pictures of your house online, having drone shots of your whole property, and have the ability to Photoshop in elements so that potential buyers don’t have to use their imagination to envision all the different possibilities. That was part of the feedback we got recently. Our realtor thought we could Photoshop in some privacy trees so that people could see what the backyard could look like if we seperated our yard from our neighbors. Seems innocent enough until you take a second to understand they will need to be planted on top of the sledding hill. So not only would that be impacting fun for all the kids, but it would create a barrier with people we care about.
All this got me thinking a lot about our culture. Would we rather put up privacy trees versus getting to know our neighbors? Am I making an overestimation by asking that? Maybe, but I also think there is some truth in that. Online, you can find staggering statistics that estimate only 30% of adults know most of their neighbors. That’s not very high. While that number feels easy to call out, and these privacy trees feel like a great example to share, I find myself wanting the same sort of ‘amenity.’
You see, we are building a new house, that’s why we are selling the current one. Our new backyard will touch the backyard of another house and I have found myself envisioning planting a lot of trees in the backyard. Some motivation being to create shade, but other motivation is to give us a little separation between us and our new neighbors. I find myself questioning why anyone looking at our house could possibly want to put trees into our perfect backyard with our perfect neighbors, but justifying the desire to do it at our new house because that’s different.
I told my friend Ellen about wanting to write about this and she echoed some of my thoughts. She said this reminded her about an exhibit she saw called ‘Between Fences’. It was a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian that made its way around the US several years ago. She visited it and actually worked as a docent at one location. The exhibit stuck with her. Here is some verbiage taken from the Smithsonian’s website describing the exhibit:
Fences are icons of the American landscape. They can be used to create a welcoming picture of home or a wall of privacy and security. Fences have pitted rancher against rancher in the battle for scarce resources; back fences serve as meeting places where neighbors share recipes, local gossip or a friendly joke. Americans live between fences.
Fences are as complex as they are simple. Consider some of the more popular types—a rusted barbed-wire fence; a new, perfectly aligned white-picket fence; or a tall chain-link fence—each potentially conveys a message about the owners of the fence, their lives, and the nature of their relations with their neighbors.
Using fences to establish boundaries led to the fence wars of the late 19th century. These conflicts turned neighbor against neighbor, sometimes with deadly consequences. More than two centuries later, the question is posed: What is the intent of fences?
“Between Fences” encourages visitors to embrace the importance of a crucial aspect of our personal and national heritage. As visitors explore the exhibition, encountering fences and gateways, they will get a sense of the unspoken communication and interaction that fences play in our lives. Do fences contain or exclude? When does a privacy fence become a spite fence? Do gated communities give the residents a special bond or exclude outsiders? Further, visitors will be asked to consider how and why we build fences, and how they reflect who we are as individuals, communities and a nation.
The complete article can be found here. While I do think some of the questions asked are bit leading, I also think they make you pause and wrestle with the answer.
A few weeks ago, my family and I were playing in the backyard in my daughter’s plastic pool. One of our neighbors was out in her backyard too, playing with their new dog. We wound up talking for over an hour about many random things, but she revealed something really tragic that had happened to them in their past. It was unexpected, but I was grateful for her sharing. I can’t help but think that we wouldn’t have gotten that opportunity had there been a physical barrier between us, barring us from easy conversation. It gave me more empathy towards them as a family and an even greater desire to spend time with them, get to know them, love them.
So, what does all this say about me or how I view community? Well, I am still not sure, but if I reflect on this and sit in the unknown then I begin to question what ‘fences’ or ‘privacy trees’ I put up in my life to close me off from others. What barriers do I create to stay in isolation? What ways can I open myself up more? When do I need privacy and when do I need the community of others? What relationships am I missing out on by being closed off? That’s not something you come to a conclusion on in a short blog post. Likely, it’s an ongoing conversation with yourself and your family.
True connection can bring about joy, acceptance, humility, growth, and so many other traits I can’t even recognize. If this time of thinking and writing has taught me one thing, it’s to pay more attention to how seemingly minor decisions affect my heart. How the planting of trees or building up of other barriers can have a bigger impact. I am praying that I can open myself to more opportunities like the one I mentioned above with my neighbor. I am praying that that I can listen and love and serve.
I am praying with you and for you and wishing you peace.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:24 – 25