|Barn next to my childhood home. Now a subdivision
Back in the days of square photos.
As a child, my dad and I would often take walks through the farm fields by our house many evenings after dinner.
Our destination was a sandbar on the Harpeth River, about a mile or so from our house. There we would skip rocks, fish, or check on the trot lines we had strung between the banks.
And, like all journeys, we encountered our share of obstacles along the way.
I can remember jumping a small creek and climbing over several gates and fences. The barbed wire ones were the trickiest. But, I helped dad get over them nonetheless.
Those memories remind me of a tendency we humans have in life. In our journeys, when we encounter something in our way we often just see it as that, ‘something in our way.’
We walk along, seemingly headed where we want to go, and we encounter a fence. “Why is this here,” we ask ourselves. “I see no need of it.”
“Someone from an age gone by must have placed it here. I bet for some reason that no longer exists. They probably put it here to keep people out. Just being mean or maybe out of fear.”
“Certainly today we don’t need such fences. My journey would be so much better and easier without it.”
Or maybe, “people just want to fence me in. But I don’t care what they say.”
So, we set out to remove said fence, perhaps busting a hole in it or convincing others around us that there is no need for it at all. All the while we think that this will help us progress in our journey.
And, for a time it seems to do so. “We’re free,” we tell ourselves. Then we run on ahead only to encounter another fence. What will we do this time? Knock it down too?
A good rule is this…before you remove a fence, know why it was put there in the first place! For you too will likely find yourself erecting some fence of your own along the way because you think it needs to be there.
Then, in some years to come, another one journeying along will encounter your fence and see no need for it either. Taking it down they will think they are doing good for those who travel after them.
But, what happens when you take down a fence only to learn later the important reason it was put there in the first place? Perhaps it was there to protect something valuable, like a herd or a house.
Maybe it was put there to keep something dangerous out, and now your removal has only let the foxes and wolves have their way.
Fields don’t exist without fences. In fact, nothing exists without boundaries.
GK Chesterton (read anything he wrote if you get the chance) profoundly wrote in his 1929 book titled “The Thing” (which I haven’t read, just found the quote which inspired this post),
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.
In our age of ‘change,’ ‘reform,’ and ‘transformation,’ let’s be sure we stop long enough to really understand what it is we are removing, fixing, or replacing.
After all, we are really just setting up new fences for the next generation.
And those before us who erected the fences ‘in our way’ had their reasons for doing so and we might be glad one day that they did.