Fences: a metaphor taken entirely too far

I used to live in an open field. Everyone could come and go as they pleased and take what they needed. I could see forever, but it offered little protection. Anyone could come to my door and there was no measure to stop people taking more than they were owed. I have a habit of giving too much away; making people uncomfortable instead of making them like me.

One day I looked in the pantry, and realized there was little left to give. Worse, there was barely enough for me to survive. I realized that I had been depending on visitors to show up with their arms full of wares, and I thought it was ok for me to take everything they had. To pick their pockets if I had to rather than go out into the world myself. But people don’t keep coming around when you do that. That is not how life works. It was high time I should fill my own pantry, be like my neighbors who seemed to manage to go out every day and bring home what they need. Protected within their walls, welcoming to glad strangers.

I went about doing normal people things, and bringing home what I thought I needed.  But I kept bringing home too much stuff, or not enough, or all of one thing, or all things cheaply made and discounted. And I kept leaving my doors unlocked, and the windows open. People didn’t want the things I had, or they were taking too much, and they kept coming at all the wrong times. I was not getting the hang of being like other people. I thought; I should build a fence. Other people have fences. A fence will help keep people at bay while I am busy filling up my pantry with all the right things.

The trouble was, I had never built a fence before. I had never learned how. I didn’t even know what the building codes were or where to get the materials. I just looked around and saw everyone else had them and thought it had to be pretty easy. Everyone seemed to be able to do it all on their own; I shouldn’t have to ask for help. I would build a pretty fence just like all the other fences. I didn’t realize that all those people who had built their fences had good teachers, consulted the right books, knew the laws, were born with innate fence building skills. I didn’t know that they had people who helped them brace it, noticed when it was looking a little worn and helped them mend it. I didn’t know what I didn’t know about fences.

I cobbled together a fence out of shit I had laying around. It was a janky fence that wasn’t anchored properly got knocked over in the slightest wind. Parts of it were too high, parts too shallow. Other parts had holes in them that people could see right through. It was easily tunneled under. I forgot to build gates. I painted it a garish colour so everyone would notice it instead of just jumping right over. It was uneven and nails were sticking out, and anyone who walked past would get caught on it. But I was proud that I had done it, even if it was the ugliest, most useless fence in history.

Most people didn’t notice the fence much, being as used to fences as they are. Some people were deterred by the lack of gates and stopped coming around. Some people thought the fence was ugly. Some people got angry that the fence was there at all, making them alter their regular routes around me. Some people came at it all Mad Max style and knocked it over and told me I wasn’t allowed to have a fence.

The fence wasn’t doing its job; it was keeping the polite people out and attracting protest from people who didn’t like fences. I started to panic. So I militarized. I built the fence higher. I dug it into the ground. I electrified it. I barbed it. I welded it shut. It now stood so tall that I could hardly see the sun.

I was safe; the good people couldn’t get in, but more importantly no one could get at my weirdly stocked pantry anymore. The trouble was, I had no way out. I could peek out, but it felt awkward to talk to people from a tall, barbed ledge. I didn’t have a ladder, so my arms ached holding myself over the top of it. Everything sounds like anger when it has to be yelled over the wall, when that’s the only way people can reach you. The bigger trouble was that my pantry was almost empty again, and now I had no way to fill it. I had no garden, no livestock, nothing except a giant fence I had put all of my time and energy into.

I rationed myself behind the walls. Counted days, waited for someone to rescue me. I thought if someone cared enough they would heroically scale the fence with all the things that I needed. I waited. I started to get lonely and crazy behind the fence. I wondered if there was anyone on the other side anymore. I blamed the world for forcing me in here, but the truth was really simple: I built it exactly the right height to keep everyone out. I picked the wrong tool to protect myself. I was guarding all that I did not have.

It is hard to take down walls and make yourself vulnerable to the world again. It is hard to disarm yourself against the people battering against you. We have to shield ourselves with the knowledge that we deserve, I deserve, to have what everyone else has. I had to learn to be solid enough in that conviction that I belong in the world, to have everything I need. I had to starve before I learned that I can unbuild and sit in full view of the horizon. Everything now is a little too loud and a little too bright; I am unsure of how to be outside again. But the sunrise feels good on my face, even if the glare obscures the road ahead.


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