Cleveland Plain Dealer (Ohio, Op-ed)
By Mary Ann Flannery
April 27, 2016
Pope Francis continues his challenge to world leaders to loosen the grip of greed that chokes the rights of others and tightens the hold that affluent nations have on poorer ones. And packed into this message is his hope that the United States and Mexico work out diplomatic ways to protect our borders.
As I watched the Pope's visit to the Mexican-U.S. border earlier this year, I was overcome with emotion. There was something stark, divisive, inhumane at the sight of the cyclone fence separating people on either side. Jubilant children pressed their fingers through the fence to touch family members, friends, fellow Mexicans; the press of the crowds pushed people against the fence as they tried to kiss one another, wipe tears from their faces, cry out greetings and names. Despite the fence, the crowds were there to greet their religious leader and share in a Mass, the ultimate community of their Catholic faith.
Robert Frost, the urbane American poet laureate of the 1960s and a favorite of President John F. Kennedy, wrote in his poem "Mending Wall" that "something there is that doesn't love a wall."
The quote sprang into memory as I watched the compelling drive of human-to-human touch elevated to prayer. The circumstances that politically govern the border fence and that of the poet and his neighbor repairing the wall between their farm properties are not dissimilar. Frost wonders why they need to repair the wall because it is continually broken by hunters stealthily gaining on their prey. The wall does not keep in cattle or sheep, for both men have none, and Frost's apples cannot jump the wall to eat his neighbor's pine cones, he points out.
"Good fences make good neighbors," says the neighbor. But how, wonders Frost.
"Before I built a wall I'd ask to know what I am walling in or walling out. And to whom I was like to give offense. Something there is that doesn't love a wall. That wants it down."
And history nods in affirmation. Think of the Great Wall of China built to keep out marauders and nomadic groups of the Eurasian Steppe, and to control immigration and emigration. Now it is a tourist attraction.
Think of Hadrian's Wall constructed by the Romans in England to resist the robust Scots threatening to take over Roman-held England. Today it is a tourist attraction. Think of the Berlin Wall constructed to divide a nation between communism and democracy and challenged by our own American president to be torn down. Today it is a memory. Something there is that does not love a wall.
Let's imagine that by some massive misfortune, the United States is eventually led by a president who builds a huge wall, a "beautiful wall," and whose sycophants in Congress join him in ceremoniously laying the first brick looking on their project with a misbegotten patriotism edged with xenophobia.
Fast forward several centuries. A tour guide leads a group of visitors from other nations who stand looking at a wall ravaged by pickaxes, pocked with holes from small bombs. Whole sections bombed into yawning crevasses. Centuries of desert sands have calcified parts of drones that were used to hoist humans over the wall and deposit them on the brush below. The docent says to the group: "We are also standing on subterranean tunnels where thousands crawled to a better life. Yes, that was America then, a country whose civil discourse diminished into brute force and whose empathy disappeared behind the façade of protecting its borders.
And the tourists move on, looking on the once "beautiful wall," shaking their heads and wondering in disbelief why such a great nation could not understand that something there is that does not love a wall.
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