The first time I really recognized the wall as a real thing was at the Cub Scouts' Blue and Gold banquet last week. I am new in my town and church (again), and having to walk into rooms where I know no one and choose a seat among them is something that comes with that territory. So I did at the banquet, standing at the door and looking long before selecting a round table with enough chairs left for myself and my crew.
The meeting hadn't begun, so people were chatting, and there it was. Halfway across the table where we sat, there was an invisible wall. We didn't know the people on the other side of the table, so we talked to each other, and didn't even look across the table at them. They, likewise, didn't look at us. Suddenly I thought how odd it was that we were three feet from someone else, but might as well have been in the next room, or the next city.
Of course then I sat there contemplating the wall, and realized that I've seen it over and over. We've been...fortunate? to be able to live in several different places during our adult lives, some of them spacious, some of them less so. It's interesting to note the differences in the way people act when they have different amounts of space.
In the neighborhood we've just left, the houses were very close together. I would say, self-righteously, that I make no judgement call on that arrangement, but you would call me hypocritical seeing these pictures. I will say that the people living around us there seemed happy, and it was only I who felt something amiss. There was a sense of community there that they all love, but I, a chronic misfit, couldn't bear.
But the wall was clearly evident between each of those little properties. Where people must live their lives always within the view of others, the wall, it seems to me, must be psychological. So our neighbors would carry on in their backyards, playing or partying, or even just cutting the lawn, fully in view of our back windows, but with both of our walls firmly between us. We saw, but did not see them. They unloaded groceries into garages directly below our bedroom windows and had conversations about the day that we weren't intended to hear, and the wall was intended to protect us both. We would rake leaves in the front yard at the same time as someone across the street, never interacting and never thinking of doing so, the wall an almost visible divider between us.
In the apartments where we've lived, the wall is even closer. When someone else's front door is a foot from your own, when your walls adjoin so that you can hear him catcalling at her through them, The Wall has to be more real than the walls themselves.
All of this may sound as though I think the wall is bad. I'm just commenting on its existence, really. It may be, probably is, a coping technique that we all use to navigate a world where we've got to interact with a lot of other people. And maybe I only see it now because it's so suddenly been moved back for us, at least at home. Everywhere else we continue to carry it with us, in the checkout line at the store, in the corner we've staked out among the blocks and books at the library, between our half of the park bench and theirs.
The Point, where two creeks come together and hold our little piece of woods.
But I think it's when someone musters up the spark of courage that it takes to cross the wall that's beautiful to me. Sometimes they botch it, to be sure. It's tough to know what to say when someone at the store asks me if I'm running a day care. That kind of interaction tends to make my wall a little stronger. But the other night at the banquet, as I sat wrapped in thought about, and firmly ensconced in, my own wall, I heard these words from the other side of the table, "I don't believe we've met. I'm..."
And the wall between us came down.