On a Broken Fence

Sep 24, 2021

That broken fence in yonder row has needed mending for so long. But I am loath to close what has become a gate to does and fawns and other wild things who don’t know that the fence was built to keep them out and who take its brokenness as an invitation to invade this human world of manicured grass and strategic planting. They wonder, not overmuch, at these contrivances and are able to use only what has become useless—that broken fence, their access to a world that is theirs still, though they have no need of ownership. They own only themselves, and their young, and what they take into their bodies, and the moment, and they want nothing more.
Because the fence is broken, I know all this. And this pleasant invasion upsets my humanity or what I thought was my humanity. The curious wild things look into my animal eyes and smell my animal smell, mixed and mingled with unnatural adulterations. This they wonder at, for it is alien, something beyond their canny ken, and this disturbs them, as I am disturbed. So I avert my eyes and still my heart and cast my wandering, wondering mind over the broken fence into the suburban wilderness that is, at least, wilder than this lawn and garden.

Here it is darker and rougher and sweeter, and the un-straight paths, not made for human feet, are smaller and incomprehensible. The shady stillness is pregnant with sense as if the wood itself is watching and listening. And now I smell the smells and hear the sounds, and my eyes rove expectantly and excitedly, and my ears twitch, and the hearing sense itself, freed from distraction and abstraction, expands and explores outward, purifying itself with the purpose of unbridled, uncorrupted, wordless sound. The invisible shows itself in the flutter of a leaf and the twinging of a branch. This timeless un-manned world accepts my invasion. I become coeval with it, with the living leaves and the dying ones, with the cool, fecund earth, the epic layered genealogy of life and death, which is all the same here, with the flitting finch, the industrious, ridiculous squirrel, the patient doe, and wise-wandering turtle.

Consciousness dissolves into sense. And self retreats from this Edenic reunion. 

Suddenly God is everywhere! Walking in the cool of the evening—transfusing, transposing, transmitting, transfiguring. All is He, and He is all. My blood sings. My soul, the deep unconscious one, stirs in unison with the soul of all the life around me and its joyful unbroken fellowship with the creator, and I, who am not I, know without knowing that here is life and breath and spirit and being, perfect and unperfected. How could this have been invisible?—this pervading benevolence of all self, this glorious everything from which all other things live, move, and have their being. 

It is too much. I am crushed by it. I need my rocky, sheltering cleft and the mercy of his veiling hand. I am naked and ashamed. I need to cover myself, to hide myself, to put on my weedy garments and flee from his perfection. My eyes brim with salty, living water. My hands tremble. I am not myself in this moment. Or am I wrong? Am I more myself by the un-selfing? Then the words rush back. The tears fall, and the moment ends, leaving in my stirred blood a relieving ache, and I am aware again of that hollowness within me, but I know it can be filled and will be filled, and when, and by Whom.

But now I need the chores, and the lawn, the garden, and the books and music—the human things that hold this wildness at bay until they move me to seek it again. I pick my way back to the sub-world of civilization along the small meandering paths until I come to the broken fence and cross its boundary into a world I have the shaken audacity to call mine.
And here, from the very human comfort of this soft chair and hot tea, I decide that the mending of fences can wait.

Stan Butts

Stan Butt is the preaching minister for the Peachtree City Church of Christ in Peachtree City, Georgia. He is a beekeeper and doctoral student in the Great Books Program at Faulkner University.

The opinions and arguments of our contributing writers do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute or its leadership.

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