April 19, 2013: Building Stone Walls

April 19, 2013
"Forest Primeval" by SE Vedder

“Forest Primeval” by SE Vedder

[This article is far from my usual fare of  “East meets West” and cooking subject matter. I hope my usual reader will forgive, but special occurrences require special responses and as the blog is my sole voice to the world…]

Well, this certainly has been a tumultuous week to be a Boston-area resident. Although I personally could not have been more safe in every instance, I have received voices of concern for my safety from friends and family who knew of my (relative) proximity to this weeks’ events. The whole week has presented a chance to study and to reassess the perception (not only of my own, but of itself) this city that I  have chosen to call home.

It would be disingenuous of me to discuss what I love so much about my fellow Boston-area natives without first addressing what I hate: first, they are without doubt, the worst drivers I have ever experienced. In my most generous moments I allow that the terrible road designs are to fault. Design in one thing….attitude being another. That is choice. We all have the same conditions. Being exceptionally aggressive or abusive doesn’t make the day go better for anyone. We have bad roads. Get over it. Act safe. Be polite.

Which leads to the other thing about my Boston-area neighbors: no one says “hello.” I have a running route that is five miles into town and back. Often, I will see a person walking in the opposite direction. As I pass by, I always give my cheery “hello” with a wave. There is always a 50/50 chance that this person will even acknowledge me, let alone give a greeting back. I worked 18 years with a native who I greeted each and every single morning with my “Good Morning” and never got a response…ever. This strikes me as not only impolite, but very wrong. I’ve had numerous native friends explain the “until we know you, you are suspect” logic that seems to be prevalent here. I don’t buy this. Good form is good form, and most of the world seems to be just fine giving the occasional “hey” to their fellow humans.

Up until today, I have blamed the quintessential New England poet, Robert Frost for this attitude, by virtue of the single line I have remembered from his poem, “Mending Wall” which portrays two neighbors who meet each Spring to mend a mutually adjoining stone wall. Asking why they have to mend the wall, one neighbor says to the other, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Revisiting the poem today, the actual point of the poem seems to be that the “mending” is a choice, not a necessity.

So much for what I hate. What I absolutely love about my fellow Bostonians, something that I see on a regular basis, and what we have seen so much this week is a unique support system (and a term that I am borrowing from Lafacdio Hearn) of “active beneficence” which is to say: “See a need, actively fulfill that need.” No group of people I have ever experienced circle the wagons more tightly in a crisis better than Boston-area people. I have about a million examples of this, but a few off the top of my head:

A year ago last October, we had a freak ice-storm which brought down huge both  pine and oak branches which crashed through my deck, inches from where I was sleeping. The same storm cut off power for three days: no heat, no hot water, no power to heat food. During those three days, neighbors regularly checked in on me, to see if I was OK and brought me food. That weekend, a group got together to help me clear the huge boughs off what was left of my deck.

It is my friend Dan, who, when he learned I loved a particular bourbon, and that I could never afford even a single bottle, delivered a whole case to my door.

It is the kind woman who I recently worked with, who each day brought baked goods to share with her fellow employees and brought gift bags of sundry cleaning supplies she thought we could use.

It is my friends Teja, Yoshio, and Pam who have all often dropped off food stuffs in my time of need.

Like I say, I have many, many more examples from personal account. But what I have seen this week as my city has faced a crisis:

An exemplary response by police to hunt down the suspects of the marathon bombing and its continued efforts to keep Boston residents safe.

That shortly after the bombing, there were people running towards the blast site, regardless of their own safety, to help the injured.

Runners of the marathon, after running 26 miles, went right to blood donation centers to give blood.

Amazing….simply amazing.

Acknowledging the tendency of my fellow Bostonians to be wary of the “other” I suppose, considering the events of this week, no jury would convict you from continuing in kind. But please remember that building stone walls is a choice, not a necessity. I plead to not let fear and suspicion of your fellow man consume your every moment. There are many wonderful souls of whom you bump elbows with on a day-to-day basis that are capable of magnificent generosities and kindnesses. Good fences DO NOT make good neighbors.

Walking through fields west of Boston, I often come across these random stone walls, moulded over, that seem to spring up from nowhere, going to ground a short distance further TO nowhere. I glean hope from these structures. They show ancient divisions that time has dissolved. To a city, which has earned this week…in every way imaginable, to hold its head up with pride…choose to make your walls thus: eroded, obsolete, and meaningless.



  1. 🙂 waking up to a calmer city today…

  2. Dear Steve, your words …profound, your character above reproach, and your loving friends / neighbour’s are the fortunate ones. keep on jogging, smiling, nodding ..whatever. The ones who do not acknowledge you….well, it’s their loss. More positive hormones are released when people show happiness, kindness, and generosity.

    It is a medical fact.

    Take care,

    Kathy Avery

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