Fence: a barrier that divides property or affords protection; to restrict (Webster’s Pocket Dictionary, 2002).
I am training, once again, for a half marathon scheduled for late September. This past Sunday morning, I ventured out on an 8 mile run that runners in my community call ‘bridges’. I left my house and ran south on Henderson Highway, meandered onto Glenwood Crescent, crossed the Redwood Bridge, followed St. John’s park to St. Croix, Cathedral, Scotia to Marymound, the tip of Kildonan Park, Main, Chief Peguis Bridge, Whellams Lane, Henderson Highway and home. It is interesting how my vantage point changes on every run – almost like there is a theme. Sunday’s was ‘fences.’ As I was just coming off the Redwood Bridge and running into the strip mall parking lot on the corner of Redwood and Main, I encountered a fence. “Where did that come from?” was my reaction, but as I got closer, I could see rust as well as evidence that it had been hit a couple times. And all the times over the past five years I have taken this path, I do not recall that fence. So thus began the awareness of fences. The analogy is similar to once you buy a red car, you suddenly see a sea of red cars!
People can be inventive with fences. They can be the boring chain-link like I have that warrant no maintenance. They can be wooden, plastic and various versions of both. They can even be organic in the form of living (or near-dead) hedges. I have decided I am going to line the lane side of my chain link fence with perennials this fall. That will then not only enhance my yard but give my fence a personality. Along the way, I saw the fences I knew were cared for as part of ‘cared for’ properties; I saw fences that were strictly barriers to divide property; I saw fences that were as creative as their owners that actually seemed designed to complement the homes they encase. Some were high enough to create intrigue while others were low enough to expose inviting oases. As I ran along Main Street towards the bridge, there again, I saw several lines of very high chain linked fences on the inside of the street fence within the Kildonan Golf Course. They are obviously to protect the golf balls from hitting traffic, but when were they erected? Where did they come from? Again, my awareness was shifted to taking in more of my surroundings. As I raced off Chief Peguis Bridge, I ran along the cement wall that serves not only as a fence but as a sound barrier from the fast and noisy traffic. Although there is some graffiti on this wall, there is also a mural at the base of the trail depicting Red River settlers. They smile at me every time I run by, giving me a sense of cheery encouragement as I face a couple more miles to my home. There is no sense of fence here – but abounding joy and freedom of a runner in her bliss!
I have hurtled many fences in my life. I have had my heart broken to the point where the fence was bolted shut. I have often used excuses that could be like fences for moving forward or even making decisions. And I have hidden behind fences as a form of protection or perhaps fear of vulnerability by opening or scaling the fence. Luckily, the pieces of my life have come together at mid-life in a way that makes me joyful, grateful and fairly fence-free. Recently, my vocation has taken me from Geriatrics to Mental Health where every day I experience people whose lives are characterized by fences. I am part of an inter-disciplinary treatment team that de-‘fences’ these folks, defends them and offers them hope to straddle whatever barriers they encounter. As I leave my work campus each day and face the open highway, there is rarely a day I don’t purposely articulate that ‘but for the Grace of God, go I.’ Had I not been fortunate enough with the people, opportunities and choices in my life, I could be on a locked unit, behind a fence living an aimless existence with little hope for the future. Socializing, exercise, ample sleep, eating the right food and having a good outlook are what keep me healthy and allow me to keep work at work and home life sacred. C. Gregorian writes: “Social workers have to learn to manage their own emotions in order to be effective or else risk absorbing patients’ pain, and becoming depleted by the suffering they see” (“A Career in Hospital Social Work: Do You Have What It Takes,” 2005). Similarly, A. Noss suggests:
Managing work stress is difficult for anyone, but if you work in the field of mental health counselling, you have the added challenge of delving into others’ emotional turmoil as a matter of course. While the relationships you develop with clients are certainly rewarding, it may also be a challenge to put them out of your mind at the end of the day (Staying Sane as a Mental Health Counselor, 2012).
This past week I really tested the ‘behind the fence,’ ‘don’t take risks,’ and ‘predictable Nancy’ part of my personality. I have always wanted a motorcycle but last summer, my neighbour bought herself an MG convertible. I thought she was the luckiest person alive, as she drove by in her Audrey Hepburn scarf and sunglasses. I saw a similar car ‘for sale’ on North Main on my commute to work last Friday. I began to think about what fun it would be to take it for a test drive. As events unfolded throughout the week, I not only took a red convertible for a test drive, I bought it and it is now sitting pretty in my garage. There has been nothing but cheers from family, friends and co-workers to see me take such a leap in pursuit of a wonderful pleasure. I can at least share my joy with others in offering rides, which would have been a challenge with a motorcycle. Our annual block party now starts its’ festivities with a parade so guess who is leading the parade this year? I haven’t picked out the scarf yet!
Isaiah 40 reminds us that “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint” (New International Version). That passage screams ‘remove the fences in our lives.’ It talks of the ultimate freedom God’s hope gives us, in training for marathons, in our daily vocation, and in life’s indulgences of red convertibles! Thanks be to God!