One of the fences along the canal where I walk is a work of art. In its own way, it’s beautiful. In addition to the under layer of wood, it includes various types of wire fencing, a rusty panel that looks like it may have been a sign at one time, some corrugated metal sheeting, and, my favorite, an old bedspring. The whole arrangement is wired together and propped up by a large section of wood that could hold up a ceiling. I love its textures and the reusing of such a variety of materials.
In some ways, this fence is a fitting metaphor for life. We each have our underlying self that we carry with us from childhood into adulthood. Layers of experiences, like the metal sheeting, are added on, held together by the lessons we learn along the way. There are relationships that come and go, and those that stay with us for a long time. Some take on different expressions, similar to the repurposed sign with its strata of rust and old paint. And parts of our lives are like the discarded bedsprings, intended originally for one use, ending up serving a completely different function in the end.
Everything in this fence is worn out. Each part of it isn’t particularly spectacular alone, yet when the pieces are assembled as they are, it becomes a work of art. It’s the way life has shaped each piece that makes the whole assemblage work, and makes it interesting. I believe that is true of our life relationships as well. When we go through challenges together, face hardships and share celebrations, we grow. Our relationships take on a quality of beauty, just like the fence. The late Irish poet, John O’Donohue, expressed it this way in his book Anam Cara:
“Every friendship travels at sometime through the black valley of despair. This tests every aspect of your affection. You lose the attraction and the magic. Your sense of each other darkens and your presence is sore. If you can come through this time, it can purify with your love, and falsity and need will fall away. It will bring you onto new ground where affection can grow again.”
Arriving at new ground is not easy. As adults it’s often a matter of overcoming patterns of behavior engrained in us for our whole lives. Learning to speak our truth, for example, is not something that comes naturally for most of us. We struggle with speaking up because we haven’t practiced it enough. Yet when we work with children on a daily basis reminding them to use their words, we, too, are asked to practice using ours. One huge lesson I’ve learned from helping children speak up is that the more we practice, the better we get at it. And each time we allow our voices to be heard, it opens a new space between us and the person with whom we’ve expressed our thoughts and feelings. When we show another person that we love them enough to take a risk in order to care for ourselves (and them), it makes a space where wonderful experiences can grow.
As we navigate our way through days and years of all kinds of relationships, our lives do become seasoned like the fence made of reused materials; weathered and worn, yet arranged in a way that exudes intricate beauty if we pause a moment to see it that way.