I was talking with a friend of mine about how people relate—or don’t relate—in our world today.My friend said, “I heard a story about an 80-year-old lady, Miss Jessie Parker, who used to talk about the way things were, how people had more time for each other and would sit and chat in the evenings on their porches. But people don’t do that so much anymore, so the woman telling the story asked Miss Jessie when things started to change. You’d think she’d answer that it was when TV was in everyone’s homes, or when people started using electronics, but it wasn’t.”“Really?” I was surprised. TV and electronics almost always get blamed for how distant people are these days. I tried to guess. “Fast food? Families having more than one car?”“No,” my friend replied. “She said it was privacy fences.”“Privacy fences?”“Yes, privacy fences. Can you believe it?”Fascinating. And I felt terrible.Because we have a privacy fence.I’m sure that the problem of people growing distant and disconnected is more complex than that—that it’s about more than privacy fences. For that matter, we could fault garage door openers for allowing us to slip right into the garage without even pausing, let alone getting out to chat.But I can see what she means. With a big privacy fence surrounding our yard, we might hear our neighbors puttering around, but to actually start a conversation would require more effort. Enclosed with our view blocked, interaction doesn’t happen as frequently or naturally.I decided to track down that little devotional story and hear it myself. It was at the Daily Audio Bible page with a red box that says “Daily Audio Bible 2010” (April 10, 2010). To bypass that day’s Scripture reading and go straight to the story, I clicked on the red box, scrolled to April 10, and then moved the cursor to about 23 minutes. The story about Miss Jessie Parker goes until about 29 minutes.I liked it so much, I transcribed it. And here’s that section, edited ever-so-slightly:
I’m friends with little 82-year-old Miss Jessie Parker, who came from the deep southern parts of Georgia, complete with a southern-fried accent and a heart of gold. And this woman simply amazed me. She did her own gardening, she still drove, she became very computer savvy…We would have many, many conversations in the middle of the day, in the middle of the yard, sometimes on the back porch and on occasion, over a nice little café for lunch … I learned a lot from talking with Miss Jessie Parker… she taught me that the early years of her life were very, very simple and uncomplicated. And she was completely fine with that simple way of life. She didn’t ask anybody to come along and add all this technology and all this crazy business of trying to make our lives easier. This easier way of life for us, so it seems, has really kind of messed up her world. And she would say things to me like:“Jill, when I was a young mother, we had time to carry the children down to the park in the buggy. We washed their diapers out, sterilized and boiled their glass bottles and somehow still managed to come home and make dinner and have it on the table in time for our husbands when they came home…”Thinking about this simpler life, I said, “Miss Jessie, where do you think it all … where did it all become unraveled for you?” And she didn’t even have to think about it … She knew exactly the answer and she said, “Jill, we used to have land for miles and miles. We didn’t have television and we didn’t have a radio, and so after supper, after the dishes were done, we would go out, and we would visit with the neighbors … for the rest of the evening until the lightning bugs would come out.”And she said the minute these privacy fences went up, we all stopped wanting to get together at night and chat and visit. Suddenly everybody wanted to be by themselves and be alone and be private. She couldn’t understand it.
You’ll note that Miss Jessie did mention the absence of TV and radio opening up time for visiting. But she emphasized the advent of the privacy fence as a turning point. I have to admit that we’ve loved the privacy fence. It keeps our big dog contained. Our kids can play in the yard without wandering off, which mattered a lot when our youngest was little. I can enjoy long quiet times on the back porch uninterrupted. I can examine the garden in my jammies.But I don’t talk as much with our neighbors.Thanks to Miss Jessie Parker, I plan to spend some time sitting on the front porch swing with some sweet tea, more visible and accessible. She’s reminded me how important it is to take a walk with the kids and wave at whoever is out doing yard work, in case they can visit for a few minutes.I can enjoy the privacy, bit it’s more important to have relationships.Yesterday afternoon, we were working inside the privacy fence in the garden, putting in our tomato plants. One of the neighbors walked right in through the gate without hesitating and asked to borrow the extension cord so he could finish trimming his bushes. We gladly loaned him ours, and I was relieved that the privacy fence didn’t hold him back. Maybe our privacy fence isn’t so isolating and private after all?Given that, I think I’ll don a robe before heading out to check the garden tomorrow morning.