Ever watch a pot of soup boil? At first, it just sits in the pot placidly as if nothing is happening. Then the liquid in the pot starts to move around, slowly at first, then more quickly. Soon, the bubbles start rising to the top and bursting. Then we lower the heat and the soup just maintains a simmering boil.
I suspect if the Earth was a pot of soup, it’d look like that simmering pot with people moving around, some slowly because they are laden down by family or a connection to place, others more quickly because it’s hot where they are.
In places like Garner and Cleveland, the bubbles in the soup rise slowly. Few people are leaving and, slowly, more people are heading this way. I grew up in eastern Wake County, moving to Wendell when I was seven.
Before that, my father’s job took us from the small eastern N.C. town of Robersonville to Maryland, then to several stops in Delaware before we returned to North Carolina to settle here, some 75 miles from my father’s homeplace. But we were near the big city – if you could call Raleigh a big city in 1973.
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By the time I was seven, I’d lived in six different towns. My father’s childhood wasn’t like that. He grew up on the farm he was born on in Martin County, the same place to which he has now returned in semi-retirement. His father never lived anywhere but that farm for his entire 77 years, unless you count his World War II service in the Merchant Marines.
When my parents moved us around as small children it was always to seek a better life for our family. Each stop provided that, but the truth is, we were never forced to make those moves. Life would have been fine in any of those places.
That’s not the case for many people around the world. In a remarkable number of places, the pot of soup is at full boil.
I’ve watched recent headlines in the news with great interest as mostly-Syrian refugees seek some way to reach Germany. The most recent wave made it to Hungary, a country that is dear to me because I have so many friends there through my church.
The Hungarian government, which isn’t the most welcoming bunch you ever met, worked feverishly to build a fence 109 miles long to keep the refugees out.
It worked about as well as a fence across the U.S.-Mexican border would work. Or the fences being built in places like the Golan Heights or the West Bank.
Robert Frost said good fences make good neighbors. That may be true for people who are happy living next door to each other.
But for people who want to move around – or for those in the hottest spot in the soup pot who have no choice but to move – fences don’t seem to hold up their end of the bargain.
Frost – he of the good fences line – questioned that approach too.
A much less-quoted passage in his poem “The Mending Wall,” goes like this:
“Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
“What I was walling in or walling out,
“And to whom I was like to give offence.”
Those fences remind me of the futility of eating my soup with a fork.