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The other side of the fence

As I watched my grand daughter run ahead of us on the paved path that runs along the hillside near our home I cautioned her, "slow down...make sure we can see you."  She was so excited to see what may lie just ahead.  Perhaps it would be another little grey bunny like we saw last week, or a frog near the retention pond, maybe some rare wild flower is waiting to be picked and cherished for its beauty - whatever the adventure she was running towards it as fast as her little legs could take her.  It was up to us to keep up or be left behind. 

The scene gave me cause to reflect upon a statement my mother had recently made.  With the curtain of dementia closing upon the window through which she now observes life her minds eye often takes her back in time.  I was driving her home after a family dinner and she said, "My dad used to ask me 'Why do you always have to see what's on the other side of the fence?'  I've lived a lot of life, I've seen a lot of beautiful places..."  It was a poignant moment for me as I considered  her life of "fence climbing" and her current view of the other side of the fence.

For my mother the other side of the fence never referred to the grass being greener that was growing over there, but rather, to the fact that there was no obstacle that would keep her from the destination she was headed for beyond.  It was up to those she traveled with through life to keep up or be left behind.  She never required that other's come along and she encouraged those around her to pursue passionately their personal distant destination desires. 

I recall vividly the day she told me, "I can't stay here and be only Brenda's mom and the kids grandmother.  I need to be somewhere that I can be Joy.  I will always be your mom and a grandma but there is more to me than just that."   Ouch.  Those words stung. Then she added, "You will thank me some day." She sold everything she had in Washington and headed for the sunshine in Southern Utah.  I supported her in her decision absolutely certain I would never "thank her some day".  How could she miss out on the everyday of my life, the joys of my children's lives and be happy just being Joy?  I was envious of my friends whose mothers sat on the bleachers at every little league game and had dates with their moms for pedicures and lunch.

Back then I wasn't aware that I was watching my mom climb a "fence" and head across the field towards the next 15 years of her life.  It would have made the first few years without her as my neighbor (we had lived across the street from each other) so much easier if I had.  Of course she never stopped being my mom or the kids grandma.  She maintained her relationships with all of us, never forgetting the beautiful place she had been, and at the same time arrived some place anew where we could come visit "Joy".  I'm not going to pretend that I have agreed with every decision my mother has made through life.  And there were definitely times I longed to walk across the street and sit down at her table for conversation and a great meal. She rarely ever cooked again after leaving Washington at 72 years old.  Imagine that...I can say now with a smile.

Fence climbing can often appear self centered.  In many respects it is - no one else can climb it for you! However, there is nothing keeping you from reaching down and giving a helping hand to those headed in your direction or stopping along the way to give someone a boost up over a fence along side the road. Leaving where you are to pursue a path on the other side of the fence many times requires turning to wave goodbye to those who have chosen to stay where they are - where you were.  It takes courage, determination, and a good dose of faith to be a fence climber. 

"Sour grapes" my mom would say when someone was unhappy with another's good fortune.  "So many sour grapes."  I'm not even sure what that really means, but I find myself saying it to my children.  The only ones with sour grapes are those who are unhappy staying where they are while they watch you go.  Sounds to me like they should be climbing a fence or two of their own.  Too much fence sitting tends to make your butt sore.

God often opens a gate on the other side of our life fences.  We see it in the distance, we hear the whisper "Go...", we may even feel a nudge which would lift us up and over.  Yet, there we sit, straddling the fence looking at where we desire to be, even should be, and unable to make the decision to jump down and simply "go".  There have been times when the fences I have sat upon way too long have been the ones that I built myself.  I had put a lot of time and effort into their structure - a sturdy fence.  I felt safe there - able to see the other side but secure in my own little space. 

There are other times when I have wished I was on the other side of the fence and yet knew that I was actually exactly where I belonged. I could hear that longing for adventure in my mother's words. At the same time I see her seek the peace a familiar fence can provide on difficult days.  She was right.  I would thank her some day. Watching an expert fence climber gives me the courage to look for an open gate across the fields of my own life and the faith to walk towards them.  There are adventures to be had and beautiful places to see.  Grey bunnies, frogs, and wild flowers... 

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