There is a family that lives on the other side of town in a budding community development. One of the things they agreed to, when they bought the property, was to maintain certain exterior appearances, including a restriction on fences.
The family has a middle-school aged boy with Down sydrome, and they would like to put up a special kind of fence. A disagreement is brewing, and feelings are beginning to get hurt.
I’ve heard one side of the story, and I can imagine the other. On the one hand, the family moved into the neighborhood aware of the restrictions, and they agreed to them. The child, whom we assume is the reason for the fence, was with them then. There are other, equal kinds of fencing that would seem to work as well as the not-approved kind. And whatever they build will become part of the neighborhood forever, or for as long as the materials last. The family may move away; the fence will remain.
On the other hand, here is a family with a child whom they might be feeling they can not manage. They want a special fence, a different one than what is allowed (for whatever reason, I don’t have all the particulars) because they believe they need it. They are asking their neighbors to support them, and that support is not forthcoming.
I am thinking about the fence today because it raises the question of fairness. What is fair, in this situation? What is the right thing to do? Most days, I push hard for the world to look at Avery as a person first, a human being in his own right, without exception. Sometimes I come up against situations in which I must acknowledge, okay, he isn’t exactly the same as other kids–sometimes we need help. And if this family is asking for help, in their pursuit of the outlaw fence, shouldn’t we support them?
There is a phrase that folks live by in rural communities–good fence makes good neighbors. The message here is something like, “let’s be clear about our boundaries right at the start,” and also “you mind your business, I’ll mind mine.” Where properties come together, there is another rule of thumb: meet at the middle, facing each other, and each neighbor maintains the fence to their right.
Part of me is wishing for a Hallmark solution, where the family articulates exactly what they need and the community finds alternate ways of helping them. Do they need to keep the boy away from the road? Maybe they could use a gate. Do they need a safe place for him to play? Maybe there is a provision for a play area in the community design. Or, do they simply want to fence others out?
I don’t know the answer. What I do know is this: making a good fence is more important, and more complicated, than I realized.