Your Place or Mine?

The spread of forest-fire smoke? No.

The price of dairy? Yes.

The spread of Saharan dust storms? No.

The power of police states? Yes. Well, sometimes. We’ll get to that.

What are we doing? Thinking about borders: what they matter to, what they don’t.

An anecdote I can’t now find online tells of some German (French?) intellectual in the 1930s who argued that national borders were passé, an outmoded way of thinking about the world, a hindrance to the true brotherhood of man . . . right until he crossed the border into Switzerland, a step and a prayer ahead of the SS after he ran afoul of the Nazi regime.

A more-recent anecdote from a shirttail relation of mine in Ohio tells of her husband suggesting they build a higher fence to counter the smoke from Canadian forest fires. He’s an engineer: It was a joke.

And there you have it: Borders are good for some things, and not so good for others. Good for escaping localized inhumanity; not so good for escaping the downwind consequences of air pollution (however caused) or even of entirely natural dust storms.

Even for 100% human actions, borders aren’t perfect barriers: ask Michael Chong, or the families of the passengers on Air India flight 182, or the friends of Alexander Litvinenko. But borders are something. They’re better than nothing, giving us a chance for safety and peace in a world in which these are not a given.

Just as I can benefit from distinguishing between problems that will get worse if I let them go and ones that will not, maybe it’s time to distinguish between problems that will stay on my side of the fence and those that will not. Between an unmown lawn, if you will, and an embarrassment of dandelions.

Given my reach, maybe it’s time to focus on my side of the fence, my side of the border. Not to ignore my neighbour’s yard or the wide, wide world beyond, but not to try to live there either. Not to limit my caring to “us” but to make a sanctuary of this home, community, and country. And while I’m at it, to whack the dandelions I can see.

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4 Responses to Your Place or Mine?

  1. Mary Gibson says:

    Or as I’ve put it in recent discussions: There are many things that need fixing in today’s world. It is no longer my job to fix most of them. So I do what I can, where I can. I can’t stop folks from abusing and throwing away animals (formerly pets). But I can go shovel said animals’ shit and change their kennels once a week, at the local ISPCA.

  2. Barbara Carlson says:

    “Even for 100% human actions, borders aren’t perfect barriers.”

    Kinda like the Smoking Section in planes and restaurants, remember that nonsense? But that’s more of a barrier, not a border, but words are shifty, porous things…

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – Oh, yes, I used to sit with a then-smoking then-husband in those sections. My hair always smelled of smoke. Non-smoking sections weren’t perfect, but they were better I think.

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