Recently, I stood at my back door as my new neighbor, who has been doing construction on his house for a year, informed me that a property line survey showed that the pathway which has been the access to my backyard for probably half a century is 11 inches over onto his property. He said he plans to build a fence right there, and even though there is plenty of open space on his side, he wouldn’t consider compromising and drawing up an agreement to still give me access. It was an unpleasant conversation, and I walked back into my house shaky, not knowing what to do. Suddenly, my home didn’t feel like the safe sanctuary it was before. I felt under siege. How would I live here without adequate access to my backyard? I’ve owned this small, very old house for less than two years, and I’ve been lovingly fixing it up, especially the garden. I thought maybe I should leave, sell. I had no desire to paint another room or replace another window.

Over the next few days, I thought beyond my situation. I thought of America, and all the conversations I’ve had with friends and even relative strangers about wanting to leave this country because we don’t recognize it as our home anymore. We don’t feel bonded to a nation of mass shootings, of public hatred for anyone not white and Christian, of laws being stripped away that leave pregnant women helpless and at the mercy of an anti-abortion Supreme Court. Most commonly in these conversations, people say that they are tired of being scared all the time. They are deflated by the virulent hatred across this country, much of it expressed by elected officials who should never have been elected in the first place. How can America come back from this? is the question often asked. Will we ever feel like this is our home again?

The inherent danger here is that, if a place doesn’t feel like home, how likely are you to defend it? Protect it? You’re more likely to just throw up your hands and leave. Feeling at home in a house or in a country is a profound bonding of one’s spirit to the place that surrounds you. Without that bonding, you’re just a visitor with no ties and no reason to use up any energy trying to help that place survive. Of all the things that are whittling away at America right now, exhaustion is high up on the list. A few people I know have already left – to Portugal, New Zealand. Canada is a popular topic of conversation.

There are recently some promising signs. Members of the Oath Keepers have been charged with seditious conspiracy, the Senate passed a bill protecting same sex marriage, a number of election deniers lost the midterm elections. But democracy still teeters on a very precarious edge. Even if we manage to pull it back from that edge, implant it on solid ground, we need to remember this feeling of fragility and abandonment, that our country has left us behind. We need to never have the delusion that our democracy is too strong to fall.  In my own house, that outside door I was standing in is gone because the steps below it had to be removed. I moved the hot water heater, invested in a tankless one, thereby giving myself just enough room to get into my yard. But I will always remember the feeling of my home being bullied away from me. I think knowing that nothing is infallible makes us hold on tighter to what’s important to us. 

This morning, needing to get away from the noise of construction next door, I drove down to the beach. Perched on a hilltop overlooking the coast highway was an American flag, blowing in the winds of a storm that was gathering in the sky. It looked lonely and beautiful, and full of meaning. I wasn’t prepared for the tears that came. I wept for the dream of this country that, of late, has too often looked like ashes. I wept for the people crossing rivers and harsh landscapes, still pulled by what they believe America can be. I wept for those of us who remember a time before AR15s in shopping malls and schools, before hatred ran like blood in the streets, and who hold a candle up to everything we once believed about this country, praying that we can keep that flame from being extinguished.


  1. My1stGradeTeacher says:

    This makes me so angry. Ppl get so territorial over their stupid house. Why is that? Only causes wars. I’ve had a few kerfuffles like this so I definitely sympathize.

  2. Gene says:

    Happy New Year! Your sentiments shared here are akin to words of wisdom. Keep the faith that the flame representing the ideals of a true & genuine democracy burn even brighter…for eternity!

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