Any farmer or rancher can tell you that fences need to be examined periodically, checked for downed poles or sagging wires, and mended. Through the normal wear and tear of daily use, fences break—perhaps because of animals rubbing against them or jumping over them or just wind, rain and snow.
Relationships can be that way, too. Sometimes they get worn down through the small clashes and irritations of daily living. Sometimes busyness or distance or life changes can erode a relationship until it is at the point of breaking.
I was thinking about mending fences the other day when I visited an aunt I had not seen for more than five years. Nothing had happened to keep us apart, and it was an easy fence to mend—I just needed to set aside the time to visit.
That same day, I also got together with someone I had been close to in my last job and had not seen since I left. It was good to see her, and it felt like old times, like a fence that was precarious had been stabilized.
Repairing broken relationships is not always that easy. One of my most important relationships—a friend from when I lived in Canada more than twenty-five years ago—has been broken for many years and is probably beyond repair.
It happened in the way so many relationships begin to end—a small spat that never got resolved.
This was a person who was very important to me when I lived in Canada. She was a life-saver when I left l’Arche, helping me to find work and a home in a city where I knew very few people and had few options. Her friendship was key in my healing and growth, and I was deeply grateful.
We both moved east, but lived about five hundred miles apart. During this time of transition, she came to visit me. We were both going through tough times, and the visit was strained. I demanded an apology for something she said, and she was not willing to give one. She wanted to move on, as if nothing had happened. I was proud and stubborn. After that visit, nothing was the same.
It took me a long time to own up to my part in the disintegration of our friendship and then even longer to reach out and apologize. I did not expect her to respond or to try to pick up the pieces of this broken relationship; but, if I am being honest, I hoped she would. I still miss her friendship, and after all this time, it still saddens me to think of its demise.
One thing I learned from the collapse of this friendship is to be more proactive in maintaining friendships that matter to me and to try to mend fences while there is still time.
January may not be an ideal time for farmers or ranchers to mend fences, but the winter quiet is a perfect time for me to tend to relationships that might need some attention.