06/06/2017 01:44 EDT | Updated 06/06/2017 01:44 EDT

The Fences That Separate Us All

Fence with a clear sky on the background.
David Crespo via Getty Images
Fence with a clear sky on the background.

There is a low, metal fence that separates my backyard from the woods behind my house. Here in Southern Ontario, the ravine view is something we pay extra for. And yet living so close to nature can be humbling.

For no matter how much I tend to my lawn, the weed seeds from the wild flowers will float in on the wind, the creeping weeds will seep through from under the fence, and any illusions of there being a barrier will shatter. Nature reminds us of an inter-connectedness we often forget - in our lives and in our history.

There is a story of two brothers who grew up to find a similar barrier between them. As young boys in their parents' home with a shaded courtyard where they played football and did their homework, there had been no India and no Pakistan. Now, all of a sudden, they found themselves as citizens of two different fledgling states.

Like so many families torn apart during Partition in 1947 due to differing ideologies, they now belonged to two "enemy" countries and that too, as Ambassadors -- my grandfather, Pakistani Ambassador to Lebanon, and his brother, Indian Ambassador to Egypt.

The 1950s were a time when Diplomats from India and Pakistan were not allowed to shake hands and these two brothers not permitted to meet. They belonged to two new nations that defined themselves as the antithesis of the other. But the longing of two brothers to reunite would not disappear as quickly as borders had been drawn. On state visits, they would meet each other secretly, often making headlines in newspapers in both countries. No man-made border had been great enough to erase the affinity of their shared heritage.


Beirut 1961: My grandfather greeting Diplomats but not allowed to meet his own brother. Grandfather (left), mother (center), father (right). (Photo: Diplomatic photographer)

And yet this very shared heritage is often at odds with the false illusions we create to convince ourselves that we are different, that there is no connection between us and that we stand alone and apart as monoliths, unto ourselves. It is with the intention of enforcing this view on others that we create borders.

Growing up as a young girl in Pakistan, I dreamed of traveling the world. I would spend endless hours examining the pages of my passport, touching the colorful, embossed stamps of the countries I had been to and envisaging those I had not.

And yet there was another stamp at the bottom of each page that read, "Valid for all countries of the world except South Africa and Israel", a mocking reminder that no matter what they said at school, the world was not my oyster.

Eventually, when Apartheid ended, I was able to travel to South Africa, an act that would have been unthinkable of some years back. And here I was, still as "colored" as before, and yet, all of a sudden, acceptable to be within their borders.

A few years ago, I was also able to go to the holy land in Jerusalem, something that would have been unthinkable of with my old green passport. And once more, amusedly, I thought, here I am, still the same flesh and blood as I was before I carried a blue passport. And yet, all of a sudden, it is acceptable for me to be here.

Funny thing these borders are, I thought as we waved goodbye to our tour guide who could not accompany us into Jerusalem because he was born in Bethlehem. Funny thing these man-made barriers, I thought at the tomb of Abraham, the father of the three great monotheistic religions of the world whose resting place now has bulletproof dividers for Christians, Jews and Muslims to worship from separately.

How painful for Abraham to see his descendants deny their shared heritage. When I close my eyes, I can feel the anguish of my grandfather and his brother being told to dismiss their history. But then I open them and see the lush forest on the other side of my little fence, a motley mix of wild plants blooming together harmoniously.

I am down on my knees, pulling out the weeds in my yard. And Lady Spring is laughing at me: That fence means nothing. We are all one.

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