A couple of years ago, my wife and I had the good fortune to meet a young Czeck sculptor who had traveled at his own expense to Key West, where he was in the process of creating two mahogany busts that would be placed on the Florida coastline facing Cuba, the perceived ideological adversary of the United States. The completed sculptures would be a "gateway," he told me, designed to invite mutual respect and peaceful dialogue between the two countries. He also stated that, upon completion of the two sculptures in Key West, he would be traveling to Cuba for the erection of identical gateway sculptures on its northern shore, facing the United States. He anticipated that the gateway projects in the United States and Cuba would be followed by trips to other antagonistic countries, such as China and Taiwan, where he would use his art to foster peace and better relationships among peoples and nations.
Unfortunately, I do not remember the name of this compassionate and idealistic young sculptor, and most people in this country have surely never heard of him. As an artist, however, he was doing what artists often do best; he was summoning us to reconsider the way we think about things. He was asking us to pay attention to the divisions we sow and leave unattended; to reconsider the illusions that stoke our nationalism and xenophobia; and to move forward as a people with a common ancestry and a shared future.
Since meeting this young artist, I have begun to question the world's obsession with boundaries. One cannot dispute, of course, that some territorial boundaries are necessary for the preservation of social order; most of us do not want to find the neighbor's livestock devouring the remainder of our gardens after the deer have had their daily fill. But what about the fear-based intolerance that often stands behind these boundaries -- the intolerance of other people's race, religion, culture, or political ideology? Is there any justification for separating one human heart from another?
Perhaps it is time for everyone, nations and individuals alike, to drop the arbitrary, fear-laden boundaries that poison relationships. Maybe it is time to join the young Czeck sculptor in the building of gateways -- gateways to the arts, which can teach us about the creative, regenerative spirit of the human heart; gateways to other cultures, which can reveal the common threads that hold humanity together; and gateways to the natural world, which can dissolve prejudice and return us to a place of gratitude.
Some years ago, I stumbled across an interesting quotation, which I now know came from the book of Psalms: "The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance." What struck me then about this quotation -- and strikes me now -- is the iconoclastic notion that boundaries, notwithstanding our conventional wisdom, do not always protect us. They may, if fact, be barriers to what we are seeking.