I Threw My Life Down the Gutter

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Last Thursday I was in a big, big  hurry. Too much of a hurry, if you ask me now. Fueled with Starbucks coffee and one of those energy drinks, I was attempting to squeeze in a trip to SummerHawk Ranch, to exercise my horse, between applying for jobs and going to a free dinner at The Garden Bistro in Studio City, complements of my financial advisor, Adam Goldstein.

With my dog, Justine, in the back, I drove up to SummerHawk and parked at the end of Christy Street, across from the ranch. I wanted Justine to do her business, then I was going to whip into the ranch and take Justine and my horse, Mollie, for a walk. After locking my pooch back in the car from the passenger side, I hurried around to the driver's side door, taking a quick glance at the curbside gutter. That was my mistake. My keys to everything in my life were in my right hand, and for a split second, I thought, What if I dropped these keys down the gutter? And the next thing I knew, without any control, I was pitching my keys right through the sewer opening. It was as if I was saying, I've had enough of this life.

Suddenly I was back in reality mode, and I realized what I had done, and in a panic, I ran up to the ranch house and pounded on the door. All the dogs inside started to bark as I prayed that Nils Brink would be home to help me. Sure enough I heard him shuffling toward the door.

After broadcasting my calamity to him and anyone within a ten-block radius, we hurried across the street. I wanted to lie down on the pavement and squeeze my head and arm through the gutter, reach down and grope around for the keys. However, Nils wouldn't let me, fearing my head would get stuck between the pavement and the railing that the city puts across the gutter to discourage anyone from doing exactly what I wanted to do.

Then Nils had an idea. Maybe he could lift off the top to the sewer with the hooks he uses to lift a bale of hay. Great! But all too soon we learned that the tops to the sewer holes are bolted shut (because kids steal them and recycle them for money, I later learned). Okay -- what next?

"There's one more thing we can try," Nils said, "but I'm not doing it. I just took a shower."

"What's that?"

"You can walk down into the culvert (on the other side of the horsebridge where the street dead ends) and crawl into the sewer tunnel."

"I'll do it."

With a pasing glance at my dog locked in the car, wondering if I would ever see her again, I ran over the horse bridge and down into the culvert to the tunnel openings. There were two of them, and they each had a grate in front of them to block anyone from getting in. But there was just enough space on either side of the grates for a kid or small woman to squeeze through. Which I did.

Ahead of me was a long, dark tunnel full of dank-smelling water. Luckily I was wearing hiking boots that were waterproof, but my pants were going to get wet.

"Nils, do you think there are any rats down here?"

"Oh, probably."

"Don't leave me, Nils, stay there. Please."

"I will."

I just had to go for it. But once inside, it got darker and darker the farther away you got from the openings, and I had no idea where the gutter was that held my keys.

"Nils? Can you get a flashlight and shine it down the gutter?'

He did, and I learned that I didn't have to go as far into the tunnel as I had originally feared, but I did have to crawl on my stomach through a smaller pipe that led to the gutter. This pipe was full of cobwebs hanging overhead, but I barreled right in. By golly, the keys were at the end of that pipe, and I was going to get them no matter what. 

Crawling through the pipe, I felt like a marine or a Navy Seal. When I finally got to the end, there was my wonderful keyring with the pewter cowboy boots, the mini flashlight, the braided and beaded horsehair, and the keys to my car, my house, and my tackshed. I grabbed them like they were a one hundred dollar bill, and began scooting out backward on my stomach again. When I emerged, cobwebs clung to the back of my white shirt and stuck to my hair. But I didn't care.

The feeling of relief that came with having those keys in my hand, at having my life back again, safe and sound -- I felt a warm, bubbly wave of gratitude wash over me.

I didn't really want to throw everything I had away. I just wanted to slow down and not put so many demands on myself. Even when I'm not working, my life is stressful because I make it that way. Stress isn't about having to work. It's about the expectations we have of ourselves. And the expectations come from a craving to be productive, and do the best job we can do, so we'll feel good about ourselves and other people will see us in a positive light.It's like the driving force of life -- at least, my life anyway.

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