Ever since I moved into my parent’s home nineteen months ago I have been engaged in a mortal battle with the gate at the top of their driveway. This gate is the only entrance into the 6.3 acres my parents own in Cottage Grove, Oregon. This gate diligently protects 18 years of hard work that has created a Garden of Eden, minus the Adam and Eve. It carefully protects pruned fruit trees, multiple weed free vegetable gardens, perfectly trimmed shrubs, exquisitely edged lawns, many varieties of flowers, carefully laid pathways, rock creek beds, and last but not least strawberries, blueberries, and boysenberries. My parents have done it all by themselves, slowly, day after day, year after year, piece by piece; it is a very peaceful and beautiful sight. The neighborhood deer desperately long to partake of it, which is what brings us back to the gate. This gate is what protects those years of hard work from the tame, very entitled, destructive gang of deer.
This gate is not the kind that opens and closes on its own. This gate is not the kind of gate that you drive up to, push buttons, or name drop, and it magically opens. This gate requires diligence from anyone trying to get through it. It is nothing short of a laborious process to open and close this gate. You drive your car to the top of the driveway and no matter what the weather may be, you have to open the car door, get out, and walk to the gate. Then you need to lift up the latch, and separate the two sides of the gate. One part of the gate you can just let go but the other half needs to be set behind the perfectly placed medium sized rock sitting on the edge of the driveway. It is very important to make sure that the gate is resting behind this rock because nothing is more frustrating than getting back in the car all ready to proceed and realize the gate followed you back to the middle of the driveway and is blocking your way. So once you are sure the gate is staying put walk back to the car and drive through. Wait! You are not done yet, stop the car again and go gather the left side of the gate from its spot behind the rock and bring it back to the middle of the driveway. This is the moment where you must carefully search on the ground to find the small inch wide hole in the driveway. This hole is where the long cylindrical metal part of the gate fits. If it is dark outside do not forget to grab your flashlight when you get out of the car otherwise you will never find that darn hole; it blends in perfectly with the gray, gravel driveway. Sometimes there is gravel stuck in the hole preventing you from securing the gate but no matter the obstacle you must make sure the cylindrical metal piece is secure and happy in that hole. Then go get the other half of the gate, bring it to the middle of the driveway, and slide the latch down on the side that is already in place. Now trudge back to the car over the frustrating, medium sized gravel pieces. It is tiring just to write about it let alone do it every single time you leave the house or come to the house.
Sometimes I have teenagers in the car with me that I ask to get out and open the gate. They hate the process just as much as I do. More than I care to admit it is just too much work to assign one of my daughters to do it so I just do it myself. Other times I tell them reassuringly that someday they will be grateful for the gate and the diligence it is teaching them and I make them get out and open it so I don’t have to learn about diligence.
I really do believe that as our lives go on we will look back and realize over and over again all the lessons this gate is teaching us. I roll this thought around in my mind every time I am begrudgingly getting out of the car to open or close it. Even though I am aware that this gate has so many parallels to life I can still be found murmuring, being frustrated, and declaring my eternal hate for it. Diligence is, “Constant and earnest effort to accomplish what is undertaken, persistent exertion of body or mind.” This gate definitely involves the words constant, earnest, persistent and exertion. One day I learned what happens when you are doing the opposite of diligence which is known as carelessness. The gate finally got me to pay attention to what it had been trying to teach me.
A few months ago I managed to talk myself into the okay-ness of leaving the gate open after I drove through in the morning. You see on weekdays I leave home at 6:00 in the morning. I am often running late because of my darling teenage daughter who rides with me. So before I knew it I had convinced myself that soon after I left my early rising, routine loving parents surely walked down the driveway to get their Wall Street Journal, and obviously they closed the gate on their way back. For a few weeks I lived this luscious dream of carelessness. It was so amazing to just open the gate and drive merrily through without having to stop. No one mentioned what was going on so I figured it was all good.
Then came that seemingly innocent Friday morning that started with my usual routine of not closing the gate. It turns out my parents do not get down the driveway as early I thought they did and the deer had finally figured out the time lapse and sauntered right through. They destroyed flowers, ate the lower branches of fruit trees, frolicked in the garden, and snacked on pretty much everything they could for at least an hour, or two. My vigilant mother never even knew that they were in the yard until she saw them lounging, with incredibly full and content bellies on her perfectly manicured lawn without a care in the world. My poor seventy year old mother had to chase those tame, reluctant to obey deer out of her yard. I felt horrible when I heard the news. I had made my parents think I did not care about their hard work and I caused damage to a lot of their yard. I wished I could take it back. But we all know how well taking things back works out.
I had been trying to call both my parents all that Friday morning and was having no luck. Finally I received a text from my mother declaring in a most direct way that the deer had been in the yard and it was my fault. I quickly called her to find out what had happened and we had a very hard conversation that left me crying like I had not cried in years. In my whole 47 years I had never remembered my mother being so frustrated with me. There I was sitting in the parking lot of my Schwab office in Eugene waiting for my 10:00 appointment with Rob to move some investments around, sobbing and sobbing.
For many days after, “Deer-maggeddon” I had lots of questions and berating thoughts. What was wrong with me? Why did I not want to stop and take the time to do something I knew was important? Why do we resent things that take our time? Why was being diligent so hard? I was most definitely a failure at the diligence/enduring thing. I would have never made a good pioneer. Diligence requires being constant, attentive, and persistent- all three words that never seem describe me no matter how much I want them to. It took something very bad happening to get me to change and now I cheerfully open and close that gate a gazillion times a day as I take my kids places, go to work, go to the store, and the church. It is a very small step for diligence in my life. But I feel so much better doing this the right way. I am so aware that if you want something protected, kept special and safe in this day and age you have to be diligent and never let carelessness creep in. Life is always waiting for you to leave your gate open so that you can be taught.