The Present Fence


It happens to all of us. The furnace breaks down, the water heater suddenly springs a leak. The unexpected expenses, the bills that come out of nowhere. It leaves me reeling. Where did that come from? How can I pay it? Where is the money supposed to come from?

Telephone calls to the offending company. The 24-hour 800 service number, answered by a human being. But I realize I am not talking to someone in-country. I am speaking to a woman in India who is excessively, maddeningly courteous. (Just when did I get irritable with courtesy?)

Call another number, she directs. I get transferred back to the United States and hear the familiar snarl of a fellow American. His answers are clipped, abrupt. The company is owed the money. Too bad I didn’t think to look at page 4 where the accumulated utilities were quietly collecting like a secret gang.

Now I have to pay the balance. Oy.

I flew into a panic. We live a comfortable life but need to be constantly vigilant. Little things like this upset the apple cart. As I motor off to work, I add, subtract, figure out what I can borrow from Peter to pay Paul. I drive down the highway working on this problem, picturing my checkbook, making mental notes about what can be put on hold, what should be paid right away. I change lanes, fiddle with the radio. It’s just another humdrum workday, driving the same route for the past umpteen years. What to do? What to do?

An enormous tractor trailer lumbered past and shook the Toyota. I opened my eyes wide, and suddenly remembered the fence lesson. It was from a speech given by Christopher Reeves while he wheezed from his wheelchair at a convention years ago. He told the story of the terrible accident that ended life as he knew it.

“I never blamed my horse, he said. The fact that he stopped at the fence was not because of him. It was my fault. I wasn’t paying attention. I wasn’t there for him.

You see, when you are riding, especially at that level of competition, you and your horse have to be mentally and spiritually connected. You have to be tuned in to each other all the time. You pick up signals from each other. It’s an animal telepathy.

When you are jumping a series of fences, you have to keep preparing. You focus on the fence in front of you, and then while you are going over that fence, you look at the next one. By the time you land, you are preparing, signaling with your body and your mind, letting the horse know what to do and how to prepare. He signals back with his own body and his own attention. You can see it in their ears. They swing forward and backward to listen. They can hear you in those moments. They depend upon you, and you on them.

On that day, I wasn’t thinking about the jump that we just went over, or the one up ahead. I was concerned about a difficult jump that was three jumps ahead of us, and was planning how we would take it. I wasn’t paying attention to the present moment. My horse was asking and I wasn’t responding. He was confused. When we got to what turned out to be my last jump, I wasn’t there for him. So he balked.

I wasn’t present to my horse in the moment. And the present moment is all we have.”

As my red Camry rocketed down the highway during the rush hour traffic, I remembered Christopher Reeves and his last fence. I glanced around at the speeding tractor trailors, the zippy little red BMW jumping lanes that just cut off three other drivers, the stream of FedEx trucks that were just let loose onto the highway lanes from their parking lot headquarters.

This was my present moment. This was my fence. I had better pay attention. I took a deep breath and focused on the road in front of me, adjusted my speed, woke up to my present moment.

I’ll figure the rest out later.

This entry was posted in attention, bills, Christopher Reeves, fence, unexpected, vigilant. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Present Fence

  1. Donna says:

    What a wonderful reminder…as I myself prepare to rush out into this day, I am equally aware of how simple it is to completely disconnect…to get snatched up by and disappear into that tornado of thought that whirls incessantly…and how much effort it takes to remember to drop down into each moment and savor it. But ahhh, what a magical difference it makes! Donna G.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Control what you can in the moment. The rest will have to wait ’til later. Good story DJ. Good food for thought.Kimmie (fruit from the tree)

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