Life Lessons Learned while Hiking in the Hollywood Hills – Part 1 Gates
I love hiking in the Hollywood Hills Hills and my preferred paths take me along wealthy residential neighborhoods and mansions tucked behind huge walls and very private. come across and an array of stunning gates.
Some gates loom forbidding, others boast of royal insignia and a touch of imperial wealth, others are designed playful, creative, whimsical, mysterious, inviting. Some offer a glimpse of hidden treasures and wonders that lay just behind the closed gate. I imagine there might be an aging movie star living behind one gate while others indicate a Hollywood mogul or an Arab prince’s residence.
My fascination with gates go back to high school when I had to read one of cryptic Kafka’s stories. It tells the life of a young man who has to go on important business to better his life and for that purpose has to leave his home and head to the castle up on the hill. At the castle, a gatekeeper, forbidding and merciless, bars his entry. He displays much authority and sternly tells the young man this is only the first of many gates, each gate even bigger and more forbidding. Not only that, but each of the following gates comes with its own gatekeeper each of them more menacing and unmoving than the previous one.
To crack even the first gate open for just a glimpse much less all the succeeding gate is an insurmountable task the young man is told and so he despairs. He does not want to go back home in defeat but cannot go further either. He is stuck. So he sits in hopes that maybe one day he might slip in unseen by the giant gatekeeper though as time goes by he knows it can never happen.
At first he pleads. He has learned that meekness and politeness, making himself smaller and flattering others is what is expected of him and might curry favors with those in power.
But the more meek he is and pleads his case, that he is just a small worm, pitiful, powerless, that he indeed does not even count, the bigger the gatekeeper seems to get and the less mercy or pity he seems to receive.
Fall and then winter comes and goes. The man is shivering cold, snow covers him but he sits there, hoping that one day… Years go by and the man grows old having given up all hope but too accustomed to sitting there. Finally, as he dies, he asks the gatekeeper one last question: why did no one else ever show up at the gate that he had been sitting in front all of his life, he wonders. The gate keeper tells him that this gate and all the forbidding and formidable gates that lay behind it were meant for him ONLY, these gates were for him alone, no one else.
The man dies.
This tale haunted me at age 13. Why then did the gate not open if it was meant just for him? Does it show us the futility of life, existential nothingness and angst?
The story made me infuriated me. I too was told to be meek, to make myself smaller and be modest. How dare the gatekeeper had no pity, showed no kindness to the man who was just a lowly person who did not mean to disturb or inconvenience anyone. How cruel the gatekeeper was and how unfair the moral of the story appeared.
Another gate stay we are all familiar with is the tale of Sesame Open! You just have to have some secret knowledge, to know just the right word combination. to make that darn gate to all imaginable treasures open for you!
But the secret utterance to open the gate in this tale was available only for those on the inside, while the outsider, the person like you and me would be tripping at the riddle and as a result the gate would firmly stay locked to us. Not much more uplifting that Kafka I would say.
When I walk by the Hollywood gates I see the gates differently. Of course the gates in the stories are the metaphoric gates we have to go through to reach higher ground in our lives.
Each of the gates of life is meant just for us to go through. (Friendly Disclaimer: This is not of course to trespass on some Hollywood royalty’s property).
Gates show us what is possible. They are inspirations of where they lead to, promises that beckon us to go further, instead of giving up hope or staying stuck.
Are these gates opening only for the special chosen ones who somehow were born with the magic key in their pockets? Are we like the man in the tale, unable to open the gate that promises a better life and to conquer the goals meant specifically for us?
It appears sometimes we are unable to utter the magical formula, the Sesame Open command we so desperately need. And so fate plays a cruel prank. It’s there just for you, you alone could open it but you lack what it takes (power, knowledge, belonging to the right group, connections) to actually crack it open?
But the hills have taught me a different lesson. As you walk past the gates and only when you pay close attention secret stairways open up. Most people walk right by them because they are narrow, overgrown and easy to miss.
You see, in the 20’s when Hollywood was a burgeoning motion pictures town, the golden age of the silent film area and the great movie palaces just below on
Hollywood blvd. Decades before L.A. became a car town, hundreds of small stairways connected the hills. Often going up 100 steep steps or more and then connecting to another hill further up. Residents would walk to their homes or down to the silent movie studio were they worked talking these staircases and then catching a trolley when they still existed.
The OPENINGS are there, they will take us higher than we ever thought when we just look for it. And when we emerge we have climbed to a much higher level in life with a greater view and panorama that gives us a brand new perspective…
The gates in life do open. But not for the meek. Persistence (like the man in the tale) is admirable but lets you still sit there at the closed gate. Taking action, boldness, not asking others for permission but finding your own opening: that is the secret formula that spells the words Sesame Open!
Give Up Meekness! I wish I had learned this earlier. I had understood Kafka as showing the futility in life. Now I understand it’s about not giving in to the closed gates and those who try to keep us from our destiny, to not believe in others more than in your own goals and vision.
I love walking the Hollywood Hills and I love the gates. Each gate reminds me of the many gates there are in life- some we ignored and others we walk by too many times until we finally gather muster the courage and the inner drive to let it open for me.
And while taking action we invariable discover a secret staircase that leads us up much higher than we thought possible and propels us up to an entirely new level where all the gates we passed lay beneath us and at our feet.