A lot of tears in our house yesterday as we said goodbye to Luka. He was part of our family for 14 ½ years. And no matter what stories I tell in the next few sentences, he was a good dog. He was kind and gentle. He was amazing with the kids. Didn’t bark. Didn’t jump up on people. Never harassed the cats, at least not in his later years lol.
We loved that dog.
But if you are a co-worker or have been Facebook friends with me for any length of time, you will have heard Luka stories. Because Luka had one character flaw and it was Shakespearean in size: he was a runner. Add to that, the GPS in his head never functioned, and that meant that I spent a good portion of my adult life looking out the kitchen window to make sure the dog was still there.
I am going to be looking for a while still. Old habits are hard to break.
Luka never did break his running habit. When he was only six months old, he ended up with a bullet lodged in his left hip, probably the consequence of running in someone’s pasture. When he ran with the neighbor dog, at least once he ended up at a co-worker’s house towards Swanson. We live between Pike Lake and Delisle, for reference. Nowhere close! When you live in the country, a mortal sin is letting your dog run loose so we knew we had to do something. For everyone thinking we should have just got him fixed, we did. It didn’t help lol.
Another neighbor suggested tying 2x4s so that he had to drag something around. We opted for a tire instead. People often laughed when I’d say that he was like a car: he had both winter and summer tires, larger ones in the winter because there was no friction to slow him down! When that didn’t work (he would navigate the corner at the end of our lane like a tractor trailer unit, swinging wide and again ending up at the neighbor’s) we had to put a 14ft tree across the road. What a colossal pain in the ass, having to move a giant log every time we came in and out of our yard! Typical Luka, there were times that he STILL managed to get past that, running with enough speed to ramp that tire right up and over, and he was off. When he’d get stuck in the trees off one of our trails, he would never bark. My tracking skills got pretty strong over the years, and I’d find him, patiently smiling at me like:
“I knew you’d find me mom.”
On multiple occasions, either the rope or his collar would break and he would be gone. Like I said, the GPS never worked! When he stopped running, he would just make himself at home with whoever he met. One time someone found him after a couple weeks lost, wearing a black leather collar, where he had left with a blue nylon one. He was so, so fickle and it would be easy to think of him as disloyal, but really Luka just loved anyone and everyone. On his farthest journey, he was 62kms away in under 24hours. I found him through Facebook, way out by the Harris game preserve. The rope eventually was replaced with chain, and you had to be sure not the take it across the ankles when he decided to run by you. I had literal chain marks many times when I didn’t jump fast enough.
In case you think we didn’t try, I can assure you we did! We even have a useless dog training certificate to show for it. It really wasn’t his fault - it’s what huskies are meant to do. Even today, as we sat in the car waiting to get called into the vet, Luka wanted to sniff out the window but couldn’t really move to get closer. I opened up his door and sure enough he was giving it his best effort to make a break for it! It was only a year ago when we were away travelling, our daughter Eliisa decided that Luka was too old to run away anymore. Nope. He was not, haha.
His running did have some advantages though, like pulling the kids on their GT racers when they were little. They had to be sure not to fall off, or Luka would take off with the sled! He used to go ski-joring with me, but he generally only pulled until he decided he was done, and then I would have to try to cross country ski without poles back PLUS pull a less than cooperative dog along with me. He was so strong, even in his old age. A co-worker said that’s because he did cross-fit with the tire all day long!
But that wasn’t his only idiosyncrasy. Eliisa remembers that she cranked him in the head with a bocce ball once (she throws like I do) but I’m sure it wasn’t the reason why! He just always had his own unique personality. Luka always ate chokecherries right off the trees, putting a branch in his mouth and stripping the berries off. Never Saskatoons! Just chokecherries. He had more than one encounter with skunks and the tomato juice bath always left him a little orange for a while. He did traumatize the cats when they were all younger, but as they got older, they became best buds hanging out together on the “dog deck” where Luka spent his nights.
Yesterday, we sat together in the back of the SUV with the vet beside him. I held his head in my hands and stroked his thick coat. He was only starting to lose his winter hair, small tufts of fresh white sticking out here and there. When they put the needle in and he was going to sleep, I was ready for the last breath. We’ve said goodbye to two other dogs, and I remember how that scared me the first time. I know it’s just air leaving like a deflating balloon, but it feels like their spirit is being released back into the world again. But Luka did something different first. His front legs started to run. Not spasm. Run. Just for a second or two, but it was running. I’d told the veterinary assistant earlier about how Luka was a runner, and she quietly said it was fitting that he ran his way across the rainbow bridge to the other side.
Yes, it was.
Luka, you brought equal amounts of love and stress to our lives, but that was who you were. I’m so glad that you were part of our family for so long. I’ll miss you puppy.
Sometimes it’s hard to gauge when something is over.
Not tax season, of course.
Or the end of a movie.
Or the end of a game.
Or even the end of a trip.
There are very clear signals that each one of those things is finished. Canada Revenue starts calling you, the lights in the theater come up, the buzzer sounds, and the GPS throws up a checkered flag with a “you’ve arrived” message on your phone.
Okay, so maybe most of the things in our lives do have clearly delineated beginnings and endings.
But sometimes, it’s not clear. Like, do we have actual seasons in Saskatchewan? It’s confusing, considering they overlap like a bad Venn diagram: snow in spring, below zero in summer, heat wave in fall, and balmy Chinook-filled days of winter.
For me, in this moment, I am not in an enviable place as I try to gauge when the life of my 14.5 year old dog is over.
The signs are all there. They are getting clearer by the day. But because I can’t ask him if he’s okay to spend a few more days or weeks laying in the sunshine, even if I have to carry him to get there, I can’t truly know when it should be the end.
How much simpler it would be if he could just tell me. As Brene Brown says, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” I wish it was clear.
God, do I wish it was clear.
But to be honest, people aren’t always much better. Kevin Kusch (Deputy Director of Learning at Lloydminster Catholic Division) said something at the Principal’s Short Course a few years ago that has totally stuck with me: people may not always tell you what they need, but people always project what they need.
Their actions are telling you. Being astute enough to listen is the hard part.
I’m only partway through “Option B” by Sheryl Sandberg, a top executive at Facebook. She writes: “Growing up, I was taught to follow the Golden Rule: treat others as you want to be treated. But when someone is suffering, instead of following the Golden Rule, we need to follow the Platinum Rule: treat others as they want to be treated. Take a cue from the person in distress and respond with understanding - or better yet, action.”
Sandberg goes on to say, “I was suffering from so many insecurities that I almost started a People Afraid of Inconveniencing Others support group, until I realized that all the members would be afraid of imposing on one another and no one would show up.”
That Nike commercial was right all along - just do it. Or more fittingly, the Particip-Action commercial from the 1980s - don’t just think about it, do it, do it, do it.
One of the things that I continue to work on is to be a better listener. To be a better observer. To think beyond my own perception of a situation and to examine the biases I bring to it - our ‘bias blindspots.’ These past few weeks in the world have given me plenty of time to reflect on that too.
So this week, I hope to be more astute.
To listen for what my students may need in our last week together.
To move from the Golden Rule to the Platinum one - to treat and give people not what I would want, but to treat and give people what they are telling me they need.
To watch what my dog is projecting, and hopefully letting me understand what he wants too.
And most of all, when it's obvious that something is over, to have the grace to accept it.
So it’s almost Sunday night. I’m tired today and the window on having an afternoon nap closed at least 3 hours ago, so this is going to be short! And a cheat lol, because I wrote this for my birthday on Friday and posted it to my facebook. Anyway, here it is.
Ten years ago as I was nearing my 39th birthday, I remember a conversation with Reverend Jordan Cantwell. The details are fuzzy but the gist of it was Jordan saying her 40s were her best decade yet - that that’s when you’re just getting started. At that point she was just an intern minister, before going on to become Moderator (head) of the entire United Church of Canada…just getting started was an understatement!
When you are still in your 30s that sounds hard to believe. But she was right. After focusing solely on my kids, my 40s were a time to find myself again. The hard part is that sometimes you don’t recognize yourself anymore, which makes the finding much more difficult.
Ironically though, finding your own way isn’t a ‘me’ journey, but a ‘we’ journey.
Had a former colleague of mine, Teresa Lalonde, not been taking Educational Technology and Design at the time, I might never have gone back to get my Masters. Or met Jay Wilson. Or Rick Schweir. Or a multitude of amazing educators.
Had Brett Kirk never come to our school as an administrator, I might never have pursued courses in admin leadership or started my blog. Brett’s reply to every hair-brained idea I had was “Go for it.” He may be the best example of a servant leader out there, and is still the most valuable mentor I have.
Had I not started to write this weekly Sunday night ramble, and sustained it for over two years now, I wouldn’t have remembered how much I loved and missed putting words out into the world. Hitting publish on the first one was by far the hardest; I remember it was the “I am from” poem that Tracey Young and Jon Yellowlees modelled for our aspiring administrators group. Rocksandwillows.ca came from that first line: I am from Rock Point…
Had I not gotten used to taking risks (and trying to keep up with my then-teenaged children) I might never have learned to snowboard or wakeboard. “One more run” always meant several more, until I literally couldn’t pull/get myself up. I drank a lot of Lake Diefenbaker and had the most colorful bruises from those two endeavors, but <finally> got it.
Had I not met Kim at Craven Sport Services, I might have let injury keep me sidelined. Last fall, it was at the point where I had to lift my leg into the vehicle and I was really feeling like that might be it for sports. A friend had recommended Kim, and without her helping me with physio, I might never have continued my running or finished a 10km run yesterday. Was it way slower than four years ago? Yep. But like I used to say to my own kids when they would compete: it’s not about first. It’s about finishing.
Had I not practiced what I preach, including my favorite saying, “There is no courage without vulnerability” I might never have started playing piano for strangers on the internet, complete with bloopers, for 46 days in a row now. It’s quite a thing. People have checked in from BC, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, and even overseas. It’s been 22.5 hours of Anne Murray, wartime hits, the Tennessee Waltz and old time dance music…and actually a lot of fun.
Had I not lost my closest cousin in August, just short of her own 49th birthday, I might have gotten lost in the existential midlife crisis exasperated by an empty nest, or lost sight of how much I still want to do and what I want to accomplish. I think of Lisa almost every day.
We don’t know what each day, or year, will bring. But I am still always trying to learn and grow. This fall I have a new opportunity as a Sector Facilitator for HS ELA in our division working half-time with other teachers, half-time in the school. I’m so excited to work with the amazing educators we have in Prairie Spirit. Like, soooooooo excited!!!!
There’s still a half-marathon on my list, although I’m not sure all the physio in the world will ever get me there anymore. But with my daughter Eliisa doing mountain climbing now, maybe there are other unknown adventures in this last year of my 40s too.
Two shoutouts: Mom, thanks for being my number one supporter, reading every blog and listening to every note. I know you’ll see this one too.
To my birthday twin, kindred spirit, fellow teacher, and friend Lisa Horsman (who also regularly reads the blog and for some unknown reason tunes in to listen to all those piano songs from 1937) this last decade was ours.
But so is the next one.
Nope, finding your own way isn’t a ‘me’ journey, but a ‘we’ journey. Thanks to everyone, literally or virtually lol, for being there with me. Here’s to another journey around the sun! Next stop 50.
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