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A Terrier Taught Me How To Walk

Starting teaching in the middle of August? Huge class sizes? Ten days of teaching for no pay (cutely called "furloughs")? A little terrier showed me how to handle all my anticipation, pain, and fear.

The second week of August was an assault. The valley felt like a sauna. Compounding the heat wave were phone calls, emails, texts from well-meaning fellow teachers asking me about school.

"Hey, did you hear how big our classes are going to be?"

"Don, did you look at your classes online? How many kids do you have each period?"

"My God! It's not just going to be too hot for school. It going to be too crowded for learning!"

I began to dread these huge classes. I spent an entire day hiding on a comfy chair in front of my air conditioner until the power grid people asked us not to do that. My pain was compounding.

I had just gotten out of the hospital recently. Aging brings a humbling crumbling of our parts no longer warrantied by optimism and hubris. I was recovering from a condition that required a complete restructuring of my diet.

(Just my luck. Crappy food was my hiding place. I eat junk food like a junkie, responding to life's obstacles with quick shots of blood sugar boosts and fatty getaway foods. Now I had to lose forty to fifty pounds just so that I could have surgery. It wasn't quite the same as losing forty to fifty pounds to play a prize fighter in a Martin Scorcese film. It was more like starving for a few months, feeling all the feelings, just so I could be cut open and then stitched up again.)

In addition to losing sugars and fats was my overarching concern about trying to get kids to focus on the core curriculum while still dreaming of Magic Mountain, Santa Monica beach, water slides, or air-conditioned movie theaters. The middle of August is still time for kids to be in swimming pools, not car pools.

I glanced at my online rosters, listing many students in each class. I now had a second layer of sweat wading across my skin. The heat wave made me overheated, while anticipation of upcoming class size left me feeling not so hot.

It was right then that OP, the cairn terrier in my life, had the ball-crushing experience of getting his balls crushed. It was time for the retired show dog to be fixed, which involves getting broken first (often life's first step at fixing things, I noted, thinking of my own upcoming surgery).

OP returned from retiring his testicles with a cone on his head. He was going to wear this cone for several weeks—the same few weeks I would be adjusting to a new diet, an old job with new class numbers, and a heat wave ironing both of our bodies.

During those days, the cone-head days of summer, OP taught me something about dogs. They are cursed with loyalty to people often not deserving it. They are cursed with energy that they are often left to experience without enough outlet time (exercise, dog play dates, things to chase, people to wrestle, etc.). But they are blessed with living in the moment.

OP, in spite of the awkward learning curve of adjusting to a lamp shade slightly larger than his entire frame, this little dog kept moving forward, learning to walk through the pain, pushing himself all the way to the yard.

He pushed himself up the steps. He moved through obstacles of furniture and clutter like a running back, finding the open spaces, rebounding off of objects that would stop a mere human from trying more.

As I would play with OP during the cone-head days, I would find myself back in the moment, too. The blessing of enjoying one's animals is to enjoy their wonderful zen. He taught me to keep moving forward, to rebound off the badly placed furniture in my life, to push past the overcrowded rows while remembering to stop and enjoy the moment with my students.

OP taught me how to walk: how to walk through fear, through anticipation, through a heat wave, through obstacles. He showed me to stay in the moment, jump for joy when there is a moment of freedom, and to sniff everything that smells good.

OP's cone is off now. And I feel like he helped take my burden off, too.

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