George Lucas: A Tribute: Friday, September 6, 2019

I had never been good at practicing mindfulness, or being mindful period, until I got a dog. Observing your breath, which has been extolled as the surefire way of becoming present, left me in such a deep state of hyperventilation I quickly needed a break from taking a break. I was also a person in constant, anxious movement, fretting about, starting projects but never finishing them, leaving things halfway done, forgetting items in places, moving from one thing to the next, in continuous apprehension. 

            But then I got George Lucas, a miniature schnauzer that was the doppelgänger of the Star Wars director down to the salt-and-pepper beard and pensive dark eyes. On our first walks I wanted to rush, but this was anathema to him. Things and objects needed to be smelled, taken in, mulled over, considered. Others needed to be thoroughly investigated for long stretches at a time, as if notes were being taken for a PhD thesis. I had to slow down, I was forced to slow down for the sake of my dog; otherwise, he wouldn’t enjoy his walks, and I couldn’t do that to him. 

And two whole new worlds opened up before me. Worlds I didn’t know existed because my anxiety had prevented me from discovering them.  During those walks, I had to completely focus my attention and energy to Lucas’s methodical walking mode and to what he found curious. I became aware of what the Japanese haiku poet Basho called the “cricket musician” and to the coquís, the tiny tree frogs that are native to Puerto Rico and croak a high-pitched “coh-kee” sound to attract mates. I would quietly observe Lucas investigate fire hydrants and the helechos (ferns) for the perfect place to leave a peemail. These investigations took time, and they would make me focus even more on our surroundings: the snail gliding peacefully toward a leaf; the lonely ant dutifully carrying a breadcrumb back to his people; the scary buzzing of an escarabajo (scarab) flying slowly and clumsily towards an unclear destination, which always turned out to be my hair; the zorzal pardo (pearly-eyed thrasher) singing his question-like song; the neighbor’s rooster’s quiquiriquí anthem; the fire truck’s siren to which Lucas would join in enthusiastic harmony.

            I had become aware and fully present to the worlds of Nature and the City. As a result of these walks, I became very attuned to my surroundings, particularly sights and sounds. I would view the world from Lucas’s perspective, discovering flowers that he found interesting and sounds that made his ears twitch independently of each other as he zeroed in like a radar on their source. 

            With these walks, my anxious state of being began to dissipate. Lucas’s systematic way of approaching life rubbed off on me, which was a good thing because I worked as a high school math teacher at the time. Instead of starting to grade a pile of exams and leaving it unfinished, I could now sit comfortably and grade them in one sitting. I would no longer leave things on at the stove to be burnt. I could start andfinish a book for pleasure. During my lunch hour at school, I would leave the school grounds and take myself out for a walk not only as a break from the fast-paced life of a high school teacher but also to enjoy the sights and sounds I knew Lucas would enjoy. I would also find myself paying attention to the ground like a red-tailed hawk, looking for any scrap of food or other unknown substance he might accidentally ingest. These walks were as if I were taking him out for a walk in spirit, and they were a balm for my soul. 

            But I became completely untethered from the worlds of Nature and City after the death of Lucas, which occurred two days before Hurricane Irma and seventeen days before Hurricane Maria. Since the electrical power grid was essentially destroyed by the two hurricanes, the City would be plunged into darkness and silence at night. 

            Suddenly I was very much alone, caught in an internal hurricane of grief I could not get out of, not even to fully absorb the physical devastation around me. Losing him to leptospirosis, a disease I too had contracted at the same time, felt like I had been uprooted—just like one of the thousands of trees around the island—and placed in a steel bubble where nothing but sorrow could touch me. 

            It was at night that I also became present to the silence of Nature. Since there was no power, so no light to read a book by, I would lie in bed straining to listen to the nature sounds I was so used to when I walked Lucas. But there were no coquís, no cricket musicians, no zorzal pardos, no roosters. Nature had become completely silent, and the silence was terrifyingly deafening. This drove me to crave other sounds, any sounds, and the only sounds were those of the neighbors’ power generators that ran on diesel, and the only smell was the stink of diesel. The fact that Nature was silent was a painful reminder that Lucas was gone. Every night, I would have to lie still in bed and strain to listen to something that wasn’t a generator but those sounds never came. Every night, I had to brace myself to my own internal hurricane.

            The timing of his death and the hurricanes was too much, too fast, too soon. And yet ironically, my mourning shielded me from crumpling like so many people did after Hurricane Maria, and I became present to a new kind of presence: the presence of urgency. While others went into denial, I sprung into action, perhaps as a way of not dealing with the violent emotional landscape within me.

            There was no gasoline? No problem. I would make a 6-hour line under the scorching sun with my car’s engine turned off until the gas station would open again. My whole left arm would get sunburned from sitting in the driver’s seat with the window down, but I didn’t care. 

            There was no food? No problem. I would make a 2-hour line at one of the two only restaurants that opened after the hurricane. 

            Wait, they only accepted cash because there was no Internet connection for the credit card system? No problem. I would make the 2-hour line at the only functioning ATM in my vicinity and pray I was lucky there was any cash left when my turn came up. 

            There was no propane gas for my mother’s generator? No problem. I would stand guard with her in front of her house, waiting for a San Juan Gas truck to ride by. At one point I ran behind one, but the driver ignored me. 

            These tasks kept me alive because they kept me busy and most importantly, not present to the uprooted ceibatrees, the defrockedamapolatrees, the cars’ windshields strewn over sidewalks, an apartment’s entire parquetflooring hanging from my mother’s patio wall, and the lampposts that had flown like projectiles now lying everywhere. 

            I couldn’t help but think of Mary Oliver’s poem “Hurricane,” wherein she writes: 

“…I watched

the trees bow and their leaves fall

and crawl back into the earth.

As though, that was that.

This was one hurricane

I lived through, the other one

was of a different sort, and 

lasted longer. Then

I felt my own leaves giving up and

falling….”

            My own leaves had given up and fallen, leaving me naked with grief. I thought of Lucas and his final moment, when I had to say goodbye. And the first thing that popped into my mind to tell him was that in the grand history of the universe, a human life is very short. I remembered reading in David Christian’s “Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History” that the Universe is about 14 billion years old, the Earth 4.5 billion years old, the scale of human evolution about 7 million years old, the measure of human history 200,000 years old, the history of agrarian societies and urban civilizations 5,000 years old, and the chronicle of modernity a meager 1,000 years old. I also remembered reading The Dragons of Eden, wherein Carl Sagan popularized the concept of the Cosmic Calendar, in which he condensed the history of the Universe and the Earth into a 12-month calendar. We come into existence only near midnight on December 31st, when developments such as Stone Age tools and the Pyramids begin to appear. It is in the last second before the clock strikes midnight that the world becomes what it is and we know of today. 

            Keeping all of this in mind, our lives are then minuscule things when compared to everything that came before us. And the life of a dog even more infinitesimal but infinitely more precious. 

            I told Lucas that my life, in astronomical terms, would be short too, just like his, and that we would meet again. Because of the shortness of my own life, our approaching “separation” would be brief too and therefore he needn’t worry about not seeing me ever again. Because in the grand scale of astronomical time, we would meet again very, very soon. And in the same breath, I was trying to come to terms with the fact that I would never see him again, but that when I did, it wouldn’t be for long. I thanked him for giving me the honor of being his human for almost 12 years, a number I still wrestle with as being so unfairly short. I hope, and I think he understood what I was saying.

            It’s been two years since Lucas has gone, but my world has completely changed. I have not healed completely, and the clichéd adage that “Time heals all wounds” is not true. Some wounds never heal. One must accommodate one’s soul around them. While the grief is still there, I am reminded of a Robert Webb quote sent to me by a friend shortly after Lucas’s passing: “The sadness that we feel now, we can afford to hold close; safe as we are in the knowledge that grief is love’s echo. We only have to listen and it’s there. Today is a heavy day, but this is just an aftershock. The earthquake, the main event, as usual, was love.”

            When I walk now, I look up at the trees and notice the birds singing. Every time I hear a fire truck, I smile. Smells, both good and bad, are quickly detected by my nose. The tinkle of a dog’s tags immediately makes my ears prick, just like it did with Lucas’s, and I happily look around to see where the dog is. Things that used to scare me, like the sound of a scarab’s wings near my face, no longer do. 

            I have been broken but made more present to other people’s suffering, especially the one that you cannot see, the one that is unspoken. When I talk to people now, I listen attentively instead of interrupting. I watch and consider their body language. I no longer think of what I’m going to say next in the conversation while impatiently waiting for the other person to stop talking. I think before I comment, instead of impulsively saying whatever’s on my mind. This has made my conversations full of thoughtful pauses and silences, with which I am now, for the first time in my life, comfortable. I can read the mood in a room when I first walk in because I walk thoughtfully now. 

            In the evenings, I take myself out for a walk and have taken up the hobby of taking photographs in the blue hour. I listen to the song of evening birds. I notice ant marches and moth dances. I use an app to see what constellations and planets lay above me, like spilt blue glitter in an art classroom. And when I return home, it feels like I have just returned home with Lucas. His presence in my life has made me become more present in my own, and for that and a million other things, I will be forever grateful. 

Picture by Sofía Vélez-Calderón. Photoshop by @toddyfur on Twitter.

23 thoughts on “George Lucas: A Tribute: Friday, September 6, 2019”

  1. There are people out there who don`t appreciate the impact that dogs have on our lives. Their daily presence is such a reassurance. And when they go it can be devastating.

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    1. True. There are many people who just say “it’s just a dog” or “get over it” or even worse, “just get another one” as if a dog were replaceable. I think it is devastating because of the unconditional love that they give us, which we may not know how to give to ourselves. Thank you so much for reading.

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      1. I am so broken and burning with pain as i am not whole. I am so sad because you are not here Pinky. I moan and cry with pain yet i prefer to have this constant flow if tears than nit to have any if you. I talk to you and beg you not to leave my heart. We are intertwined and i want to stay with you forever. And i beg you to wait for me as that is my consolation for not being able to touch you. And sometimes i think i see you or hear you breath which consoles me and then we smile together at the beautiful things you did and how deeply you loved me more than anyone ever has. I am so grateful you shared you life with me. Please do not ever leave me my Pinky.

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    2. Animals bring so much joy in every way into your life. The unconditional love, the waging tail, the look in their eyes , the nudge with their nose to get your attention. I have four dogs and love them all. They all have their own personalities and show their love in different ways. I know you can never replace Lucas, but have you ever considered getting another dog to complete the void in your life losing Lucas has left. Almost a tribute to him. Therec are so many rescue dogs out there that need the love you gave to Lucas.Your tribute to Lucas was wonderful.

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      1. Dear Kathy, Having four dogs is a dream, and I am so glad you have them. I miss Lucas nudging me with his nose or paw to get my attention. I have considered getting another dog actually, even though Lucas is irreplaceable. But I think I am finally ready. After I’m done finishing my master’s I have promised myself a dog after an intense year of study. I’m already looking forward to it. Thank you for taking the time to read my tribute to Lucas and for your words. Be well and give your four dogs gentle nose boops for me. 🙂

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    3. Each dog I have been so fortunate to have found, loved, and had to release at the end, was unique. Our relationship was different than the dog before. Dogs give us everything that they have. Their lives seem so short. None of them are forgotten, though. You have so much love and appreciation for Lucas, I hope you can one day make another dog’s life just as special. Yours, too. ❣️🐕

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      1. Thank you for your beautiful and comforting words. I think that I will finally be ready to get a new dog next year, when I’m done with my master’s. While Lucas is irreplaceable, I feel he has given me the green light to get another dog. And hopefully I will continue on the journey Lucas started me on. Thank you for taking the time to read my post. It means so much when someone does.

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      2. Your tribute to George Lucas touches the inner part of my heart and soul. I identify with so many experienced you shared. Your help with this saddest time if my life well i could not make it without your understanding. The feelings i have i never knew existed before. The levels of communication two species can share. Oh i am so grateful that you have taken so much of your precious time to help me with this excruciating pain. Yet i want it because it is Pinky.

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  2. Thank you, Sofía.

    This has touched me to my core.

    Awareness of the environment: sights, sounds, tastes, touches, and smells (especially peemails) are vital to mindfulness, as I learned from my childhood/teenage years miniature schnauzer Imp.

    As did learning how to wait until the right time to respond arrived.

    Thank you so very very much.

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    1. Thank you so much for reading. And I am so glad that you had Imp in your life. We never forget those that have taught us so much, no matter if human or animal.

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  3. Nunca pensé que debería considerar tener un perro. Luego de leer esta reflexión, sin embargo, pienso que podría aprender a mirar la vida con otros ojos y que un perro podría ser un gran maestro. Y eso sin pensar en la enrome felicidad que les daría a mis hijos…. No sé si estoy lista…

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  4. Beautifully written Sofia.

    Axle used to wake me up very early in the mornings and we’d walk to greet the new day. The sun on your cheek first thing in the morning is something I still miss.

    Those who have said “he’s just a dog” are no longer friends.

    I miss his rhythmic breathing as I go to sleep and the feel of his paw on my arm.

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    1. Oh Claire, thank you so much for your words. And I know what you mean about missing the rhythmic breathing as you go to sleep. I miss that too. I particularly miss Lucas plopping himself right next to me, letting himself fall on the soft mattress. And yes, the ones who have said “he’s just a dog” are no longer friends. Thank you so much for reading.

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    1. I was teary-eyed while I was writing it. Thank you, Schalisa so much for taking time to read my tribute. It means so much. Be well. xx

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  5. George Lucas was to you what my shihpoo Merlin was to me. He taught me SO much. Unlike you, I have not been able to move forward. 2 years later, I am still consumed with grief, maybe because I do not believe in life after death (I wish so much that I DID). I know we all live on as a memory of those who loved us but otherwise, I think death is the end. So I still love Merlin with the power of a thousand suns but I won’t be with him again except in my thoughts. Your tribute to George Lucas is wonderful. Thank you for it.

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    1. Dear Joanne, Thank you so much for reading. And I can completely relate to being consumed by grief two years down the line. Your Merlin sounds wonderful. Dogs can be such great teachers, not only of unconditional love, but also of things such as nobility, stoicism, and of living in the moment. I am sending you so much love from Spain. Regarding your grief, I say don’t rush it. Some people, and I include myself in this group, take longer than others. I had a deep crying spell a month ago over Lucas, almost as if he had died the day before. I’m still not over the fact that he’s not here with me and sometimes that’s still shocking. I wish you so much love and healing as you work through your grief.

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    1. Oh Precious. I’m so sorry for your loss. We miss our pets so much when they leave us, don’t we? Sending you love and light. And thank you for taking the time to read my post. It means so much when someone does.

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  6. Sofia- not only is your writing superb, but the tribute to Lucas and what he taught you is profound. You are an even better human now having had Lucas in your life. Also, Lucas was fortunate to have found you as well. Please don’t thank me for reading! I owe you my gratitude for sharing your intimate thoughts. I hope that when you’re done with school, and when you’re ready; that you’ll bless another dog, hopefully a shelter dog, with a life with you as their awesome human partner. My Ripley and I send our love to you.😘😘🐶

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    1. Thank you for your words about my writing. It took me a long time to craft this tribute. Two years in fact because I couldn’t write about Lucas when he passed. I too hope that when I’m done with school that I will be able to get another dog and continue on the journey that Lucas started me on. Please give Ripley a gentle nose boop for me and a good scratch behind the ears. Thank you.

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