Seven Tropical Life Lessons From a Yellow Lab

On a recent trip to Florida where I spoke at a conference for superintendents, Nacho reasserted himself as a topic for this blog. Amid stress, pressure, and uncertainty in the world of education and beyond, sometimes it takes the "fur people" in our lives to make sense of everything. Hear these stories, and learn from them what you or your students need to learn...the lessons are forceful. Sadly, there are no pictures. Nacho says what happens in Florida stays in Florida, at least photographic evidence of it!
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At the airport, a stern TSA agent was tasked with patting down Nacho, since he beeped as always because of the metal harness. Nacho wagged and sniffed and even ventured a kiss or two as he was being searched. The kisses shattered the stony grimace of the agent who then started "talking dog" to Nacho as he told my yellow boy about the two canines he loved at home. The pat-down went on for a few extra moments of warm and slobbery bonding.
Lesson #1: Never assume that what a person presents as his outer self is who he is inside: we owe it to each other to expect there is much more beyond that exterior guise.
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To my knowledge, Nacho walked on a wooden boardwalk for the first time on this trip. Though the surface was foreign and the sounds were clunky, he plodded along without a hitch, his training overshadowing the newness of the wooden slats.
Lesson #2: When we learn well, we can take the confidence from that learning into new environments to find success.
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Similarly, Nacho viewed the rolling waves of the Gulf Coast for the first time. He stood on the beach with cocked ears, a wrinkled forehead, and immense curiosity about the crashing sea. After inspecting the waves with appreciation, he accepted them as "normal" and went on with his work.
Lesson #3: We must notice and honor the beautiful things in life, stepping forward with eyes wide open but with an expectancy that such beauty is abundant enough to be present regularly, if we look for it.
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To protect Nacho's feet from rocks and shells, I put on his doggy boots for an evening walk on the beach. He was not a happy lab! However, when he realized that staying put in protest would mean missing an exploration of what the shoreline offered, Nacho moved those booted feet and even walked a step or two faster than normal.
Lesson #4: If given a choice between stagnation and exploration, most of us will ultimately choose the latter, in spite of discomfort and initial resistance.
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As we walked parallel to the ocean on a virtually empty beach that evening, Nacho turned sharply to the right, which was where the waves were. Curious about this directional alteration, I decided to let him reveal his motives, which he soon did as my hand touched a stack of lounge chairs that would soon be pulled up toward a hotel for the night. Nacho is trained to locate chairs, and he did so without my command...finding the only chairs on an otherwise deserted beach.
Lesson #5: Amid the vastness of unknown landscapes in life, the discovery of something familiar can provide a moment of pleasure, stability, and orientation for what is ahead.
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During my lengthy speech, Nacho was professional and focused, moving once to lie closer to me and handling the charged atmosphere with professionalism. One superintendent remarked that if he had not known I was blind before, nothing about the presentation would have highlighted my disability: the content of my message shouted louder than did my eye disease. Nacho flopped onto his side while that superintendent shared those thoughts.
Lesson #6: There are times and places where the most powerful contribution we can make to a situation is to be as far in the background as it is possible to be.
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On the ledge of the courtyard outside our hotel room, three geckos sunned themselves while Nacho reasserted his cocked ears, wrinkled forehead, and immense curiosity. Geckos are distinctly not abundant in Indiana! Their unusual appearance and scampering movement were certainly the most puzzling Florida entity for Nacho.
Lesson #7: There is always something new to learn! ... Or ... Geckos are weird!