Mom had a passion for all of God’s creation, but especially animals. To her, animals were like vulnerable children needing protection and WE were responsible for caring for them. Her childhood farm life developed a respect for animals. She told us stories of how her uncle would gently plead to their horse to pull the heavy load once more by calling it, “brother”. Mom’s sister Sava could magically lure the bees back to their hives by singing to them. Bees apparently can’t hear, yet, there are still things unknown to us to make us wonder. But if an animal is hurt, it was a sin to look away. It was a sin to not act on behalf of someone or something suffering and within our reach. She lived her life demonstrating what love for justice is. She did one small act at a time, but over the course of her life, countless people have wistfully shared stories with me of how mom buoyed them during violent storms in their lives. And if animals could talk, I’m sure they too would tell the tales of Ljubica’s rescues.
On one of mom’s epic journeys walking around Woodbridge Lake, she noticed that one of the local ducks was caught in a mass of fishing line that had been carelessly left behind. The twisted blue line was cutting deep into the poor duck’s leg, causing grotesque swelling. The duck was undoubtedly in excruciating pain as it limped on its good leg, while dragging the tourniquet of fishing line attached to its maimed leg.
Mom attempted to capture the poor creature she instinctively pitied. The feeble duck was frightened and flew away each time she approached. Suddenly mom noticed lake maintenance workers parked in their golf cart across the lake. She immediately strode up to them and demanded they capture the duck or it would surely soon die of gangrene. The men balked, saying that they were too busy for duck business and were most certainly annoyed at the squat, foreign woman with a thick Slavic accent yelling at them. But mom was a relentless beast when she was determined, and she drove them crazy until they succumbed to her demands. It was their only option to free themselves from her badgering! Mom was very skilled at forcing her will upon people and situations when she knew that she was in the right. She was a formidable woman.
The men tried to corral the terrified duck using their golf cart and nets, but they only drove it further away. When they quickly gave up after one puny effort, mom was livid at the men’s brutish efforts and incapacity to trap it, “You are eediots! You chase duck like goreellas! Of course she rrruns avay!” She was sickened over the suffering duck, and knew that it was surely dying from infection.
When I saw her after she returned from the failed duck capture, she was tearing up and fried from rage. Seeing her so upset and grieved scared me, she was always so composed and self-assured, she never looked rattled. She replayed the situation to me, her eyes lit up and I watched her neck vein throbbing. She declared that she would have to catch that duck herself. My high school mind’s limited understanding of her will led me to ask her a dumb question, “Mom, how do you expect to catch the duck when those men with nets couldn’t? Disdain erupted across her face and in her thick accent she fired back, “Vhat, you tink I should do notting? Let poor duck suffer vhile men vatch it die and do notting? NO!” She was ferocious when fired up.
Mom lacked that stupid inner critic that many of us have battled in our lives. The ugly voice that hisses, “What makes you think that YOU are so special and can do it?” That damned voice, I’d like to cut off its head and feed it to wolves!
She was either blessed to be born without that saboteur, or because of her painful experiences, learned how to destroy it. I now believe that she born strong-willed, but her extraordinary, pain filled life developed her tenacity and defiance of defeat. She just would not be defeated, no way. If anything tried her, she’d beat the crap out of it, and then spit on it.
Over the next week, mom religiously walked around the lake watching that pitiful duck’s leg swell further and grow greener from infection, as she desperately tried to capture it. She returned home from each attempt and called the homeowners association to blast them for their apathy, inhumanity, and downright laziness in not calling for reinforcements. She would ensure that she would torture them until that duck was saved. Mom laid the ‘Ljubica Pain’ on them. The crazy lady with the name you couldn’t pronounce had a hit on them. She learned firsthand what a motivator pain could be, and she used it to her advantage. Well played Ljubica.
By week’s end mom was still determined to capture the dying duck even though she was warned against touching it as it was the property of the homeowner’s association. I imagine that her headshot was taped to the bulletin board of the HOA office, stating, “BEWARE OF CRAZY IMMIGRANT WOMAN CHASING DUCK. HOA rules or not, mom didn’t listen to stupid, arbitrary man-made rules. She thought those were for brainless sheep. To be honest, mom loved breaking stupid rules and rubbing it into the noses of those who constructed them. I really love that about her. She questioned the validity of man-made constructs; she experienced first-hand how corrupt man can be. She knew herself and her character well enough to know when to follow, and when to lead. She led most of the time.
At the end of that week, I had arrived home from school and heard mom calling me to our small backyard. I opened the slider and was confused by her make-shift medical practice stationed on our patio table. Mom was administrating top tier health care to a duck! The fishing line lay on the side of the table, a huge mass of blue threads, and green pulp. She used nail scissors to extract the deeply embedded line because regular scissors were too thick and not practical for duck surgery.
I stared down at a pile of stained medical gauze that she had used to soak up the puss from the engorged leg that was triple the size of the healthy leg. That duck stoically stood on the patio table as mom finished wrapping the tape around its leg. It was calm, quiet and obedient. Of course I was stunned by this scene. When I picked my jaw back up off the floor, I rattled off questions in rapid fire, “How did you capture that duck when no one could? How? What happened? How come it didn’t fly away? How did you get it to stay put while you grabbed your surgical equipment? How? How? How?”
She was a proud physician acknowledging her greatness in the moment. “I told you Sasha, that duck needs help, so I go get it and help it.” She kept on taping; not pausing for second, but then finally stared into my face through her giant bifocals and said, “When you are determined to do something, you do it!” That’s it Sasha. Stupid people will tell you that you can’t, but they are stupid, so they can’t! But if you are determined, YOU WILL DO IT. There are no questions, you do it!”
I was in awe and wonder of her in that moment as in hundreds of other moments throughout my life. I stood there on the sliding glass door landing, fixated, and soaking in the scene so I could always remember it. I loved the look of satisfaction that washed over her. I loved the sense of accomplishment and miracle creating she exuded. I thought, “My mom can do ANYTHING she decides to do, and I was so proud of her, I felt it radiate into my inner core. And that image, and the hundreds of others that are similar in context, are engraved like poetry on my brain. Those images recite themselves whenever I struggle with my own “impossible”. I still hear them in her voice, and see the countless images of what is possible, and I am reminded, “If you are determined, there are no questions, you will do it!”