Magic Happens

magic-happens

My journey as a writer is an upward hike. There is a hell of a lot of climbing and work, but then I come to a lookout point and I can see the progress and revel in the journey thus far. Those moments are precious and beautiful and a sigh for this writer’s soul.

These outlooks on our artistic journey are much needed.They are the reason we keep trudging forward, so our hearts can soar once again from all that we have accomplished.

The hike of a writer is lonely. Sure, we have fellow-hikers who give a nod of acknowledgment along the way. We see some familiar faces and even a few who stop to motivate us when the climb is too steep, but mostly we wander this trail alone. We push forward alone. Only the writer understands their dream.

I have wanted to give up on my journey so many times. Since I became a stay at home mother and started this blog and began my dream of publishing a novel, I’ve wanted to quite every day. The negative talk works its way into my head, “Nobody cares about your writing. You aren’t a good writer. It’s too hard.”

But something always whispers back, “You’re journey isn’t over yet. The next viewpoint is just ahead. Keep writing.”

 

-Rachel McKee

 

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My Journey With God: The Abridged Version

I didn’t have a lot of exposure to organized religion as a child, and not much has changed in that regard since.

I was baptized Catholic and attended mass with my Grandmother on occasion. Nobody talked to me at mass although many attendees knew my Grandmother. I was a small child with not much to say anyway. I liked to close my eyes and listen to the choir and sing along when it was encouraged.

I didn’t know much about the bible. I knew the Christmas and the Easter story from the beautifully illustrated books that my mother read to me during the season of these celebrations.

Mostly I found God in nature. I was a student of John Muir and Ralph Waldo Emerson before I knew who they were. When it came to religion, in many ways I was a young transcendentalist at heart.

I would talk to God while I played in the river. Swallowing the icy, glacier water, I felt alive and awake in every aspect of my life. I felt clean. I opened my mouth and drank thirstily the holy water.  I thanked Him, I laughed with Him, I sang to Him the songs I remembered from church and a few I made up just for Him. I climbed onto the largest rock that over looked the riverbed below and sang Happy Birthday to Him every Christmas. It was our thing.

I ran along the riverbank. The hot, uneven stones beneath my feet were smooth and slick, but I never fell. I put all my faith in Him and He carried me over those stones, the wind beneath my outstretched arms. We laughed with pure joy and I felt Him living inside me and all around me. When I think back on our relationship then, I am awed by the power and sheer innocence.

Then Christian camp happened and that’s when I learned my worship style was “wrong”.

It all started when my parents announced they were getting divorced. Being the thoughtful parents that they are, they wanted to do something fun for me after the blow of the divorce announcement. So, they sat me down and explained that I would be going to “horse camp”. (With a little sprinkle of Protestant influence and activities.)

Cool… horse camp, new friends, learn more about God. Yay!  I thought it would be great, but I didn’t know that I would be a tadpole in a sea of well-versed Christian fish.

My parents dropped me off with my shiny new bible, a shirt that was an inch too short, and a bikini instead of a one-piece, condeming me as the next Delilah. A note on the shirt: I have a very long torso and this was the early 2000’s before longer shirts were made fashionable. (Finally.) My parents DID NOT drop me off in a tube-top and Daisy Dukes. Although with the looks the counselors gave me you would think I was about to do a strip tease on the hood of the General Lee.

The counselors snickered at my shirt and some of the other campers joined in. That was how my first day beganme pulling my shirt down every 30 seconds. Avoiding eye contact with everyone.

The next day at bible study I learned that I brought the wrong type of bible. First, my bible should have been in a more “used” condition. The shiny crispness screamed “Never been read!”. Second, I should have had a bible that was more learning friendly, not one that was so traditional. Then we were told to reflect on all the ways we could make our relationship stronger with God. That last part seemed fair, although a bit negative to kick things off.

Anyway, while I was reflecting and our counselor walked away to give us some space, I started to eat some pink huckleberries that are indigenous to Washington State. One by one, my cabin-mates began eating the berries too. Suddenly I was Eve in the Garden of Eden, leading my fellow campers to the biblical fruit of sin. Our counselor came back and scolded us for eating wild berries. I explained to her that they grew in my yard back home and I’d been eating them my entire life. (The poor woman thought her girls were all about to be poisoned.) We were not poisoned. She was still furious. I was officially “the bad kid” at camp.

My transgressions continued. I made one bosom friend who I adore to this day. We left everyone out. Our friendship was easy and we didn’t have time for jealousy or judgment. We would rather talk about the camp horses rather than who wore too much makeup. We clicked, and just got each other. The same kids who judged me also complained that my friend and I ostracized them. It hurt their feelings that my friend and I didn’t include the other eight girls we were forced to share a cabin with. They also loved nothing more than to point out our flaws. One night, I held hands with a boy that I liked. One of my cabin-mates spit at me that it was disgraceful and may as well have called me a whore with the level of disgust in her eyes. I laughed in her face.

For the first time in my life I was an outsider. I wasn’t liked. The counselors didn’t know what to do with me.

In my hometown, I had many friends and my teachers adored me. At camp, I was the bad girl. My twelve-year-old-self didn’t know what to do with the new camp version of me. Then, for the remainder of my stay, I embraced it.

I went back to that same camp a few more times and with every visit my “screw you attitude” became stronger. I didn’t want to feel the sting of their rejection so I ignored it and acted like their judgement amused me.

I wasn’t completely upset about returning to camp the following year. There were many aspects of the camp that I loved. The ocean was a short walk away. I adored horseback riding and taking care of the horses. I liked sleeping outside in a tent. I liked Christian camp for all the wrong reasons.

Every time I returned home, I was a slightly different version of myself. I felt God move away from me as I walked by the river year after year.

I know now that it was I who distanced myself from Him. I began to feel unworthy of His love and attention. I went to a camp that praised Him, but I failed there. Our relationship became more complicated over the years. The pettiness I learned at camp was just the beginning of our challenges.

My late teens and early 20’s were the loud years in my life. I didn’t allow any quiet to sink in, I couldn’t hear Him. I was in string of challenging relationship. I partied hard.

Then I met my husband and we built a peaceful life together. I reached out to God again, but it was difficult to find Him, even after my life had calmed down. The years between us weighed heavy on my heart.

I became pregnant with our son. I learned that bringing a child into the world strips you of all vanity and arrogance. Birthing my son revealed a depth to my spirit that I previously thought was shallow. When I pushed my son into the world and held him to my chest for the first time, I was brought to my knees and humbled beyond measure. Childbirth was the greatest force of nature I’d ever experienced. I cried out to God in gratitude, I felt His presence in every corner of the delivery room.

When I look at my son I see such bliss, love, and curiosity in his eyes. I see a sacred innocence that shinesthe same light that once danced in my eyes as I raced along the river shore. There is a spiritual light that illuminates children, perhaps because their tender years make them closer to that side of heaven. 

I watch my son race across the grass in our yard, his toddler legs moving as fast as they can go and my own feet are light again. My spirit soars as I chase after my baby. A familiar, but long-lost smile breaks across my face when my son looks back at me. My arms rise like a bird in flight, a voice whispers in my heart, welcome home.

-Rachel McKee

Author’s Note: I don’t normally talk about religion, politics, or sex on this blog. (You know all the things you wouldn’t bring up at Thanksgiving dinner.) But this essay kept coming back to me and it wouldn’t let me go. I had to write it down. I hope none of you take offense from my journey with God. I also don’t want to give the impression that I am against organized religion because I know many people who attend church and have deepened their relationship with God this way. This is simply part of my story.

A Quote To Write By

Keep writing YOUR truth. Explore the feelings you keep buried. Work out your demons with pen and paper. Then bravely share your words so others don’t feel so alone. If just one person benefits from your writing, isn’t it all worth it?❤

-Rachel McKee

A Fortress of Peace

As a way to cope with my anxiety, I use visualization.

I usually have the most trouble with anxiety at bedtime so I close my eyes and picture a childhood treehouse that my best friend and I built.

When we were twelve, we found an old Folgers Coffee can full of nails in my friend’s garage and began playing with her Dad’s scrap-pile of wood. Then, we started nailing pieces of wood to the side of a tree so that we could climb it like a staircase, (or in our minds the mast of a ship). Then we realized that by nailing three boards between three trees we could build a platform, and that was the start of our two-story treehouse that boasted four platforms and two bridges. (We had help securing the bridges.)

We rummaged through old leftover paint and was granted permission to paint our floating fortress Robin’s egg blue and pastel purple.

In our imagination, that fort was a pirate ship, a mansion, a castle, and anything we needed/wanted it to be that day. I didn’t know then that I was creating a safe place for myself in the future.

Do we ever realize how vital moments are until they turn into memories?

There is one memory of the tree house in-particular that I often grasp and weave into the tapestry of my visualization. One morning before school, my friend and I decided to wake up early and eat breakfast in our treehouse as the sun came up. It was early spring, our clouds of breath were evidence that a chill still lingered in the morning. We took our bowl of Fruit Loops and sat on the highest platform, eating our cereal in the light of our flashlights. Arms and chests leaning on the safety railingwe rejoiced as the sun came up, turning the sky electric pink. The rushing river nearby roared in our ears. We sat there in silence for a long time. My parent’s recent divorce faded to the back of my mind and everything felt bearable in my life.

Maybe that place made me feel invincible because my friend and I built it almost entirely on our own. Or it’s the fact that our treehouse had no walls, which was why it was freedom. Where the magic came from really doesn’t matter, that tree house allowed me to escape, and still  helps me cope with anxiety.

-Rachel McKee

Do you have a method to deal with stress or a memory you turn to for comfort? Please comment below.

New Year, New Focus

I went to a psychic once in Las Vegas. (Bare with me.) I was there with a group of friends for a bachelorette party, this was about five years ago. On a whim, we decided to visit Old Town and as we were walking we spotted a little shack in the middle of the sidewalk. We stepped inside the tiny trailer and huddled around a woman and her table. The trailer was clean and tidy. No unnecessary frills, thrills, skulls, or crystal balls. Each girl took a turn and to my surprise, instead of predicting the future she dug into our pasts and advised us on the current predicaments in our lives.

My hands were sweaty when it was my turn. She asked me whether I wanted my palm read or if I wanted the tarot cards. I chose the cards. She gave me a lot of sage advice, but the one aspect of our session that stood out to me was when she looked me in the eyes and said, “You have a lot of chaotic but powerful energy bouncing around inside of you, but you have no idea how to control it. You could achieve amazing things if you can find a way to wrangle and focus that energy.”

Obligatory disclaimer: I realize that her observation can apply to just about any creative soul, but hey, it’s a good reminder right?

So what does this have to do with 2017? My mission, my goal, my pledge to myself is to take that energy and focus it on my book(s). I haven’t been taking myself seriously as a writer. I have had multiple offers from people to beta-read my current novel and I haven’t allowed anyone to see it yet. Every time I think it’s ready to be handed off, my heart starts racing and I remember ten different things that MUST be changed before anyone else can read it. I get overwhelmed with my ideas and it all becomes too much. So I sit on my couch and binge-watch Gilmore Girls and waste time. I’m not focusing my energy. I let it get out of control and to cope, I ignore it. I ignore everything creative in my life because it’s too much work to harness that chaotic energy.

2017 has a lot in store for me, I can feel it in my core. I’m excited to learn, grow, share, love, and focus.

Thank you for following.

Happy New Year.

-Rachel

Do you have any resolutions or thoughts about the new year? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

 

When I Realized I Couldn’t Fix His Mental Illness

I posted a poem last week called Everywhere I Go You Follow. I wrote the poem when I was nineteen years old and experiencing a rough relationship. Daley over at The Invisible Moth asked who the poem was about and I told her to stay-tuned and that I’d answer with a follow-up essay.

I wrote the essay, When I Realized I Couldn’t Fix His Mental Illness at the beginning of this year and XONecole published it on their site in March. Even though this breakup story is far in my past, and I’m very happily married nowas you all know. I’m so grateful for this relationship and all that it taught me. Writing this essay cleared my creative voice that had taken me years to rediscover.

Here is the link to the original article.

When I Realized I Couldn’t Fix His Mental Illness

Loving someone with mental illness is driving through mountain passes at 2AM in early spring.

Climbing up switchbacks and taking hair-pin turns way too quickly and listening to The Beatles’ White Album. It’s nurturing someone who is running from their demons–holding them on the side of the road while you huddle under a blanket and look at the stars on the edge of a mountain lake, and concurring the darkness and greeting the morning sun while inhaling your victory into burning lungs and gazing into sleepy eyes that radiate relief that the night is over, only to take a new adventure the next night to divert the memories again.

I fell in love with a boy who was officially diagnosed with extreme bipolar disorder, but it took two years to get a diagnosis. We were both 19, young, selfish, and ignorant to the details of mental illness. There were numerous nights when I would get a phone call and the only sound on the other line would be heavy breathing and a shaky, “Help…me.” I would instantly jump out of bed and drive to his apartment and find him in a puddle of puke and reeking of alcohol. I would clean him up and put him to bed and pray that he would be “better” in the morning.

I continuously told myself that I could fix him. My touch would erase the dark circles that formed under his eyes from the impossibly long nights that he couldn’t sleep. If I held him long enough his anxious, tight, wiry muscles would relax. If we partied and had fun we could be a normal couple like the rest of our friends. We could laugh and drink and be silly, not everything had to be so dark and dramatic. I did not understand that when he was on a manic high that it was not his “normal” self. The extreme happiness would not last and inevitably the other ball of fear and anxiety would swing and the Newton’s Cradle that was his personality would slam back down again. The constant swing of emotion was torturing him. I was in a perpetual state of fear that he would die and I was frustrated because I knew that I was not helping him.

He was constantly self-medicating. He drank… a lot. He cheated on me multiple times. Our relationship was crushing me and I was already working and attending school full-time. During the year and a half we were together he ran away more times than I can count, stopping all contact completely. His illness was causing me to have severe anxiety and there were days when I desperately wanted to ignore him, leave him, and forget about him. But then he would call and I would criticize myself for being so selfish. I could never voice my worst fear out loud, especially to him:

What if I’m not there and he dies…

He was finally brought to a rehabilitation center where he was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The words schizophrenia, manic, and depressed, were tossed around like common cold and a possible ear infection. The smell of bleach and ammonia was such a sterile contradiction to the moldy, dusty appearance of the neglected building. There were cracks on the tiled floor and an eerie silence that trailed behind my reluctant footsteps as I followed a nurse to see him. I walked into a fluorescent cafeteria and to tell you the truth, I don’t remember a single word we said. I know, I’m sorry for the let down, but I honestly can’t think of what we said to each other. I remember him being very sedative and his eyes were incredibly sad. I distinctly remember going home and eating some banana cream pie only to expel it into the toilet 15 minutes later. I still can’t eat banana cream pie.

Shortly after, I went off to Western Washington University to finish my four-year degree. He went through more rehabilitation. We began to drift apart. I went to visit him at one more facility that was much nicer than the last. I didn’t know how to tell him that I had found someone else. We weren’t together, but I still felt heavy with a guilty heart that I was moving on. I made the incredibly cruel and stupid decision to tell him the day he was sent home that I was dropping out of our relationship. I will never forget the sound of his voice when he whispered in an exhausted tone, “Why would you tell me that today, the day I get to go home?” I selfishly decided that day that I was done; I wanted to leave our relationship in the past. I was bailing hard because I wanted to enjoy my two years of university life.

We have hardly spoken since that final goodbye where we literally hung up the phone and ended the conversation of “us.” From our brief interactions following our breakup, and the gossip mill of Facebook, it sounds like he is doing incredibly well for himself. He went back to school and we now share the same alma mater. Without my help or influence he picked himself up and made a new life. In my vanity I thought it was me that was holding him together when ultimately he was always in control of his own life and didn’t need me backseat-driving for him. His battle ultimately had to be fought with the aid of professionals and a loving family.

He has a new shotgun partner now. When I think of them driving through life together I feel a surge of emotion that hurls itself through the timeline of “us”. I fiercely want her to be the one for him. I want her to stand strong where I crumbled under the weight of his illness. I won’t ever get a chance to tell him that I am proud of him. Even though we shared soul-wrenching truths about ourselves, there is the ever-present barrier that holds steady when lovers decide to take different directions. After speeding through the dark tunnel of time that was “us” and the discovery of illness, I hope he basks in the light on the other side.

-Rachel McKee

Same Poet, Different Name

I wrote this poem when I was still Rachel Carroll.  I was new to womanhood, heartache, and poetry. While reading this poem I’m reminded of a different time in my lifeone that shaped me to be the person I am today.

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-Rachel McKee

 

Running From Ghosts (Literally)

I shared a ghostly experience that happened at my childhood home  a few posts ago. Unlike that ghostly reassurance, the second time I encountered a spirit I ran for my life.

My dad and I visited Santa Fe, New Mexico when I was fourteen. We stayed with my Dad’s buddy Dan.

Dan lived on a beautiful estate that was on the outskirts of town. There were three houses on the property. The main home was a beautiful stucco building filled with fine furniture, a grand piano, and classy artwork. The people who owned the estate were not residing there at the time. The second home was the caretaker’s house where Dan lived. The third house was the guest house. The buildings were new and my Dad and I were excited to stay at such a nice place. We stayed in the guest house.

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This gate and courtyard are very similar to what was on the estate where we stayed.

While the houses were new, the grounds had a lot of history. At the beginning of the private drive, there was an old church. There were two graves on the property that I stumbled upon my first day of arrival (I was always eager to explore). The graves were well-tended and I thought that it would be a lovely resting place to spend eternity, gazing at the lovely desert of New Mexico.

The first night we listened to Dan play guitar. My Dad gently nudged that it was getting late. I knew that he wanted to catch up with his old friend and relive some of their glory days. So I got ready for bed and started my book. The room where I was staying backed up to a fairly steep hillside, it was peaceful and quiet.

My Dad stayed up late with Dan and I marked my page and turned off the light. I couldn’t relax and a feeling of dread started to creep over me. My armpits prickled in a way that preludes nervous sweat. I was terrified to look at the window that faced the hillside and I buried myself beneath the blankets, even though I was soaked in sweat. Pure hatred filled the room. I spent hours praying that the evilness would leave. I finally fell asleep and the next morning the room felt normal again.

I tried to brush off the strange occurrence, even though I dreaded the thought of sleeping in that room again.

We spent the day visiting historical sites and when we got back to the estate it was almost sunset. I wanted to explore and my Dad and Dan went inside to listen to music. I started to climb up the hillside that bordered the property. There was a lot brush that was about waist-high. The views were beautiful and I remember looking down at the estate and the room where I was staying. I could see the two graves that were cozied up to each other. Smoke was gently pouring out of the chimney from Dan’s house.

The sun was setting and I decided to head home before it got dark. I was probably only a half mile up the hill when I felt it again. The dark force had surrounded me. I heard the brush all around me start to snap and crunch, but nobody else was around. The eerie silence projected each branch breaking. I started to run and behind me I heard crashing and snapping as something chased me down the hill. The most terrifying noise (and as I type this I’m getting goosebumps) was a rattle shaking in my ear. Like someone had filled an empty container with sand: swish swish swish. The entire time I was screaming in my head I shouldn’t be here!

When I made it to the bottom I crashed through the front door of Dan’s house and fell into my father’s arms shaking. My dad was terrified that I was hurt and he raced outside when I told him something chased me down the hill. He didn’t see anything but told me to stick close for the remainder of our stay. Bless my Dad for believing me (or at least my fears) when I told him it was a spirit.

That evening I asked my dad to come with me to the guest house so that I wouldn’t feel so lonely. He did, but he ended up getting a stomach bug and was ill all night. I hid under the blankets again because the evil presence came back and filled the room with rage.

For whatever reason I was unwelcome, and I was thrilled to oblige when we left.

 

 

Happy Halloween. I’m going to go make hot chocolate and listen to Christmas music to shake this memory.

-Rachel McKee

Cover image found here.

Ghostly Whisper

I grew up in a home surrounded by trees and a river in the backyard. My father split apart a 100-year-old *coke oven to make our driveway. I remember walking the property and finding old bottles and rusty tins inside the decrepit remains of a farm-house. Remnants from another life and another time.

I was a nature child. I despised shoes, and would play in the glacier water that ran through our backyard like other children splashed at the beach. My parents gave me a lot of freedom. I didn’t stray from the yard or too far from the river bed. When I was thirteen or fourteen, I began nightly excursions down to the river. My weather-roughened feet splashed through the icy water. The moon lit my path like a 20 carat diamond on black velvet. I had one companion that always joined me for my nightly adventures, our 150 pound Rottweiler named Buddy. He was my furry guardian.

Around this time I had experienced a lot of death. I lost both of my grandmothers, my great-grandmother, and my grandfather. Also a second cousin. I didn’t know my cousin well, but the one summer I spent with him he taught me and my brother how to play pool. He paid a lot of attention to us both, even though he was much older and much cooler. Through the whisper of “adult conversation” I learned that he overdosed. Anyway, I digress.

I was fascinated with death and the afterlife. I buried everything that died in our yard. Between the cat and the dog, I had a high residency in my animal cemetery: moles, mice, birds, baby deer still in the placenta. I figured every creature deserved a prayer when they died, so each animal was blessed by a scrawny little wood nymph.

I pondered where our souls went as I filled each tiny grave. I wanted to encounter a ghost, but was also terrified of being caught off-guard. I wanted to see a ghost on my own terms, and I was always looking. I wanted to believe that every strange thump or snap was a phantom in the night, but I debunked these odd occurrences with logical explanationsBeing a dreamer and a realist is exhausting and rather frustrating.

One chilly, late autumnal night, I slipped out of bed and found Buddy on the front porch. I ran my hand down his shiny black coat and he followed me to the river. The water was swift this night due to recent rain, but Buddy and I plunged ahead. I hiked my flannel pajama pants until they were short shorts and crossed the river to the island that separated both channels.

I sat down on a frosty log and watched the massive black shape of my dog as he wandered from bush to bush. Every exhale was visible, my legs were numb. Tucking my face into the neck hole of my jacket, and pulling my legs inside the warm cocoon of my over-sized coat, I ignored the cold and lost myself in thoughts of school, boys, God, and ghosts.

I started to get sleepy and decided to go home. As I was crossing the river I thought about how good it would feel to huddle underneath my comforter. I reached the other side and stood upon the dike that separated the water from our house. I waited for Buddy to catch up. He always followed right behind me. I started to worry that the current may have been too swift, or maybe this night he wandered too far. I started to call out but he still didn’t come. I began to pace on the dike, looking out into the dark, willing his black, hulking shape to appear.

“Buddy!” I screamed. I strained to hear his movements.

Then a woman whispered against my ear, “Don’t worry he is coming.”.

I jerked my head to the see who had spoken, but no one was there. My left ear tingled from her ghostly whisper.

After the initial shock, I realized I wasn’t scared. The voice was so calm and reassuring that I realized there was no threat. I soon heard my dog splashing through the river and crashing through the brush as he ran up the embankment.

I never heard from the ghostly woman again, but I felt her with me until I left home to go to college. Throughout the day when I played outside and on my nightly excursions, I knew she watched me. I wrote a poem about her that is buried somewhere in my old room. In the poem I described how the woman was actually me and that what I heard was a collision of my past, present, and future.

When I visit my childhood home, I like to think she walks with me as I stroll past the foundation of that old farm-house and the animal cemetery where Buddy rests now. Rotting wooden crosses and an old sign nailed to a tree that reads, “Pet Cemetary” are the remains that I leave for future generations. For the next young, naive heart that innocently thinks she can discover the mystery of death.

Will she hear me whisper?

-Rachel McKee

***coke oven – A coke oven is a brick oven that is used to produce coal. The coke ovens on my parent’s property were used to produce coal for the nearby railroad.

Cover image found here.

 

My Loyal Friend

“Let’s go boy!”

Rising shakily until you are up on all paws, you hobble to the top of the stairs. Your front paws descend the first step, but your eyes beg for me to do the rest.

I lift your sixty pounds, bending at the knees to save my back.

Leaning against my chest, you shake because you fear the pain of being set down.

I place you in front of the door, you need go no further, the sun is waiting for you on the porch. I run my hands over your glossy black coat and words of love cram in my throat.

I bury my face in your neck. Remembering everything I will miss about you one day when you are gone. How you kiss my tears when motherhood is overwhelming, and the way you lean on me when I need support.

My heart breaks because I snap at you, more than you deserve. My patience level is low, and most of it goes to the toddler.

You were so tolerant when our son arrived.

You gently remind us when we forget your dinner or breakfastthe cat is not so subtle.

I whisper, “I’m sorry.”

Looking up at me and smiling into the sun as if to say, “Being sad is a waste of this day.” I realize dogs don’t want apologies for the past nor promises for the future. They just want to share the moment with you.