When Sabina, my editor, suggested I write a blog about gratitude I agreed it was a good idea. After all, we had just published our first book together and it was Thanksgiving week – a time when our nation openly expresses thanks. Although the COVID-19 pandemic was still in full swing and social and political unrest was continuing to ravage our nation, when I stop to read between the lines there is much to be grateful for.

My writing process generally includes nature. Sometimes it involves riding a bike, sometimes it’s hiking, and sometimes it’s walking my dog, Gracie. But it is always about solitude. So rather than sit down at my desk to write a blog, I took Gracie for a walk.

Yes, this blog is about gratitude but perhaps not quite in the way Sabina envisioned. My gratitude, which is so deep at times it feels overwhelming, is about appreciating our differences. Because it is due to our differences that we published a book. It is due to our differences that my creative right brain combined with her logical left brain and we created something that was not there before.

If we were to draw it out on paper, I doubt Sabina and I could be any further apart and still be on the same diagram. Sabina, having moved to Texas from England, has a beautiful, lilting British accent. Mine is a combination of southwest Virginia drawl, mixed with two decades of crispy New England and a topping of Texas. Sabina has the dark, beautiful toffee-colored skin that pale Irish girls like me can only dream about. She is an Ismaili Muslim; I practice Mayhana Buddhism. I wear my heart and feelings on my sleeve and Sabina is far more reserved with a stylish eloquence that I can’t even fake for a little while. She has three children and gobs of family and the backdrop of her life is in constant motion, growth, and noise. I have a dog and a cat, sometimes one of them snores – other than that you can generally hear a pin drop on my sound stage. She can talk to our Illustrator about jpegs and file sizes when I can only mutter that Max’s halter isn’t drawn correctly and the gloves on the dentist need to be drawn longer. She understands how to make technology work for her – from her phone (!) and I have to essentially put the world on hold and focus on something technical with the intensity of a brain surgeon without the fun music in the background. She glides through it all and I generally fail and flail.

But, I can write about horses in a field and she’ll ask if it’s hay that is being grown for the horses to eat or something else. I can describe how fences are almost always in need of repair on a Texas ranch and I know she hears me, but I know she doesn’t quite understand just how perpetual fence repair is. I can describe how tall Max is and how Gracie would curl up underneath him in his shadow to stay cool – but she’s never experienced the dust and heat of standing on the parched, cracked earth of a Texas ranch in August and how luxurious a few inches of shade feels.

When I had the idea to write a book there was no one else I considered. I had no idea she would say yes but I sure hoped she would. Regardless of who is the yin and who is the yang, just like Gracie and Max, Sabina and I didn’t focus on our differences. Instead, we considered what we had in common. Two former colleagues with backgrounds in social work aware of the wake we leave behind. Friends who share similar values and perspectives and motivated, as Sabina articulated so well, “to use this virus instead of it using us”. Two women who wanted to make a difference for children, their parents, and adults who value the lessons that animals teach us.

And so, in the middle of a public health emergency with me packing up and moving to another state when as a healthcare writer I’d never been busier or more harried, and Sabina with three young kids at home and not in school and a house full of people, we brought our strengths to our collective table. Her logical thinking brought out mine when we needed it, and my creative tendencies encouraged hers. Together, we did something we’d never done before. We wrote and published a book.

My gratitude is not so much about the book we created – as excited as I am about it – my gratitude is for the process that she and I have gone through and come through, together. We traded sleepless nights and all the things that come from turning a dream into a reality. Yet, as much as I am amazed at the book with my name on the cover, my gratitude is more about seeing the pictures of her kids the day they visited Max, of hearing their excitement about a new story, of seeing the picture of her mother reading the book to her three-year old on the back porch. That’s what matters. And that’s why I’m grateful.

I wrote The Blue Dog and The White Horse: Adventures on a Texas Ranch and yes, I’m excited. Very. But my gratitude is not so much for the book that I wrote that is sitting on my living room table – it’s more about the learning experience and becoming a better person by working so closely with Sabina. Someone so very different than me, yet so very similar. And that’s my lesson and my takeaway. I’m grateful for our differences because they help to highlight our similarities and in the end, we are all the same.

Stay tuned. We’re not done yet!

~ Haven

Dear Max,

It’s been one year. How can it feel like last week and a lifetime ago at the same time? Remember this time last year? You were sick. No one knew why. I had my intuitive feelings/suspicions and the vet had her tests and exams. She was wrong – we’re still not sure if I was right. We tried all the things and every day, twice a day, I drove the hour to see you, to give you meds, to be with you. Back and forth, back and forth. And even then, tired, weary, worried I knew there was no place I would rather be.

Gracie was worried and you knew it. Despite feeling poorly, you comforted her. She pawed at you and hardly left your side. It rained – poured actually – yet there we were in the wind and the rain and the mud. You as patient as always allowing me to squeeze the tube of medicine into your mouth. Me wishing it would help. It didn’t. Not for long anyway.

And then the day came. I always knew it would. In fact, I always felt as though I was on borrowed time. We all were. It was so special – a gift out of the blue that I still can’t believe I received, that I’ve never been able to explain. You weren’t my horse but I was your person and Gracie was your best friend. We all taught one another – there was an innocence about us. When my phone pinged that morning as I sat at my desk, I knew. The ping sounded like all the other pings but it felt different. Because it was. I didn’t read it right away – I didn’t have to. Instead, I got up and walked into the kitchen and made a pot of tea. I let it steep and then I poured a cup. I waited for it to cool and took a sip. And then I read the message informing me that you would be moving. I knew Texas was closing its door – it had already thrown me to the ground from you a few months earlier – so hard that I had broken bones and a concussion. So hard that I was knocked out and as I came to lying in the field I knew it was almost over. Texas was telling me the time was near in the way that only Texas could tell me. She was waking me up and letting me know – the clock is ticking. You started getting sick a month later.

I told you so many times how I had fallen in love. Not with a man – but with a place. With a dream of living in northern New Mexico – a place that felt like home the first time I stepped foot into the county. A place that moved me to tears without any explanation. I recognized that I had found where I was supposed to be – a lifetime of not fitting the suit – I had found the suit.

When you moved my heart ached with the void you left. Yet, I knew you were fine and I knew I was next. The Universe made sure that you were home and settled and gave my heart time to relax. Within a few short months New Mexico literally called me. She had thrown open her doors and I was prepared to walk through them.

One year ago seems like last week in many ways. I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday but I remember last year with you like it was earlier today. When Gracie and I visited you the final time it was like time had not elapsed. All of our routines were right there, still in place and Gracie – same as it ever was – hardly left your side. You were so content that it was impossible for me to feel sad. Concerned I would cry; I had brought tissues along just in case. They weren’t needed. None of us were sad – there was no need.

This Thanksgiving my heart is filled with gratitude for the years and experiences we shared and with the knowledge that we are all exactly where we are supposed to be. I told you many times that someday I was going to write a book about you and Gracie. I did and it came out this week.

And so it is. Your move was the catalyst for my move. You’re at home now and so am I. Gracie is happy. Sometimes when I’m feeling brave, I’ll say your name to her and she runs to the door every time. A year, a state, a lifetime away – it doesn’t matter. You are still in our hearts.

Same as it ever was, Max. Same as it ever was.