These days

The stories are coming faster and more furiously these days. “What If We Stopped Pretending the Climate Apocalypse Can Be Stopped?” reads a most recent headline. Of course I want to turn away. I don’t want to dive in, to really consider the words in front of me. But I read on. I read as much as I can. I try to let the meaning sink below my defenses, try to open my mind and heart and whatever wisdom I can muster to what this all might mean for yourself and your sister and the wild future towards which you head.

I read. I consider. And then, when your cries tell me you have woken from your nap, I put aside the articles and climb the stairs, bare feet on hard wood. I open curtains and peer over the edge of your crib. We have a routine, you and I. I let in the light and you greet me with the widest of toothless grins. The world is bright and opening for you.

I pick you up and we settle in to nurse. I open Mary Oliver’s collection of poetry and let the words wash over me like a waterfall. They don’t eliminate the emotions that echo after all I just read. Instead, they thread between that reality and deepen its meaning. I ache and love and hope not only for you and your sister, but also for the wild geese, the grasshopper, the summer day.

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I cannot turn away from the truth. Do I wish it otherwise? I don’t know. It’s not a question I spend much time considering. My days, these days, encompass a wild juxtaposition. I hold you and your sister, I love you, I watch as you meet the world, ready for each new discovery. Together, we are enchanted. And then I tuck you both in to nap or place you in the arms and care of another and I read the articles. I write grants for local, solutions-focused action on climate change. I research, consider and write about how one might best parent in these times. How to give you the tools you might need? The question reverberates. I connect with others who are seeking action, solutions, trying to gift a livable world. It’s imperfect. But I try.

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And then I return to you and your sister, to your soft new bodies and deep, soulful hearts. We gather together in the woods with your father and our beloved pup. We eat a picnic lunch, pausing to examine mosses, hold pinecones, and watch the light shift between the trees. We sit in a rare moment of silence. Enchantment.

It’s all true. Just as death and life, love and grief are inextricably linked, I cannot fathom how I could love you and your sister as I do and not let in the truth of your world. Heartbreaking, yes, it is. And thank goodness. May my heart break open wide every single day that I’m fortunate enough to spend with you. May it break with the enormous challenge of your future and with the way your dimpled hands slowly consider each new rock. I cannot imagine another way to spend each day.

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A place to begin

This morning, as I backed my car up to pull out of our driveway, my cellphone rang with a call from my husband. Our 2.5 year-old daughter was in tears just inside the house. She had, unbeknownst to either of us, been making me a Valentine with a plan to give it to me before I left for work. I had kissed her goodbye, not knowing exactly what she was doing and she hadn’t realized I was walking out the door and was now in tears, finished Valentine in-hand.

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My daughter never cries these days when I leave. For me, it was a no-brainer to put the car in park and dash back to our front door. Face against the glass, my daughter stood with a red paper heart clutched in her little hands. I opened the door and she pressed the heart towards me. She had glued smaller hearts across the surface, wrinkled and piled, and her effort was clear. Tears gone, she beamed up at my face with anticipation and delight. I exclaimed gratitude and love. She started to trot back into the house and then turned around.

“Momma, I was upset, because I wanted to give that to you before you left.” I crouched down. “I am so glad that you did. I am going to carry this with me all day.” She walked right up to me and put her little nose against mine. Big eyes looked straight into my own. “I love you so much,” I said. “I love you!” And then her pajama-clad, soft little body was gone.

I got into my car and drove away, hooking a recent Fresh Air interview into the speakers. The interview was with James Balog, an environmental photographer who most recently created the powerful film The Human Element. The film vividly explores both the already-existing and future impacts of climate change on humans. I listened to Balog talk about a special school in a hospital in Colorado established for children with extreme asthma, induced by poor local air quality. Balog estimated that nearly 100 children attend the in-hospital school. These children can rarely play outside. As I listened, my unborn son kicked steadily against the side of my uterus.

I spent part of my workday reading more stories about the current impacts of climate change on young people: impacts ranging from loss of homes or parents in extreme weather events to severe anxiety to massive food insecurity. The most vulnerable are just that: most vulnerable. I thought about my two children, one who is already running around, breathing in, and loving the world and the other who has yet to see his first tree, hear his first loon call at night or identify the feeling of fear by name.

We are so fortunate. The air around our home is not extremely contaminated – yet. Water is not lapping at our front door – yet. We have not had to pack up our children and our possessions and embark on life-threatening travel to a new home – (here, it is especially terrifying to add “yet”). We have food and clean water. Our children can breathe and explore and learn to love the world free of extreme fear – for now.

I spend a great deal of my time these days researching, thinking and writing about how to best prepare young people for a world with climate change. I find myself increasingly supportive of introducing the topic younger than many might imagine – although certainly in very simple terms at first. I think a lot about how to balance truth with encouragement. Joy and play are essential. I do not want my children robbed of their childhood, pushed to grow up too quickly by the looming presence of climate change. But I also want them to incorporate the reality that is climate change into their worldview. I want them empowered to apply their joy, their play and their best loving, creative selves to the challenges ahead. I want them to know that bravery is not the absence of fear and that empathy is possible across vast differences, be those differences based in ideology or species.

When I get home today, I will wrap my daughter into my arms, perhaps with a little extra vigor. I will not tell her about the children with asthma or the ones who have lost their homes. For now, I will affirm her creativity and kindness. I will help her learn to value feelings, hers and others’, to name them and allow their presence while also learning how to transform them into action. I will walk with her out in the world and together we will soak up the interconnection of living beings and learn as much as we can about the delicate but powerful ecosystems that sustain us all. We will learn respect and empathy. We will recognize our agency and ability to create solutions to problems. We will read stories about heroes. We will learn how to listen to others and appreciate their feelings and values. We will separate our wants from our needs. And I will continue to leave her to go to work, to face the harsher realities, both so that I may make my contribution and so she may learn about courage and the value of community beyond her parents.

This is where we begin. Together, we will stitch the fabric of the blanket that will one day provide comfort, support and nourishment as she learns the facts about climate change.

Valentine’s Day, we have told her, is about saying “I love you” and showing the care that accompanies that emotion, something we hope to celebrate every day.

Together, I hope we become a Valentine to the world.

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Helplessness

Each morning recently, after I wake up, I lie for a moment and watch the early morning sunlight dance off the trees. Then I roll over, open my phone, and read the latest stories on what is happening to immigrant families in this country. My heart pounds, my thoughts race, helplessness and hopelessness fill my body until I cannot read any more. I throw back the covers, hurriedly dress, lace up running shoes, and pound my anger and grief into the pavement.

I return to our home to hear the voices of my daughter and husband and find myself drawn, immediately, to them. I want to see them, hold them, let their immediacy run through me like medicine for the ache that does not really go away.

It stays as I make breakfast for my daughter, her little feet padding through her home as she greets the day, our dog, her “friends” (stuffed animals), so excited, so happy, so fortunate. I sit down as she eats and have to pull myself back, again and again, to the solid wood of the table, the lilt of her young voice, her questions, her gaze, her love, so beautifully present. She is here, in front of me, to hug and feed and scrub down afterwards.

On some days, I then deliver her to her wonderful caregiver so I can work. I thank any God that might be listening for this kind, exemplary woman who cares so profoundly for my daughter and the children of several friends. And then I sit down and drag my attention to work, again and again, as it moves away to keep reading the stories and looking at the pictures.

In the middle of the day, I hike. As my legs push up the mountain, I wish I could give the same energy to actually making some difference. I want to hold all the children. I want to brush away their tears, heal their ache. I want to hold the parents. I want to tell them how deeply I am aching for them, but the words sound hollow even as I think them amidst my climb towards the sky.

After more work, I pick up my daughter. She is dashing around naked by the little “kiddie pool”. I wrap her softness in my arms and breathe in the faint echo of baby smell that still lingers, thankfully. As we drive home, I let her questions and stories and thoughts fill me, a mantra to tie me to the now. We spend the evening between trees and the plants in our little garden and around the dinner table with her father.

After dinner, my heart breaks open for the ninetieth time that day as I watch her put a diaper on her stuffed animal monkey and think of the children helping other children change their diapers. I duck into the bathroom and read another story: a mother, released on bail, is trying to get back her eight year-old daughter and has been told she may need to wait several months. She says she feels like she is going to die, she feels powerless. I want to hurl my phone into the toilet. I want to scream. I want to do something, anything. My daughter bangs on the bathroom door. I open it and exclaim over Monkey’s beautiful diaper.

I’ve donated, I’ve called representatives, I’ve signed petitions, and I feel completely helpless.

In the evening, after all the curtains are drawn and the lights are out, my daughter stays in my arms longer than usual for lullabies. Often, these days, she is ready for her crib before I’m ready to let her go. She is growing so fast, and her body drapes around mine as I sit in the rocking chair. I sing. I sing for her, for myself, the traditional, soothing songs. I sing for the children, in “shelters” throughout our country. I sing for the parents whose feelings I cannot fathom, but the little I can imagine would break me into a thousand pieces. I sing for their strength.

I don’t know what to do, so I open my computer and let these feelings spill into words. Ultimately, the words do very little, aside from allowing that feeling of spill for at least a moment or two. Ultimately, all I can do is say: if you are reading this, and you feel helpless, I’m right there with you.

ADDITION to this post:

After sharing this on Facebook, I received some really beautiful, thoughtful replies urging me to stay strong and inspired. First, I’m so glad that those individuals are in this world, making a difference, carrying so much love. Their comments clearly come from a place of deep commitment and vitality. I’m so grateful. The comments and my reaction to them also provided a great opportunity to reflect on something that I wanted to share, in case it is of use to anyone else. What I realized I needed to communicate is that, while this piece reflects the grief, anger and helplessness I’m feeling, I also feel very strong and incredibly inspired. For me, grief does not preclude strength. Some of the most inspired, creative and love-filled moments in my life have come from grief. And, strange as it seems, helplessness does not even preclude inspired, loving action. In this case, it is driving me forward, to fight to eliminate helplessness. As I look around me, I believe it is really important that we learn to feel both grief/anger and even helplessness AND strength, love, commitment and inspiration – all together! When I push aside the grief and anger, I feel myself dissociating from what is happening. However, as those commenting so beautifully stated – we do not want to drown in grief and helplessness and not act. We must feel the whole package, reflect and act consciously. For me, that package is the beautiful, complicated truth of our interconnection. So, I will continue to feel, feel deeply, and act consciously from that place of connection. 

What could have been said…

I understand why men didn’t speak up at the Golden Globes this year. I really do.

I did not watch the awards ceremony, but, boy, did I hear about it. I imagine there are few who didn’t. The theme of recognizing the work and struggle of women with everyone wearing black, the speeches – from Oprah and others – eloquently and powerfully addressing the work women are doing right now to spotlight both harassment and continuing inequality – it was clearly a different awards show this year.

My friend posted an article that really grabbed my attention, particularly when coupled with her commentary. The article highlighted the conspicuous silence of the men present. Why didn’t they address the blatant and important theme of the evening? Why didn’t they speak to their role in the equation?

In sharing the article, my friend also shared the complexity of her feelings on the topic. On the one hand, she recognized that men can support the women’s movement in ways that are not as publicly visible. On the other hand, if they have a platform, a position of power and the opportunity to reach millions of listeners, shouldn’t they use that opportunity? Others commenting on her post pointed out that no matter what the men present said, it would not have been the right thing and would have taken attention from where it should be – on the women and what they are saying. Anything a man would say in that situation would inevitably come across as self-serving or promoting.

The article and the comments my friend made and received rattled around in my mind all day, along with a question of my own: When we are confronted with a situation in which a group of people have suffered persecution at the hands of another group and we are identified with the latter, through race, class, gender or by some other factor, how can we verbally show support for the persecuted? Recognizing the many, many complexities in such a situation, recognizing all that we do not and can never know about the experience of those persecuted, how can we speak out in a manner that isn’t self-serving, that is truly supportive? Do we have to remain silent because to speak is to step into a truly uncomfortable and complex realm?

Or can we learn together? Is there some way to speak from exactly the place of complexity in which we find ourselves – to address it rather than shove it under the rug or use it as a reason to remain silent?

What if the men present at the Golden Globes had said something like this: “I’m worried about saying the wrong thing here, but I believe to not speak up in support of the incredible work being done by women right now is to not support that work. I don’t want to take the attention away from where it should be: on the work being done, on what the women are saying, on the very real issues they are highlighting, and on the important changes that need to happen. I just want to say that I support this work 100% and I’m here to do anything I can to help make those changes.”

I don’t know about other women, but this would have worked very well for me. I would applaud the man who could stand in his discomfort and not-knowing and speak these words, words that stay focused on the work the women are doing and don’t draw the attention towards the man’s discomfort in the face of that work. To be able to stand in discomfort but not make that the story. To recognize that within not-knowing lies an opportunity to learn. To know that even if the work ahead drives straight into uncharted and potentially increasingly uncomfortable territory, your support is the best thing you can give, especially when coupled with a willingness to learn and to be changed in that process of learning.

I get that it is unfair to place the responsibility of teaching on the persecuted party. To do so is to doubly burden those who have already shouldered undeserved weight for far too long. But we cannot know what we do not know. When we pretend otherwise, we further abuse those who truly do know, who have experienced the persecution firsthand.

As I think about the resurgence of so many movements that seek to address the inequalities and injustices rampant the whole word over, I find myself hoping again and again that we can be brave enough to stand in discomfort. May we be capable of admitting when we do not know. May we be willing to offer support while not seeking to take over the story. May we be ever and always open to being changed in the process of communal learning this world so desperately needs.

And may I learn from what was missing at the Golden Globes. The next time I want to show support but am nervous about speaking up, may I remember the words I would have liked to hear from the men present at that awards ceremony.

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Thoughts on the day a budget is released

I don’t know about you, but here are some things I care about:

I care about the natural world (in case that’s not already more than evident through my previous posts here). Nothings uplifts me more than coming around a bend in the woods to suddenly glimpse a great beam of light slanting between tall trees. Nothing. Unless it’s filling my lungs with the crisp air of fall, or listening to waves pound sand, or smelling moist, steamy, freshly thawed earth after a spring rain. And then, of course, there is the fact that we are part of the natural world. What we do to that world, we do to ourselves.

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I care about people caring about each other. Positively contributing to the lives of others fills me with a sense of purpose. Receiving help, well, that’s edgy for me but I’m working on it and it certainly is appreciated. And I love witnessing unlikely candidates coming together in supportive community.

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I care about creativity. There is quote pinned to the board over my desk. It reads: “The creative adult is the child who survived.” (I don’t know where it came from.) Children see possibility wherever they go. Creativity is about moving towards that possibility. Boy, does it take courage sometimes. And to really dive into what might be possible, you kind of have to drop all comparisons, don’t you? But all I have to do is make a quick scan of history to see that many of the most important and lasting contributions to this world were developed through some sort of creative process. Creativity leads to innovative solutions. Artistic expression fosters connection on an emotional level and cultivates understanding. I’ve seen these things to be true.

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I care about equal rights and access. I cannot imagine looking into my daughter’s big, beautiful eyes and seeing hunger that I could not feed, or knowing that she was cold because I could not heat our house, or being unable to provide her with a house or an education or medicine or my time. And that just speaks to the financial aspect of equality. What if she felt threatened or less-than simply because of who she was or who she loved? No way. No one is less-than, except perhaps those who live in such fear of someone else that they believe they must strip that person of respect and rights.

Sure, I care about safety. But without all of the above, what is the point? What am I protecting if my life and the lives of those around me are devoid of meaning? If all the juicy, beautiful, messy and important aspects of life were gone, would we want to live it at all?

These are the thoughts that pound through my head, through my being really, on this day, the day our dear president released his proposed budget. And so I pick up the phone and I call my representatives, and I raise my voice, and I look for other ways to act. And I commit to making sure, making damn sure, that these things continue to flourish in my home and my community and wherever I can promote them. Because my country will celebrate these bright, beautiful things.

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Joy in Action

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I could try to describe the feelings I experienced as images of the recent women’s march poured in from all over the world. I could try, but I don’t really see the point. The feeling was so much better than words.

I was perhaps most impacted by the radiant joy I saw on the faces of so many of those pictured. Yes, joy. It was clear: the act of coming together for something so passionately believed in uplifted those involved at a moment when it would be very easy, and understandable, to sink into a deep depression.

Joy. It’s elusive. One moment we feel it, coursing through us, making us want to dance, to shriek, to hug, to leap. The next moment, it’s gone. But for the moment of it’s visit, we felt so extraordinarily awake, so vividly alive.

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That’s what joy is to me. It’s a moment of pure aliveness combined with feeling 100% that I am exactly where I want to be, doing just what I want to do. I don’t feel this unless my action is aligned with my values.

Isn’t it remarkable, how easy it is to act in a way that doesn’t reflect our values? Why do we do this so much of the time? Assuredly, the need to make ends meet, to put food on the table, to clothe our children and be able to bring them to the doctor – these needs mean, for many, that we must labor without love.

But where and when we have the choice, why don’t take the path that leads towards joy? Is it perhaps because when we pursue that which we truly value or in which we truly believe, we are putting more of our hearts on the line? The risk is greater. Sometimes, it is a lot easier not to care, to exist at a sub-par level.

If I could put one hope out there right now and have it answered, it just might be the hope that we could all start choosing actions that align with our beliefs. Look at the faces of those people marching. Just look at them. They are so beautiful. It’s not because of their clothing or their makeup or hairstyle, or anything as superficial as all of that. It’s because they are doing something they believe in so strongly they cannot do otherwise. May we all be graced with that beauty in many more moments this year and in the years ahead. May we radiate with the joy that comes from putting our bodies, our minds and our creative beings to use in a way that aligns with a great sense of purpose. If we are brave enough to take the risk involved – (and I’m willing to bet a whole lot on this) – we will all reap the benefits.

I’m going to try it myself – inspired by those faces in the sea of marchers this past weekend. When I reach a fork where I have a choice and one direction is easy but maybe not quite aligned with what I believe is important and the other direction is a bit more challenging but so clearly in line with all I hold dear, I’m going to walk down that path towards joy.

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Considered Days

January 2016

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My childhood days were made rich not by what we possessed but by the attitude of those around me. From my mother, we learned to marvel at each detail in nature. My father’s laugh echoes through my memories as does his contagious sense of humor. I watched my maternal grandparents model generous work in the community as a way to celebrate your blessings. My paternal grandparents taught me to look for magic in every-day moments.

We did not live in a fairytale bubble, sheltered from the harsh realities also contained in the world. Instead, the people who loved and raised me somehow managed to convey that the world is beautiful in spite of the great horrors that also exist, and that celebrating the beautiful is often the best way to combat the terrible. We learned to feel both responsibility and gratitude for each other and the world around us.

In 2016, I gave birth to my first child. She enters a world that often scares me. Climate change, institutionalized inequality, bigotry – these forces weave through our communities and through the world. And then, in the fall, I watched as an appalling political reality rose in our country.

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I spend a lot of time thinking about how best to parent, heck, how best to live in today’s world. How do I call the joy and celebration with which I was raised into the need to roll up my sleeves and work daily, in ways big and small, to honor the rights of all beings and this planet? And how do I pass onto my daughter a sense of delight in the world combined with respect for the realities with which we are faced?

I believe the answer lies in my childhood. What better inspiration exists than love for the world? Why would we want to work for a world that we don’t first think is beautiful?

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What is the best way to live in today’s world? As I face a new year (and our country’s new political reality), I want to share my exploration of this question. This blog will be my journal of discovery. It will be messy. It will likely run quite a range – from reflections on childhood memories, to experiences of new parenthood, to pondering about recent news. Some days, an image might say more than words. Many days, I won’t publish anything (that new parenthood thing). But with what I do make permanent here, I’ll record a year of inquiry.

I’m setting down the commitment to take some aspects of my internal dialogue public because we are all in this inquiry together. It’s not just about celebrating what is still beautiful about life and it’s not just about mindfully and messily exploring how best to live in today’s world. It’s about exploring together. I believe community is more important than ever – offline, online, in the streets, in our homes and everywhere else. As a chronically shy individual, community isn’t something that’s ever been easy for me. But I think it’s really important that we share our stories, our struggles and our joys as we face this crazy thing called life and the crazier thing that is our world today. So, here goes.

PS – I’ve included some posts from a former blog life that give a sense of what I might share here over the next year.

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Nous sommes le monde.

January 2015

Okay, let me begin by being clear. The recent attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris was despicable and deserves the world’s attention. We should be shocked when the right to free speech is so violently targeted. We should raise our voices and collective conscience in response.

And…

As I watched social media absolutely ignite in the days following the attack in Paris, I had to wonder. And I was not alone. In the midst of the very vocal protest occurring across the Internet and beyond, a few feeble voices started to echo my wondering. What about the horrific attacks on freedom that occur around the world every day? Every. Single. Day.

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Yes, it was horrifying to see artists so violently targeted due to an act of expression. Yes, it was horrifying to see those attacks happen in broad daylight on the streets and in the buildings of Paris. Yes, it shakes us to the core to see nonviolence met with violence, to see a community stricken by such unjustifiable, unfathomable loss.

And…

On January 10, three days after the attack in Paris, 20 people were killed in a market in Nigeria when explosives strapped to a young girl (believed to be 10 years-old) went off. This was just the latest in a string of attacks that began January 3, carried out by the militant group, Boko Haram, that have reportedly claimed around 2,000 lives. Yes, these events received news coverage, but it has been massively eclipsed by the events in Paris.

Even the recent Taliban attack on a school in Pakistan that left 150 dead, mostly children, received neither the extent of coverage nor the extent of international response seen in the days following January 7.

Why? Yes, these attacks occurred in countries with far-less stable governments than France and in areas less accessible to journalists. But if we stop our exploration of the disparity in attention there, I think we fall short.

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We fall short in what it means to be a part of the global community. We are Charlie Hebdo, yes, but we are much, much more. We are the world. Attacks on free speech, attacks on the right to education, the strapping of bombs to innocent, young girls, we cannot choose which to see, which to bond with, where to unite. We are united in it all. We are the artists, the students, the ten year-old girl. We are the people living in the island nations that are rapidly disappearing due to climate change. If we kid ourselves, even for a second, that we are isolated from these hardships, we are forgetting just how global the world is today.

The odd, bizarrely paradoxical aspect of these horrific occurrences is often the voices of hope beautifully and bravely raised in response. Who wasn’t touched, and deeply so, to see so many join together to march the street of Paris? It is incredible, isn’t it, to see how despair can be met with such resounding hope, such vocal visions of the possibility, always present, of the best, most humanitarian world possible.

So, yes, let’s raise our voices to protest what happened on January 7 in Paris. Let’s be shocked. But can we, please, be equally shocked by the widespread acts of terrorism that continue in Nigeria, and in so many other parts of the world. I get it, it is overwhelming. There is a tremendous amount of suffering in the world. But I believe that it is our responsibility, those of us who are incredibly fortunate to live in safety, security, even luxury, to see that suffering and to do everything we can to stand alongside it and help. Let’s not stand over it all and select what to see, where to care. We are wildly compassionate beings. And we are the world. Let’s stand in the midst of it all and raise that collective voice of hope.

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