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My AAA Map

After posting the ‘AAA’ blog, a reader privately asked if I had a map, “Did I, in fact, ever get my own map?”

Before Google Maps, almost everyone went to AAA. However, my first response came out of nowhere and quoted Ralph Emmerson Walden, “Nah. It’s the journey, not the destination.” Pausing for several minutes, I decided this required a more authentic response. So, I deleted my quick ‘on the fly’ response and tried again.

Looking over the lakefront below, I realize just how overused Walden’s quote is. During my first colonoscopy, my father said, “Remember, it’s about the journey.” The same quote was uttered before February’s tumor surgery. And almost every spiritual guru I read (Chopra, Dyer, Ziglar, and others) used a similar version, somewhere, sometime. In the world of instant selfies and ghoulish cartoon meme’s, overuse has weakened its meaning, and truth has faded from intent.

I knew nothing of the journey upon which I set out. It’s a pilgrimage, not a trail.

My first spiritual teacher claimed my path as “… the intentional act chosen to the unwilled rhythms of the body to breathing and the beating of the heart. It strikes a delicate balance between working and idling, being, and doing.” Elated by the teacher’s description, I told a friend. It turns out my teacher repeated the same to him.

Years later, I learned my map was unique only to me and remains harmonious to the rhythms of my body, and beating of my heart. It’s balanced. It’s a psychiatric highway of redemption, filled with ups and downs, cold and heat, tears and anger, peace, and tranquility. It changes daily. One day is unfamiliar; another, I intuitively know where I’m going.

Similar to the flowers of a garden, the smell of jasmine breathes during Spring. Summer is surrounded by endless wheat fields, and gnarled oak trees. In the Fall, men prepare the harvest. Winter’s frost nips at my lips, and hot coca fills my stomach. Life is an endless path.

Knowing that conquering challenges leads to transformation, I kept moving through the good and bad. There were times of homesickness, days of sadness, feeling lost, and moments of exhaustion. But these moments, these tests and trials, all taught something. The sun will rise again. Just keep walking.

Our map (i.e., your path, my path) cannot be borrowed. And, if it is to be real and personal, it has to be something that lasts through trials and stands through doubts, questions, and worries. The map is about finding meaning in the challenges and feeling joyful regardless of the pain. It’s faith.

If you think about it, someone has gone before us. In the movie The Polar Express, the conductor says: “It doesn’t matter where the train (map) is going. What matters is that you choose to get on.” Most already know their map. The choice is about getting on the train.

My map is the AAA’s version of ‘faith.’

Closing Thought

Desperate for help, the people of the village held a meeting under a huge oak tree in the village  square.

Let us pray,” said an elderly woman. “Only God can save us now.

Since the village had citizens of different faiths, town leaders held their prayer in the open, late that night, under the open sky. Suddenly, two young travelers entered town decided to join the prayer and opened umbrellas above them.

“Why did you bring umbrellas? Can’t you see there is no rain? That’s why we have come to pray?”

“Yes,” chimed the travelers. “We are travelers, and the map used by our forefathers brings us through this town. Therefore, we will pray with you.”

“We don’t know your forefathers. Who were they?”

“Our forefathers come from the family ‘Faith.’ And we’re positive our prayer will be answered. That’s why we have umbrellas.”

So … Who had a better map?

Our forefathers knew the path. They’ve been there before, and they’ll get you home.

AAA

A friend discussed having difficulty getting several associates to get past their anger and fear of the other.

Unable to comprehend how to heal them, I interjected, “It’s not your duty to resolve.

Huh?

Your responsibility is to be triple-A (American Automobile Association). You can only provide a map. You’re not the driver.

Anthony de Mello noted the human condition well.

Most say they want to get out of kindergarten. Don’t believe them! All they want you to do is to mend their broken toys.

“Give me back my wife. Give me back my job. Give me back my money. Give me back my reputation, my success.”

This is what they want: they want their toys replaced. That’s all. Even the best psychologist will tell you that, that people don’t want to be cured. What they want is relief, for the cure is painful.

The path (map) before us appears unknown. It may be confusing and complicated, even dangerous. Before us lay potholes, debris, and potential injury. There are many unmarked highways and detours galore. It is all so confusing. Which way shall I go? What road shall I take?

Spiritual instruction has always been taught in bite-sized pieces. “Easy-peasy,” grade school friends would note. Formulaically, if we follow the prescribed set of Spiritual Laws, we’d get from Point A to Point B. Likewise, I had always presumed that the Bible was simple and provided a straightforward evacuation map to get us to heaven. These brief statements captured the essential kernels of Scripture.

I have concluded most Spiritual maps are not intended to be ‘evacuation maps.’ Neither is it an owner’s manual nor a love letter from God. What these Spiritual maps do is transform the traveler by teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training. The ‘transformation’ may be messy, and often, you will find yourself wrestling.

There was a passage in the Bible that described Jacob wrestling with God. Jacob wrestled God for a night. If you like me, I’ve found myself ‘wrestling’ for nearly forty years. Some nights, I fought all day and all night, continually asking for a fresh vision of who He is and what He wanted. However, until I had this very personal struggle, my life could not be cemented. I could not call it my own.

What Jacob discovers is that wrestling was a means to grace, a channel for spiritual blessing. The same applies to us. The AAA map my friend should have given is one that begins with struggle but is also filled with blessings and faith. And that faith leads to peace. Traveling the map will change one’s identity and can be a profoundly gracious gift of restoration.

As de Mello noted, “Most people don’t live aware lives. They live mechanical lives, mechanical thoughts — generally somebody else’s — mechanical emotions, mechanical actions, mechanical reactions.

Closing Thought

How do I find myself and the light?” asked a student.

By taking the path that leads to the truth,” the Master replied.

Will you help me walk the path?

I can only point the way. You must walk the path yourself.

Go to AAA and get your map. Awake! Arise and walk!

After nearly a month in social isolation, a man yelled at his wife, saying he had enough of this bulls•••, and was off to work. If he got sick and died, then so be it. Economic livelihood was too big to fail.

Two hours later, the man returned.

“What happened?” asked the wife.

“It wasn’t open.”

Sadly, the offer to sacrifice older Americans’ lives for the good of the U.S. comes has gained traction. The argument presented is that the vast majority of coronavirus fatalities will be “concentrated among the elderly and the already severely sick.” Such folks are likely to die of another cause, if not coronavirus. So, die.

To all like-minded Republicans, Sarah Palin loves you. This GOP economic model rests upon several principles:

  • Profits are more important than people;
  • Human life and existence is a commodity or a financial instrument;
  • Society will reorganize around a “survival of the fittest” mentality; and
  • Those who cannot survive and prosper under a “free market” are to be abandoned.

The rich have long tolerated a dysfunctional health care system because, while it delivers relatively poor results for many, it provides excellent care for the wealthy. In today’s Coronavirus battle, one who is poor and can’t breathe is likely to receive significantly different treatment than if you’re rich and can’t breathe. 

Are we willing to potentially sacrifice hundreds of thousands of lives to get back to business as usual? Rest assured, there are GOP members who will, without question. With a plethora of disinformation, our society has systematically programmed this narrative for years.

It’s not just stupid, it’s dangerous. To suggest older Americans are expendable is appalling.

The more dire condition: dressed-up isolation.

An hour later, the man confessed, “Finding work wasn’t open wasn’t as bad the other lesson.

“What lesson?” she queried.

“Well,” he sighed. “During my bus ride, no one said a word, and no one looked each other. We were six-feet apart, but we were miles in humanity.”

“And?”

“So, the ride felt like any other day: boring and exhausting. When we were working six weeks ago, I would get dressed, take the 7:30 AM bus, and ride to work. At 5:00 PM, I took the same bus route home. Only now do I realize it was just ‘dressed-up isolation.’ I eliminated my own humanity and exchanged one form of isolation for another.”

All of us are creating the future. How do we want that to look? Social isolation or something better?

Texture

If one song represented my ‘new normal’ during 2010, it would have to be “Sweet Surrender,” by John Denver. Sweet Surrender is a song of journey, a self-exploration.

Lost and alone on some forgotten highway

Traveled by many, remembered by few

Lookin’ for something that I can believe in

Lookin’ for something that I’d like to do with my life

John Denver’s provided expression, hope, ideal, anger, and frustrations. In essence, his music filled me with texture.

Sweet Surrender is reminiscent of today. As schools, businesses, restaurants, baseball, football, family reunions, Labor Day, and 4th of July celebrations moved online, “Zoom,” “Skype,” “Messenger,” “Facebook,” and “iMessage” have become our ‘new normal.’ 

But while the “new normal” might feel lonely, spirituality, it can hone our craft. Opportunities for growth abound. 

Like the great prophets, we can learn to stand in our deserts. Solitude can provide perspective and sensitivity to things long forgotten. We can find deepening in ways never imagined and strength in moving forward. 

For example, by Good Friday 2010, my cup had overrunneth with arrogance. While I could see the fault of others, I failed to envision the benefit of any such self-reflection. I was fired and found the only job available required relocation to upstate New York. I felt exiled. 

During the subsequent months, I walked the banks of the Hudson River and attempted to interpret, understand, and reinvent myself. There were times when I sat upon Hudson’s riverbank and asked why God placed me there. In essence, I came to a point where there was nothing left, nothing to hide, no means for covering up the negative aspects of my personality. I came with nothing but the ability to surrender everything to the only one who could help.

I learned several lessons during my time in solitude.  

First, leave with vision. In this time of social isolation, take the time to reflect. Reassess and align yourself to a better ’true north.’ Second, celebrate victories, large and small. Don’t over-hype small gains. In baseball, singles, and doubles win more games than home runs. Third, recognize and honor interdependence. Everything is interrelated, including time, space, and our very being. Both religion and science reveal this truth — our spiritual and emotional being interpenetrate and nourish one another.

Closing Thought: Find Texture

Rabbi, now that I am divorced, it is very lonely.”

Tell me. What do you do when you are alone?

Well, I water the plants,” she said, faltering. “I wash a few dishes, call a friend.

The Rabbi listened. 

I sit on the couch for hours and stare at the bare branches out the window. I play over, and over Paul Simon’s album, I never listened to. I read several books I have never read. Lately, I’ve been sitting at my dining-room table and painting. My neighbor says I should be an artist.

The Rabbi interjected, “So, suddenly, your life has texture?

Yes,” she smiled. “Texture.

Mak’n It: Day-by-Day

I was on a conference call yesterday when a friend asked, “How come you’re so damn F•••king calm?”

Fair question. 

Does anyone remember Y2K? You know, the event where the world was going to die. I lived in downtown Los Angeles during the year of Y2K. I had just returned from Santiago, Chile two days prior, and pushing aside constant fatigue, a neighbor walked up to a closed pool, pulled out some lawn chairs, sat and awaited impending doom. 

My neighbor asked the same question. 

“I emptied my bank account, stored up months of provisions, ensured my car had a tankful of gas, and you come up here with what? $18 bucks and a six-pack (beer)? 

“Yup,” I smiled.

“How do you do it?”

“Do what?” I countered.

“Stay so f•••ing calm?”

Part of it is training. Being in the military, at least my specific position, meant training to keep emotions in check. Should panic set in, people tend not to make the best decisions. The other part is an innate understanding of life. 

One doesn’t have to be Buddhist to know that ignoring severe problems or thoughts doesn’t make them go away. More so, it is that no matter how alone I may have felt, I always felt part of something bigger and that I was at my best when taking care of others. 

Religious faith, can at times, be idiotic. Vivian Yee (NY Times) reported that a prominent Myanmar Buddhist monk announced that a dose of one lime and three palm seeds — no more, no less — would confer immunity. In Iran, a few pilgrims were filmed licking Shiite Muslim shrines to ward off infection. And in Texas, the preacher Kenneth Copeland braided televangelism with telemedicine, broadcasting himself, one trembling hand outstretched, as he claimed he could cure believers through their screens.

In times of hardship, people think either, ‘How can God do this to us?’ or pray for protection and guidance. In the name of faith, people unknowingly spread the Coronavirus.

“I firmly believe that God is larger than this dreaded virus. You can quote me on that,” said Bishop Gerald O. Glenn.

In the western film El Dorado, the character Nelse McLeod made a prophetic statement. “Faith can move mountains, Milt. But it can’t beat a faster draw.” Yeah, God is bigger than Coronavirus. Unfortunately, we are not. Glenn learned the hard way — death by Coronavirus. Glenn’s daughter, Mar-Gerie Crawley, said in a Facebook post days later that she, her husband, her sister, and her mother, Marcietia Glenn, “are all currently fighting this virus.” Faith is great. It’s powerful. Yet, Glenn’s experience proves it unwise to get into a gunfight. 

Coronavirus is similar. One can claim a mountain of faith. But if you don’t maintain social distancing, wash my hands, avoid touching my eyes, nose, and mouth, and wear a mask, you’re most likely on a path to visit God – in person.

I close with the following story.

One day, the prophet Mohammed saw a man leaving his camel without tethering it.

Mohammed questioned him as to why. The Bedouin replied that he was placing his trust in Allah and had no need to tie the camel. The prophet Mohammed then replied: 

Trust in Allah, but tie your camel.”

So, why am I so calm? Faith. But, I tie my camel. 

True Leadership

I once heard a pastor talk of a young woman completing her college application. As she compiled all the required documentation, she began answering questions. Her heart sank upon reading the question that asked, “Are you a leader?” 

Filled with integrity and wanting to be honest, she wrote, “No.” She completed all the application requirements and submitted the information, expecting a rejection. 

About a month later, she received the university’s response:

“Dear Applicant: 

A study of the application forms reveals that this year our college will have 1,452 new leaders. We are accepting you because we feel it is imperative that they have at least one follower.”

Part of being on my company’s Coronavirus Tiger Team means watching all these press briefings. I can’t say my experience equates to Job or to being swallowed by a whale, but I liken it to some form of suffering. 

Over the past several weeks, a common phrase was repeatedly pounded into the audience.

“… likes of which has never been seen before.”

I’m not the only one who noticed. Someone created a Facebook parody. There’s been “… money we’ve never seen before; an economic bubble we’ve never seen before; a state dinner we’ve never seen before; an airport we’ve never seen before; stories (news stories) that will dry up like we’ve never seen before; obliteration (Iran) like you’ve seen before;” and, so on. He will deliver like you’ve never seen before. Truly. Truly.”

And as I watched, I reflected upon the young college applicant. Here’s the question I asked, “What is authentic “leadership?” It seems that the whole notion of “leadership” has been elevated to the level of idolatry.

I pulled out my “NKJV Spirit-Filled Bible.” (Yeah. Yeah. I have one. Ha.) While walking along the road, the disciples argued “as to which one of them would be greatest” in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus’ response? He stood a little child in their midst.

Whoever receives this little child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me. For he who is least among you all will be great” (Luke 9:48).

The point is that a reluctant leader is probably the best candidate for the job of being the leader. The person best suited to exercise authority is perhaps the one who wants it least.

I scribbled out several essential leadership qualities. These aren’t absolute, just my perspective. 

Genuine Unselfishness

A person who has greatness refuses to hold tightly to his or her possessions. Such a person is characterized by a willingness to release, open generosity, and selfless motives in making decisions. 

Willingness to Sacrifice

Great people not only release their possessions but also give themselves to others. Greatness steps in and assists others in need—to the point of sacrifice—without waiting to be asked and without the requirement of being endlessly thanked.

Purity of Motive 

We could also call this an absence of greed. A person with greatness doesn’t have a hidden agenda. 

A great person has pure motives. We see this absence of greed in Abram’s life when he tells the king of Sodom, “I will not take so much as a single thread or sandal thong from what belongs to you. Otherwise, you might say, ‘I am the one who made Abram rich’”

Restraint of Power

Great people often have authority, yet they refuse to wield that authority like a sword. They don’t threaten or control people with it. 

Granted, none of these character traits are likely to make headlines. These are not qualities discussed in high places, yet each wears well in life. A life of greatness requires a depth of humility and love. 

So, what do we receive from America’s current leadership? I will summarize with the following story.

A little boy said to his mother, “Can I go outside and help Daddy put snow chains on the car? I know all the words.”


A true leader is not the one with the most followers, but one who creates the most leaders.

~ Neale Donald Walsch ~

In the past several years, I’ve only told two people of visits from Ms. K: my case manager and a close friend. And thus far, I’ve only mentioned my Parkinson’s diagnosis to the readers of this blog and my therapist. Although I’ve dropped a few bread crumbs in my blog about my identity, I’ve kept my identity hidden and don’t fear exposure from my readers.

I have to admit; after Parkinson’s diagnosis, there were several occasions when I thought Ms. K. was nothing a delusion; for, as you may know, about 20% of Parkinson’s patients develop some form of hallucination. Delusions can lead to jealousy, persecution, aggression, and can pose safety risks to family members or caregivers. I will state that I have not experienced any such delusion. 

Allow me to explain. 

Ms. K. never told me to hurt someone, jump from a cliff, told me ‘they’ (whoever ‘they’ might be) were after me. Additionally, I’ve neither become upset, distraught, nor combative about her presence. She never appears during the day, does not appear daily, and doesn’t bug me when I’m alone. 

In fact, Ms. K. has only selectively appeared during meditation. Initially, she graced me with her presence in 2014. Inbetween 2014 and 2019, she never visited. 

In 2019, she reappeared (see Landing Zones). During the time she’s appeared, she’s said my time was limited, treated me like a friend, and said she would meet me when I die. That’s it.

Turns out, Ms. K. is a friend. She’s the friend I wish I had four decades ago and remains true to the values lived in life.

Ms. K. has never exalted herself and never fashioned something she could be proud of. Additionally, she’s never left God out of the picture and has never assisted me in building a monument unto myself. Lastly, she’s never let me live in pride. She pretty much tells me as it is. I can be right, I can be wrong, but I always receive her best. Lastly, her faith is Christlike and is based in love, and bathed in the belief she has in me and is not dependent upon some old rules.

A good friend has integrity, even when the bottom falls out. Although she never discussed the pain of her cancer battle, I envision she remained faithful to the end. She never compromised. And instead of finding why, she only embraced God knowing that He only would make the difference.

Right, Ms. K. is the true display of God’s awesome power and a reminder of God’s presence. There’s no lightning. No whirlwind. No voice from a burning bush. There’s just a voice of reason, a presence of commitment, and a bottomless bucket of grace, despite everything I’ve done. 

In the end, Ms. K.’s no illusion – she’s an actual presence of love. It’s that very presence God wishes us all to have.

That, my readers, is no delusion. It’s a friend.

Pope Francis offered a message of hope during his Good Friday message.

“May the hearts of those who have enough be open to filling the empty hands of those who do not have the bare necessities.”

“This year we are experiencing, more than ever, the great silence of Holy Saturday. We can imagine ourselves in the position of the women on that day. They, like us, had before their eyes the drama of suffering, of an unexpected tragedy that happened all too suddenly. They had seen death, and it weighed on their hearts.”

For the past twenty-four hours, I haven’t been feeling the love. It’s been rough.

A lot of weird or strange events occur to me on Good Friday. Good Friday 1996, I was told by doctors that I would not live past 50. I was fired on Good Friday 2010. Yesterday, I learned a coworker hangs on in an ICU, battling against Coronavirus. And today, a friend texted that a mutual business acquaintance (I’ll call Jim), age 54, died from Coronavirus on Good Friday. 

I worked with Jim from 2006 through 2010. He wasn’t the type of guy I would pour my heart out to over a beer, but for every week for four years, we would meet at an old church converted into a coffee shop. It was a remarkable escape. Over latte’s, coffee, bagel, or sandwich, we’d joke, tell stories and strategize about one project or another. We laugh about doctors – the ones who couldn’t tell time or appeared to lack a lot of real-world common sense, but the same doctor you’d trust your life to navigate the brain during ten-hour neurosurgery.

Jim was a master of human communication. He was always in the know. Freely admitting he knew little of the finer points computer technology, he knew everyone. And that’s what made him valuable. If a project was in jeopardy, he knew who to contact, where to go, and what political lever to push. Jim once said, “All projects would be easy if we eliminate the people.” Jim was all about politics. 

He was a gregarious man with a happy life. However, when speaking with strangers, he would identify the most successful person avoiding the “biggest” talker. Reason: The ability to keep quiet and listen to what others have to say is a common and critical trait. He found importance in the unsaid. 

In the story of the cross, we discover God’s message of hope. When one of the two men who hung next to Jesus comes to terms with his guilt, he asks Jesus to remember him in His kingdom. Jesus offers these redeeming words, “Today, you will be with Me in paradise.” 

I am going to hold God’s goodness to that commitment. Because right now, I feel pain. Jim shouldn’t be dead. But he is. And while I compare myself more to one of the two hanging next to Christ, I hope one day, our merciful and graceful God will wipe away all our sins, faults, and mistakes and make us whole. 

Most Coronavirus victims will have no public funeral, Jim included. ‘Private to the family,’ I’m told. He’s in good company. Christ was hurriedly buried, without the presence of friends, just a few family members, and two men who weren’t part of his inner circle.

In the Catholic faith, during the next month or so, you’ll heat two phrases: “Peace be with you!” and “Be not afraid!” Remember that we’re all members of the great human family, created in the image of God (Gen. 1:17). The color of our skin, the language we speak, our accents, and our cultures mean little.

If Jim were here, he’d acknowledge that Easter 2020 is subdued. Yet, even with limitations, it’s not all negative. Sure, there are no huge crowds, no early dawn ceremonies, no ‘He has risen galas.’ He would remind us that Easter is more than a yearly one and done event. Every morning is Easter Morning. Every morning is a new opportunity to rise.

Jim’s death weighs heavy on me today. I promise death will not hold its grip forever. Likewise, I presume Jim has already determined who’s who in heaven. Therefore, we can trust Jim to say, “Peace. Be not afraid.”

Good Friday 2020

I happened to see Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s memorial to Charlotte Figi, a child with a catastrophic type of epilepsy who went on to inspire a CBD movement. Ms. Figi passed from complications to Coronavirus-like symptoms.

I commented to myself about the irony of why we find the unexceptional exceptional only after passing. Why is it we never see those qualities when they are alive.  

Shelly is not unlike Figi. I didn’t know her well. I don’t recall ever personally meeting her. If I did, she was too unexceptional for me to note as exceptional. I certainly don’t remember what she looked like, the color of her hair, what she wore, eyes, or the way she carried a laptop or cup of coffee. I don’t know about her life story. Neither did I understand the challenges she overcame, the obstacles tossed her way, accomplishments, nor tears. 

Shelly worked in our west coast office. We interact several times each week, separated by the Central to Pacific coast time zone. Occasionally, Shelly would call during the early evening to gather advice or discuss strategies in handling a difficult manager.

I learned Shelly was a Star Trek fan, including Kirk, Spock, The Next Generation, and others. Spock would be proud; she lived the mantra, “The needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few.” Like crewmembers on the U.S.S. Enterprise, she willingly gave up many parts of her life for others. 

Shelly fought for what was right. She wasn’t afraid to poke holes in the politics and beliefs of our times. There was no perfect life, where all the world would walk in peace. Even I, the great Unknown Buddhist (my sarcasm), was challenged to look at my own culture and ask what was right. And maybe in real life, Picard, Charlotte Figi, and Shelly pushed others to eliminate personal hunger, excessive want, and need. More importantly, all of us were pushed to grow out of intellectual infancy.

And like so many others, just like Figi, Shelly was attacked by Coronavirus symptoms during the early hours of this morning, Good Friday. She’s in intensive care, barely alive.

If there’s a lesson, Dr. Gupta laid bare that our world dialogue has become disorienting. Should there be a second lesson, it would be that our life can only succeed by the quality of our bonds, not by the height of our walls. We must find a bridge between otherwise irreconcilable cultures. Maybe that bridge is love.

Good Friday is about love and transformation. In remembering Ms. Figi and Shelly, I must recognize that their lives do not end this week. Instead, it begins anew. Love triumphs death. And like so many others, love continually transforms me as well. 

Ms. Figi and Shelly are exceptional. I regret not making either ‘exceptional’ during my living years. I should have; we should have. In their way, each gave me a tremendous amount of unconditional love. How do I know? I call it faith. We may not understand it, yet it exists nonetheless.

It’s the same faith Christ calls us to live. It’s what Good Friday’s about.

Kathryn Dill and Te-Ping Chen wrote a great article in The Wall Street Journal.

‘Sometimes the Crisis Makes the Leader’: Andrew Cuomo and Five Lessons on Leadership’

The lessons the want readers to understand are:

  1. Transparency;
  2. Lead and be a field general;
  3. Make people believe you’re in there with them;
  4. There is such a thing as ‘bad television;’ and
  5. Clarity is important

Everyone should read their article. It’s fantastic.

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