Tag Archive: Spirituality


Letter 2 – Knowing Me

Knowing meMy Dear Friend:

By nature, we always want more. A person I met several years ago recently stated they didn’t know me. Each friend always requests the same – my utmost thoughts.

Being a fairly secretive person, I’ve rarely peeled back the outer layers of my soul. To complicate others with hidden thoughts and the man of my youth would appear cruel. As such, for those tucked away in quiet communities, commuting to and fro, knowing me would not enhance their world or their love for the world.

Until we met, I lived life from a 17-inch Tumi carry-on. Few knew of my travels to Cali, Columbia, Lima, Peru, Venezuela and other strange foreign lands. Few know that I can recall the addresses of 38 different US Embassies, including both phone and address. Few would understand why I would have memorized key US border crossings and frequently visited US Ports by ships.

For one to remember such information is not important. But by not knowing me, few will ever understand how you entered my soul and removed the distress of life. By not knowing me, those who have sight, will never understand your beauty, the nature of your walk, the balance between desire and poetry. And by not knowing me, those who can hear, will never hear the beating of your heart.

Yet to me, you opened a soul, allowing me to live some semblance of normal. As such, a lifetime of wanting and craving created this powerful energy we embrace. You’ve taught me to live life deliberately, with purpose. Because of you, I recognize my humanity, my spirit and spirituality.

Without you, I could neither revel in it nor have lived it.

Have you learn’d lessons only of those who admired you, and
were tender with you, and stood aside for you?

Have you not learn’d great lessons from those who reject you,
and brace themselves against you? or who treat you with
contempt, or dispute the passage with you?

~Walt Whitman~

The above poem, Stronger Lessons was part of a manuscript titled, “Sands at Seventy.” “Sands at Seventy” was the title of a collection of poems that first appeared in November Boughs (1888) and was later included as an “annex” to the final printings of Leaves of Grass. Stronger Lessons is one of my favorite poems. I hadn’t thought of this poem for some time and was reminded after hearing an audio interview clip with Monica Lewinsky having discussing her receipt of Leaves of Grass.

Like Lewinsky, and the better part of all, I wrote eighteen letters to an unrequited love several years ago. Each letter was returned, rejected outright. Till this day, I have no reason why I kept the letters. I have neither opened nor read any until today.

Lwenski reminded me of her and my letters. In their own way, both Lewinsky and this unrequited love are both strong, kind, and confident. There are many questions, but not once have I received an answer. For some time, I wanted answers because maybe they would help. But realizing that on any given day, I may not wake. From that perspective alone, I am not a long-term candidate for lasting love. In the end, she might have chosen security. All I have are these letters.

Today, I decided to share all eighteen letters. I will open one letter each day and share them with you. Originally, each letter was handwritten. Each had a theme. Some are short. Others are long. Names and locations will be changed, as required. Hopefully, in some way, one letter or one sentence will assist one of you hurting or hoping to build a bridge or simply move forward. Maybe this holiday season, you’ll be able to reach that one unrequited love.

Letter 1 – Quality of Life

My Dear Love:

I recently conversed with a fellow traveler to en route to Arizona. This fellow teetered back and forth about leaving one position for another – that somehow leaving the current position would ‘right the wrongs’ within his personal life.

I concurred with two points: there is such a thing as quality of life and his wasn’t.

Therein lay the problem. Looking at almost everyone met, single or couple alike, almost none have found a way to align all the pieces and compromises. Sacrifices litter the roads traveled and mountains climbed.

But the thing I’ve most admired about you is your unceasing thoughts of love and laughter. They are a profound gift that has lifted me past darker days. You have constantly created a life worth remembering – a life worth repeating – a life better than most.

My heart is full for you, pulls for you and lives for your adventures and your love.

 

‘Hear’ the Unheard.

ThreeWhen Attorney General Jeff Sessions was fired, the world took little notice, except to ponder how long Rod Rosenstein and Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller would remain employed. Yet most have failed to learn some key leadership lessons from the “Trumptonian” era of management.

First, we have to distinguish between obtaining a leadership position, and actually being successful in a leadership position. The political steps Trump took to become leader of the free world will not make him successful. Reality T.V. tactics may retain audience participation, but the real lesson is that all television shows eventually get cancelled. Second, if one’s claim to fame is leadership, having to fire 55 of your hand-picked staff in less than two years is not a confidence booster. No fortune 500 company would clear such an individual to ascend toward a Presidential position, but here are.

Research on “ideal” styles of leadership suggest the ideal leader should possess intelligence, is hard-working, honest, and compassionate. Trump overwhelmingly fails in all of these qualities.

So what does Trump have? Trump is a master of media and messaging. He knows his target audience and speaks to them effectively. Trump was able to identify gaps in America, empathize and provide unexpected solutions. If you were unhappy or afraid about something, a solution was presented for your pain. Need an enemy of the ‘state?’ Media. Need a broader ‘evil?‘ Democrats. Black people lack intelligence, women are ugly, lie and bleed … well from everywhere. In the world of presidential politics, marketing separates winners from the losers.

In Trump’s world, the shoes of responsibility for the Russian Investigation lay at another door. In this case, Sessions. Therefore, the King summarily executed (figuratively) his advisor and picked an “unqualified” partisan to protect himself. Unfortunately, both Trump and Sessions willfully ignored leadership’s greatest responsibility – the ‘unheard’ moaning from the wilderness.

The Sound of the Forest

Back in the third century A.D., the King Ts’ao sent his son, Prince T’ai, to the temple to study under the great master Pan Ku. Because Prince T’ai was to succeed his father as king, Pan Ku was to teach the boy the basics of being a good ruler. When the prince arrived at the temple, the master sent him alone to the Ming-Li Forest. After one year, the prince was to return to the temple to describe the sound of the forest.

When Prince T’ai returned, Pan Ku asked the boy to describe all that he could hear. “Master,” replied the prince, “I could hear the cuckoos sing, the leaves rustle, the hummingbirds hum, the crickets chirp, the grass blow, the bees buzz, and the wind whisper and holler.” When the prince had finished, the master told him to go back to the forest to listen to what more he could hear. The prince was puzzled by the master’s request. Had he not discerned every sound already?

For days and nights on end, the young prince sat alone in the forest listening. But he heard no sounds other than those he had already heard. Then one morning, as the prince sat silently beneath the trees, he started to discern faint sounds unlike those he had ever heard before. The more acutely he listened, the clearer the sounds became. The feeling of enlightenment enveloped the boy. “These must be the sounds the master wished me to discern,” he reflected.

When Prince T’ai returned to the temple, the master asked him what more he had heard. “Master,” responded the prince reverently, “when I listened most closely, I could hear the unheard—the sound of flowers opening, the sound of the sun warming the earth, and the sound of the grass drinking the morning dew.” The master nodded approvingly. “To hear the unheard,” remarked Pan Ku, “is a necessary discipline to be a good ruler. For only when a ruler has learned to listen closely to the people’s hearts, hearing their feelings communicated, pains unexpressed, and complaints not spoken of, can he hope to inspire confidence in his people, understand when something is wrong, and meet the true needs of his citizens. The demise of states comes when leaders listen only to superficial words and do not penetrate deeply into the souls of the people to hear their true opinions, feelings, and desires.”

Prince T’ai’s lesson remains the same. All should learn it. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a baker, clinician, banker, factory worker, school teacher, pilot or homemaker. You are the leader of yourself. If you want to lead, you have to ‘hear‘ the unheard.

The Power of Real Prayer

A friend and I spent an evening sipping tea and reading. For her, it’s fictional stories of medieval knights, kings, queens, and damsels in distress. For me, news, current events, non-fiction biographies and writing.

Without warning, her phone’s ‘Line’ app binged.

Her face quizzically contorted, “My friend from Asia says the Holy Spirit aske her to pray for me?

Why?” I straightforwardly queried.

Huh,” she uttered.

Why?” I repeated.

What?” she sputtered while starting to get mad. “The Spirit obviously needed …” she started and then falling silent. Pausing a moment, “The Spirit knew I was in trouble and …” before drifting off.

Perplexed, she couldn’t answer my question.

My thought was simple, since the Holy Spirit is part of the Holy Trinity and is all powerful, why did the Holy Spirit ask the friend to pray? If the Holy Spirit knew my friend was in trouble, and concerned enough, why didn’t the Holy Spirit simply intervene?

Prayer in the power of the flesh relies upon human ability and effort to carry the prayer forward. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, author of Living Water: Studies in John emphasized:

We all know what it is to feel deadness in prayer, difficulty in prayer, to be tongue-tied, with nothing to say, as it were, having to force ourselves to try. Well, to the extent that is true of us, we are not praying in the Spirit.

It’s hard to pray, when the ‘why’ is unknown. Like most, my friend presumed the request was commanded for a possible, near dire event. However, what if the prayer request was for something wonderful? What if the request was simply, “I love her and she needs to feel that. And she needs to feel you love her as well.

Like most communication with God, most of us are clueless. We don’t know because we fail to ask. As such, we only end up pushing the prayer forward. “Oh Lord. I pray for this person because the Holy Spirit said so.” Pushing a prayer forward generally ends up on Heaven’s cutting room floor.

Real prayer has a living quality characterized by warmth and freedom and a sense of exchange. Real prayer means being in God’s presence and speaking directly to God. In this type pf communication, the Spirit illuminates your mind, moves your heart, and grants a freedom of utterance and liberty of expression.

I close with the following story.

A little boy was kneeling beside his bed with his mother and grandmother and softly saying his prayers, “Dear God, please bless Mummy and Daddy and all the family and please give me a good night’s sleep.”

Suddenly he looked up and shouted, “And don’t forget to give me a bicycle for my birthday!!”

“There is no need to shout like that,” said his mother. “God isn’t deaf.”

“No,” said the little boy, “but Grandma is.”

Ah, the power of real prayer.

America’s lust for hate and weaponization intersected three time this week. First, on Wednesday, a white man with a history of violence shot and killed two African-Americans, seemingly at random, at a Kentucky grocery store. Second, after mail bombs were sent to Democratic criticized by the President. And third, on Saturday, a man shouting anti-Semitic slurs opened fire at a Pittsburgh synagogue, killing 11 people attending Jewish services.

In today’s world, ‘prayers and thoughts’ are likened to ‘checking a box.” All us recognize  something has to change. We even recognize our participation in injustice, and yet we intend to do nothing. So, just as in other acts of terror, American political leaders are quick to offer prayers, condolences and thoughts but deny any culpability. In essence, our political leaders are saying, “Screw’em. They’re dead.” When tragedy occurs, ‘thoughts and prayers. Check.

Op-ed writer AJ Willingham capture my thoughts.

“Semantic satiation is the phenomenon in which a word or phrase is repeated so often it loses its meaning. But it also becomes something ridiculous, a jumble of letters that feels alien on the tongue and reads like gibberish on paper.

“Thoughts and prayers” has reached that full semantic satiation.

In today’s world, politicians take line up as guests on MSNBC, CNN, FOX News and others and deny any responsibility for their actions. In their minds, ‘thoughts and prayers’ absolves them of guilt. In today’s world of Trump, the National Rifle Association and second amendment fear mongering, dissent is a deadly business. In fact, white supremacist Andrew Anglin told the HuffPost what he thought of Trump’s refusal to denounce them. “We interpret that as an endorsement.”

A friend asked, “Do you believe Trump is either, in whole or partly, responsible?

Yes.” I replied.

Forbes writer Todd Essig summarizes my thoughts.

President Trump has, intentionally or not, hit a trifecta of hate that foments terrorism, in this case domestic terrorism. At rallies and speeches his incendiary eloquence identifies opponents as enemies then motivates hatred and sanctions violence against them. Facts no longer matter. Nor do values shared with those he sees as horrible, terrible people. What matters is that it’s us versus them. And we can’t let them win. Never apologize, never back down.

However, my friend missed the larger question.

Are we, like Trump, either partly or in whole, responsible?

Yes,” I would have replied. “America is just as liable.”

America’s inaction gives permission of hatred. One percent of Americans, was responsible for about a fifth of hate crimes. Other assaults included an elderly man at a Jewish retirement home, a 12-year-old boy on his way home from Friday prayers, a woman in a taxi, a person on a subway train and a man who was attacked and maced while waiting at a red light and a man pulling down a statue and calling members of a Vietnamese Buddhist Meditation Center “Devil Worshippers.

Buddha taught hatred is a form of suffering. He said holding hatred in the mind and heart is like tightly clutching a hot coal. Guess who suffers? As such, those responsible for controlling a white-nationalist President (that being ‘we‘) have done nothing. America’s done nothing. No one does anything except offering thoughts and prayers.

I envision many getting to heaven and Christ asking, “Hey. What’s that in your hand?”

Chasing Reflections

While having dinner with a friend, I told him my time was closing and inquired if there was any last thing he wanted to do or place he wished to go while I was still here.

In tears, he asked, “You can’t abandon me.”

Sorry,” I sympathetically replied.

Shrugging it off, he chuckled. “Oh please. You said yourself that no one knows how long someone has to live. You said you were going to die over a year ago. And here you are.”

Awkward pause.

What will I do without you? You’re my only friend,” he whispered.

Make new friends.”

I can’t.”

Why not?

 “I don’t fit in here.”

Having worked here since college, you’re now fairly wealthy. You can ‘cash out,’ return to your native homeland and live in relative ease.”

I can’t.”

Why?

I won’t fit in.”

So, let me understand,” I said. “You’ve worked here all this time and have friends neither here nor at home?

Revealing a painful truth, “Yes.”

What you think you want out of life and how we spend our days in it, may not be nearly as important as the vital layers accumulating within you, hidden in plain sight.

Several years ago, writer David Allen wrote the following:

Love for friends and family, the decency we exchange with those around us, the value of not doing “great things,” but small things in a great way. Those are life’s moments inscribed in our heart.

Further borrowing from Allen, What the conversation between my friend and I remind us to do is that money is not the ultimate goal in life and each of us must take our heart out and read it every so often.

I conclude with the following.

As a laborer walked home along a river, he saw a shimmering in the river.When he looked, he saw a diamond necklace. But the river was completely polluted, filthy and smelly. Still, he decided to try and catch it so he could gain it’s reward. He put his hand in the filthy, dirty river and grabbed at the necklace, but somehow missed it. The second time, he walked into the river and put his whole arm in to catch the necklace. And again, he missed the necklace. Feeling depressed, he did a most disgusting thing and plunged completely into the river. Yet, he failed again.

Just then, a Buddhist monk came upon him.

“What are you doing?” queried the monk.

The man didn’t want to share the secret, so he refused to say.

The monk asked again, “What are you doing?”

The man mustered some courage and told the monk about the necklace and his attempts to catch it.

Taking compassion at the pitiful man, the Monk replied, “Perhaps you should try looking upward, toward the branches of the tree, instead of in the river.”

The man looked up, and true enough, the necklace was dangling on the branch of a tree. All this time, he had only been trying to capture a mere reflection.

Becoming Dogmatic

ThinkOn occasion, my ex-wife suffers depressive episodes. For the past several weeks, she’s questioned her worth and value to others. Sleepless nights allows he wandering mind to value and revalue her gifts and worth.

Why do you believe I am a worthy person?

Gently, I replied, “Because you’re a great leader.”

Humph,” she scoffed. “How?

Great leaders are those whose great acts are comprised of small deeds. Through all those small deeds, an unexpected, but purposeful leadership style emerges. The demons you believe are by your choice. But your choice is not mine. Do not let the seed of doubt destroy you.”

Conclusion

Sometimes, in life, we become both jurist and executioner to our own value. “Certainly, I am unworthy, for others have done more.” “Of course, that person over there is better, for I have not helped as many.” For many, false values consume both day and night.

I close with the following story.

One afternoon an ascetic met the Buddha. He was curious to learn about the Buddha’s teaching.

“Gautama, what is your teaching? What are your doctrines? For my own part, I dislike all doctrines and theories. I don’t subscribe to any.”

The Buddha smiled, “Do you subscribe to your doctrine of not following any doctrines? Do you believe in your doctrine of not-believing?”

Somewhat taken aback, the ascetic replied, “Gautama, whether I believe or don’t believe is of no importance.”

The Buddha spoke gently, “Once a person is caught by belief in a doctrine, he loses all his freedom. When one becomes dogmatic, he believes his doctrine is the only truth and that all other doctrines are heresy. Despair is birthed from such narrow views. Once bound, one becomes so entangled that it is no longer possible to let the door of truth open.”

If we are attached to some belief and hold it to be the absolute truth, we may one day find ourselves in a similar situation as my ex-wife. Thinking that we already possess the truth, we will be unable to open our minds to receive the truth, even if truth comes to our door.

The Hope in Death

Hope in death

Our hope in life beyond death is a hope made possible, not by some general sentimental belief in life after death, but by our participation in the life of Christ.

~ Stanley Hauerwas ~

—————————————————————————————

Perform a quick Google search for “hope in death” and you’re likely receive a litany of Bible verses that believers in Jesus have hope beyond physical death. These verses may be wonderful for the average run of the mill believer, but do they apply to those who’ve lost a loved one to violent? In a sea of which few have traveled, finding peace in Christ’s death is hard to align.

Several years ago, a Pastor proclaimed Christ knows your pain. Knows? Christ knows my pain? The sarcastic part of me notes Christ never died via an AK-47 in the hands of a minor not old enough to buy a beer. Had the same teen had the beer, maybe all the subsequent pain could have been avoided. Then again, probably not. Christ never had a limb amputated, never processed of lingering mental and physical therapy required to simply get out of bed and face the world.

In times of tragedy, Buddhism is no different. For Buddhists, there’s a spin that death is part of our natural life-cycle. Many die alone. Oftentimes family members never got to say goodbye, or communicate one last time how much they were loved. Victims of mass shootings experience similar thoughts. In sudden death, trusting in some sort of universal design, we hope our loved one’s spirit remains safe and in the care of higher beings.

So, where’s the hope?

If we really loved these people, then we must try to fulfill their wishes. That’s the proper way to approach it. You see, the best way to keep a memory of that person, the best remembrance, is to see if you can carry on the wishes of that person. Their wish is for us to live.

Christ stated he is with us always, even unto the end (Matthew 28:20). But I offer an alternate meaning. It is through our faith of life that we crush the hatred of death.  Live a life focused on making others proud. And in doing so, moving through the grieving process and, through our faith in living, and the love of family and friends can we begin to heal and move forward. In doing so, many will find their loved ones in many places and ways throughout the day and evening.

You will find your loved ones in a touch on the arm; a dream; a coin appearing in one’s path or a butterfly twirling about. The signs and symbols will be unique to each of us and remind us our loved ones are near. These signs remind us of the unbroken bond that we will always hold. And like Christ, they will be with us always, even unto the end.

Living life fully enriches faith, family and friends. “Living” is very Buddhist, very Christian and crushes death’s hand.

The Soccer GodsA return trip to Washington netted seats adjacent to several Bible Study camp participants homeward bound to Texas. After a short period of time, it was apparent they followed Psalm 34:1 …. literally. In short, the group loved to … praise the LORD at all times” for they constantly spoke of His praise.

When a flight attendant brought a pillow, “Praise Jesus,” was uttered. “Thank you Lord for this water.” “Thank you Jesus for this view,” another exclaimed. After receiving peanuts, “Thank you Lord for this meal.” (Personally, I’ve never considered a small bag of peanuts a meal.)

After absorbing this atmosphere for an hour, a weird part of me wondered if any would praise Jesus if the aircraft were crashing. “Oh Lord, I praise you for the crash we are about to partake!” That raises another question: why do baseball players praise God after hitting a home run by thrusting their fingers toward the sky, but don’t praise God when they whiff (i.e., strikeout)? How come professional football players will praise Jesus after scoring but don’t praise Jesus when dropping a catch?

Maybe Jesus can only be praised when it’s good?

Those lost in the furor of religion neglect to “… give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.” That bottle of water came from flight attendant’s service. The flight attendant received it because a another airline teammate stocked the plane, who received it from a buyer whose company and employees manufactured and shipped same said bottle of H2O.

Same goes for the peanuts. Neglecting the fact those peanuts would make quite a tasty meal for someone in Africa, should we not also praise the Lord for denying those peanuts to someone in Africa? It’s your bag of peanuts right? I mean God delivered them to you and not to another, right? Praise Jesus!

How about that winning score? Well … someone tossed the ball. A teammate probably blocked. A coach designed the play. Team owners are supported and paid by fans attending the game, etc., etc., etc. Shouldn’t we also praise God for the defender who’ll lose his job? “Hey Mr. defender! Praise Jesus I scored. And I praise God that you looked so bad on national television that you’ll lose your job.”

You get the picture.

The lesson is simple, one can’t praise ‘yang’ without praising ‘yin.’ From a Buddhist perspective, everything is interconnected. Everything affects everything else. Everything that is, ‘is’ because other things ‘are.’ All beings and phenomena are caused to exist by other beings and phenomena.

Thus, while we’re so busy praising God, don’t forget to give credit to the Caesars’ within your life.

Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 5.36.22 PMFor the few I’ve told of spiritual experience, I am often queried about the grand design of the universe, even of the maker himself and the spiritual design of life.

From a space perspective, is it likely that extraterrestrial intelligences or multidimensional beings traveled across interstellar space to leave a crop circle in Jim Bob’s cornfield in nowhere Kansas? Why haven’t these interstellar life forms landed in downtown New York? I have no clue. Maybe these distant travelers wanted to save the city a huge traffic jam.

The more plausible explanation is that traveling the universe is not for the faint of heart. The real universe you see at night is 250 times bigger than Hubble Telescope’s visual capability, spanning some 14.0 billion parsecs (about 45.7 billion light years). Some stars you’ll see tonight require about 45 billion light years to get here. Thus, what you see tonight is actually a snapshot of life an infinity long ago.

For someone to say I was personally created by an all-loving God seems hard to understand, for certainly, I am not one whose life seems all that valuable. Evolutionist Neil deGrasse Tyson indicated that any notions of creationism and intelligent design ignore a fundamental and important problem—the fact that the universe, and most of the things in it, would never have been designed. No engineer would design things this way. As Tyson explains:

“Star formation is completely inefficient. Most places in the universe will kill life instantly—instantly! People say “Oh, the forces of nature are just right for life.” Excuse me. Just look at the volume of the universe where you can’t live. You will die instantly. That is not what I call the Garden of Eden, alright. … We’re on a collision course with the Andromeda galaxy—gone is this beautiful spiral that we have. And of course we’re on a one-way, expanding universe as we wind down to oblivion, as the temperature of the universe approaches absolute zero.”

The inner solar system is a shooting gallery. Multi-cellular life evolved over 3.5 billion years! Empirically, that design strategy sucks. 99% of all life that ever lived is now extinct. The earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, and one of Darwin’s favorites, lightning strikes has taken its toll. “None of this,” Tyson explains, “is any sign that there is a benevolent anything out there.”

If you somehow can explain that, then consider all the natural diseases, including leukemia, hemophilia, sickle cell anemia, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, ALS and etc., etc., etc. The list goes on and on. Taken as a whole, the universe is against mankind.

But can there be a spiritual force?

If you are into an apparition only mentality, in 1996 a Tennessee baker charged five bucks a head to come see the “nun bun” till he got a cease-and-desist from Mother Teresa’s lawyer. Mother Mary has appeared on tree bark, the side of a glass window in San Paulo, a cheese sandwich, a building in Clearwater, Florida and countless other places.

As a Buddhist, Buddhism begins and ends in practice, not belief and doctrine. To practice Buddhist spirituality, one need not subscribe to a particular set of creedal statements. It is not necessary to believe in God or to deny the God’s existence. Buddhism does not ask those who would take its path to reject prior faith commitments or to adopt new ones. For living the holy life, says Buddhism, holding particular beliefs is not paramount. Clearly, noble persons have held all sorts of beliefs; saints have been Christian and Jewish, Muslim and Hindu, atheist and humanist. Buddhists, therefore, have no quarrel with other religions and philosophies on doctrinal and creedal issues. Because they understand the goal of the holy life to be freedom from suffering and the cultivation of compassion, Buddhists acknowledge that other perspectives and practices can genuinely mediate salvation.

However, in the wake of my spiritual experiences, while all of the above may be rationally correct, every one of us must confront the logical fallacy of claiming that any spiritual experience is impossible. While I am unwilling to give complete credence to every report, I could never found my theology upon any one single event.

So do I believe in a spiritual side of life? As Elisabeth Kubler-Ross stated:

Our concern must be to live while we’re alive…to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a facade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are.

Maybe there are no mistakes in life; all events are blessings given for our edification — our learning.”

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