On Losing Friends

There are very few things on earth that make you feel more lonely than having to say goodbye to a beloved friend. I’ve had to do that twice in the midst of this already isolating pandemic, and not a day goes by when I don’t have tears in my eyes at some point because of it.

What? Oh, no, they didn’t die. That would be infinitely more tragic. But they both broke my heart, making me feel like I was dying. Either way, it’s a mourning process, and one I barely have the strength for.

There just comes a point when you have to stop tolerating bad behavior from the people you love. You have a right to set boundaries. You have a right to put your foot down. You have a right to say, “No, you don’t get to do this.”

You should always be your own best friend. You need to put a stop to things that hurt your heart, even when they come from people with whom you have had decades of happy memories as well as a mountain of emotional investment. If you’ve tried to communicate and/or work things out and gotten no results, you have to say, “This far and no further.”

So for future reference, here are a few boundaries that I have set:

  • You don’t get to insult people you don’t even know on my Facebook page. Respect me, respect my friends. You don’t have to agree with them, but you don’t get to attack them.
  • If you espouse hate speech or try to encourage violent behavior, I don’t want you in my universe.
  • If you’re going to stand me up, blow me off, or take advantage of me, you better have a stellar excuse. And if you never return my calls and then accuse me of not being a good enough friend, you’ve made my choice for me.
  • If you make promises and then don’t keep them, I will lose trust in you. It’s hard to maintain a friendship under those circumstances.
  • You don’t get to exaggerate other dear friend’s behavior to the point of damaging their reputation, simply so you can win an argument. If you tell me that a friend I have known for decades, who has a reputation of never saying an unkind word to anyone, has suddenly verbally attacked you without any discernible motivation and with no proof whatsoever provided by you, I have to call foul. Not only are you insulting my friend, but you’re insulting my judgment.
  • You don’t have to like all the things I like, but if something is extremely important to me, the least you can do is be supportive of that thing. My blog, for example, is me on a page. When you continually reject my invites to my Facebook group, that’s painful enough. But when I offer to send you a link to one of my blog posts and you say, essentially, “Please don’t,” that’s like a rejection of me. How hard would it be to just say thanks and fake it?
  • If you know you’ve been hurtful, set aside your pride and apologize. If you choose your pride over our friendship, then the friendship must never have had much value to you in the first place.

For what it’s worth, I tried to salvage the wreckage of one of these friendships. I tried really hard. He just bent the truth more and more to prop up his stance, until finally I was the one who felt broken.

And in the other situation, it suddenly occurred to me that this person has made me feel bad more than once, and never has apologized, not once, in all the decades I’ve known him. I’m tired of begging to be treated decently. I shouldn’t have to ask for an apology. It should be a natural process once you know you’ve hurt someone. I realized that if I just swallowed my pain yet again and accepted my second class status in his world one more time, it would rot away my soul. This person could still apologize, and we could move on, but I’m pretty sure he never will. I suspect he is sorry, but I don’t think I’ve ever meant enough to him to merit an apology. And that crushes me.

That all of this is happening during a pandemic is bad enough, but then add on top of it the fact that I moved to the Pacific Northwest 6 years ago, and, with one or two wonderful exceptions, I’m struggling to make friends out here like I made the other 5 decades of my life.

It’s hard to make new friends after a certain age. Older adults have well established lives and obligations, so the opportunity to bond is just not there as much. That, and people are a lot more standoffish out here than I’m used to. I’m pretty sure I’ll never quite fit in. I can’t remember the last time someone took the initiative to do anything with me. Out here, I do all the asking, with very mixed sucess.

Oh, and I just remembered that one woman out here accused me of killing my cat and making a joke out of it, and called me a sick, sick person. When I pointed out that I haven’t owned a cat in nearly 40 years, and that I didn’t know what the heck she was talking about, she stopped talking to me. Who could even think that I could do something like that? So yeah, another boundary I’ve set is that I can only take so much crazy.

What I’m finding is that as my self-confidence and self-awareness grows, I’m less willing to put up with bad behavior. But the humiliating truth is that, my whole adult life, no one has ever called me their best friend. What does that say? I don’t know. But it hurts like hell, and it makes it hard for me to remember that quality is more important than quantity.

So, if you see me enforcing boundaries, or speaking my truth (not yours) don’t assume I’m being insecure. Instead, congratulate me for my own agency. Cheer me on for standing my ground. Think of me as strong, not defensive or paranoid. View me as healing, not broken. Is that too much to ask?

It’s just… I’m just really sad and lonely today. I’m struggling. (For what it’s worth, I wrote this more than a week ago, so I’m probably doing much better now.)

I know I can’t be the only one who feels this way. Thank GOD I have a wonderful husband and awesome dogs. It’s amazing how couch snuggles can make you feel that everything is right with the world.

Bleh. Thanks for listening. I need a hug.

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What Will the New Normal Look Like?

I’ve heard much chatter of late as to what the world will be like once we’ve finally developed herd immunity from COVID-19. Some people seem to think everything will revert back to the way it was when we were all more naïve about viruses, their transmission, and their impact. I don’t see that as a possibility. First of all, sorry to say, but COVID-19 will never be completely eradicated. And other pandemics are sure to follow sooner or later.

So this gives me the opportunity to make some predictions about our new normal. I’m sure I’ll look back on this blog post someday and either laugh at my foolishness or think, “Dang, you’re good!” (That’s one of the drawbacks of blogging. There’s nowhere to hide from your past idiocy. But sometimes you also get to say “I told you so!”)

The reason I’m fairly certain that we will not return to days of yore is that when my boss suggested that we’ll all probably be vaccinated by the end of the month and should therefore be able to revert back to our old shift-change-in-a-teeny-tiny-little-room habit, I had a visceral reaction. Panic, if I’m honest.

First of all, due to HIPAA, we’ll never know for sure if everyone has been vaccinated. Second, as of this writing, the scientists are not yet certain that vaccinated people cannot still be carriers of COVID, and even they say that these vaccines are not 100% effective. The news changes daily, but until I have more reassurance than that, I don’t feel like marinating in my coworkers aerosol, thankyouverymuch.

The smallest lesson from this is that a lot of us are going to find it hard to unmask. I’m struggling with the concept, and I HATE wearing a mask. I’m tired of my glasses fogging, and I feel claustrophobic. But I do it because I know that it has been the safest, most responsible thing to do. It will be difficult for me to gauge when that safety and responsibility is no longer needed.

We’ve all been changed in various negative and positive ways by this past year. We’ve slowed down. We’ve isolated ourselves a lot more. Many of us have worked from home. We’ve all learned that it is possible to do these things. Some of us have liked it, and some of us have not. I suspect that a certain percentage of those who don’t like it will find that they like it a lot more when it becomes voluntary, and they’ll adopt a sort of hybrid lifestyle.

I suspect a lot of people who have been telecommuting will resist going back to the office 5 days a week. That, and businesses will have learned that there’s a lot less overhead to pay when you don’t have to maintain as much office space. And, surprise! The work still seems to be getting done.

On the real estate front, many people who have been allowed to telecommute have sold their houses in the big cities and have moved… well, anywhere they’ve wanted to move. A lot of people have gone rural. It’s going to be really hard to persuade them to come back. (It’s sort of the opposite of, “How will you keep them down on the farm, now that they’ve seen ‘Paree’?”)

And now that I’m more aware of virus vectors, I don’t see myself ever being as comfortable going to large concert venues again. Don’t get me wrong. I miss live performances. I just don’t miss sharing my airspace with a thousand strangers.

I’ll never get used to being crammed into a crowded elevator or subway again. When people cough, I’ll feel a flashing red alert inside my head. I doubt I’ll ever enjoy long air flights again. (But then, they’ve been going down hill since the 80’s, anyway.)

Now, when I forget my mask, I don’t get very far. I feel naked and exposed and vulnerable. I’m horrified. I turn right back around and I get it. I think it will take more than a minute for me to get past that feeling.

I suspect that this virus has changed us in ways that we have yet to see. Personally, I’ve enjoyed not having a single solitary cold all year long. I wouldn’t mind continuing to wear a mask in more crowded places if I could stay on that path.

I suspect, at a bare minimum, a certain percentage of us will continue to wear masks, at least some of the time. I also suspect that those of us who do are going to get bullied for it by various factions. But we are living in a different world now, and that’s just a hard fact.

These are my predictions. What do you think? In any event, time will tell.

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Do Animals Have a Sense of Humor?

The other day I was lying in bed, giggling helplessly at the memory of something funny my husband had said hours earlier. It still makes me laugh. Giggling is the best feeling in the world. I looked at my dachshund, who was eyeing me curiously, and I thought about the fact that he doesn’t get to laugh. He’s really missing out.

Do dogs have a sense of humor? I’ve had a few that definitely showed subtle signs of it. One liked to run his cold wet nose down my spine at moments when I’d least expect it, causing me to screech. Another hopped up on the bed while I was taking a nap and sat on my face. And refused to move. That’s a heck of a way to wake up. I could picture both of those dogs laughing inwardly.

Primates can laugh in their own way. And now that we all have video capabilities on our phones, we are capturing more and more evidence that animals like to play. Even the grown ups. There’s a crow here on my drawbridge that enjoys riding the bridge up and down, and spinning on the weather vane. If animals can play, they have a sense of fun. If they have a sense of fun, a sense of humor must not be that far away.

I cannot imagine going through life without being able to laugh. I’d feel like something really significant was missing. It’s a quality of life thing.

We all have that one friend…

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Hoarding Inner Peace

Recently, I had the experience of entering a house that was so crowded with stuff that not a single flat surface was free. It was really hard to move in there. I don’t know if these people are hoarders, necessarily, or a family with small children living in a space much too small for them, but nevertheless, it was my worst nightmare. I didn’t get a feeling of home sweet home in that place as much as I felt overwhelmed and stressed out.

Maybe it’s the introvert in me, but my brain seems to interpret clutter as the physical equivalent of noise. This place made me feel like I was in a heavy metal concert, seated right in front of the speakers. My instinct was to get out as quickly as possible.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I’m the neatest, most organized person in the world. No, I have my fair share of clutter. But this place made my home seem minimalist by comparison. My home is functional. There are tables where one can actually sit down and eat a meal. There are counters where vegetables are chopped. There are floors that are visible and walkable. One doesn’t have to climb over things to navigate the space. When I get home at the end of the day, it feels like a sanctuary, not a prison.

I would not be able to rest with so much stuff around me. I would feel no inner peace. I wouldn’t be able to think, let alone feel comfortable. I’d feel as if I had no opportunity to unplug from the world. I need that.

I’m doing my best to get rid of stuff. My husband and I rarely exchange gifts, even at Christmas. We’d much rather have experiences and create memories.

If I’m going to hoard something, I’d much rather hoard inner peace.

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Have We Lost All Humanity?

This is my dear friend Carole.

Normally, she doesn’t look like this. Normally, her outer beauty isn’t this battered and bruised. You can still see the inner beauty, though, shining through her eyes. Look closely. Note her intelligence, her sense of humor, and her indomitable spirit. In her late 70’s, she still has a zest for life that I’ve come to love and admire since we first became friends through my blog about 8 years ago.

I’ll let her describe how she came to look like this.

“On Monday about 1PM it was bright and sunny, a beautiful day. I stopped just across the FL/GA line to get gas. I was thinking about the good times I had had with my family at Disney, and wishing I had a few more days with them.

“Well, the pump wouldn’t give me a receipt, so I headed inside to get a copy. Returning to my car, I lost my footing on the curb, and down I went. In slow-mo, I saw the sidewalk coming up to kiss me, and I heard the sickening sound of a hard-boiled egg being crushed on the counter, but it was my nose. PAIN unimaginable.

“There were 3 or 4 people pumping gas. I lay there maybe 2 minutes, checking mentally each part of my body to make sure nothing was broken, and if I was bleeding. Not one person made a move to see if they could help or even ask, “Are you okay?”

“So I went inside and the two employees asked all the right questions, offered any assistance and generally made me feel better. I hung around for an hour to make sure I wasn’t going to risk my life or anyone else’s life, then headed home.

“I accidentally missed a turn in Atlanta and couldn’t find my way back on the interstate. I stopped at a Jiffy store to ask for directions and the man started smiling real big. By the time he got the directions out of his mouth, he was choking, trying not to get out a full blown belly laugh.

“Back on the road home, after driving about 10 hours, I pulled into a hotel. I spoke to someone through a teller window to ask for the cheapest rate. She had this big smirk. $89.99.  I said, “That’s your cheapest price?” So I drove all the way home.

“I got home at 1:45 am. I am assuming that all the people’s reactions to me were because they thought that I was an abused woman on the run.”

Personally, I’m horrified to know that multiple people left my dear friend lying on the pavement and no one did a thing to help her up or check on her.

Recently, my husband and I saw a woman fall in a parking lot and we stopped our car to get out and see if she was okay. My husband helped her up, brushed her off, and made sure she was not in need of an ambulance before we left. Isn’t that what a normal, decent person would do? And yet I’ll never forget that 20 years ago my 92-year-old neighbor once lay on the sidewalk with a broken wrist for two hours as numerous people walked right past her.

So the fact that no one went to Carole’s aid isn’t that unusual. People just can’t seem to be bothered to do the right thing anymore. It sickens me. And the idea that people found her condition funny, that there was no empathy for her situation whatsoever, disgusts me to the very marrow of my being.

Is there no compassion left in this world? Don’t we give a fig about our fellow man anymore? What has caused such a lack of humanity? How do we get it back?

I’m ashamed of the human race right now.

By the way, Carole says she’s feeling much better. I’m glad to hear it. But it should have gone much differently. Lest we forget, we all fall down sometimes.

_______________________________________________

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Random Memories from Childhood and What They Taught Me

Children are very impressionable. A flip, sarcastic remark may become a life lesson for them, rightly or wrongly. Here are some lessons that I learned growing up. Some I have worked very hard to unlearn.

I had taken a magic marker and doodled “bad” words on my white Keds. Given my age, around 5, they were probably shockers like, “poopy head” and the like. My mother wasn’t thrilled, though. But she hated confrontation. We went to the grocery store and I was wearing them. After we had loaded the groceries into the trunk, I was getting into the back seat and one of my shoes fell off in the parking lot. I said, “Hold on, Mom! My shoe fell out of the car!” She sped away, saying we were in too much of a hurry to go back, and that there were other cars in the parking lot wanting her to move. Lesson: Adults can lie when it suits their purposes.

We were trailer camping, and the camp manager came up and told us to stay inside, as a man had broken out of a nearby prison. We heard helicopters and saw flashlights in the distant woods. But I had brought no toys or books (I was about 7) and after about an hour I got really bored, and I begged my mother to let me at least go outside and sit at the picnic table. She let me, because she got tired of my whining (which from my adult perspective was a horrible solution), and I went out there and sat in the dark. Then I saw a man walking toward me out of the fog. So I got up, went to the trailer’s screen door, and it was LOCKED. I didn’t want to yell for my mother, because I was afraid I’d draw the man’s attention. So I stage whispered, “Mom, let me in!” and scratched at the door. She was sitting right there, lost in her book. I could see her. She had to have heard me. She was just annoyed that I had been such a pain earlier. “Mom!” I was convinced I was about to be killed or taken hostage. Then the guy walked up behind me and said, “Ma’am, you should keep your daughter inside.” She let me in. I have never been so scared in all my life. And I also learned that my mother was indifferent to my needs at the best of times. I pretty much had to raise myself. When I look back at some of the emotionally neglectful and/or downright irresponsible things she did to me as a child, I’m horrified and disgusted. And kind of proud that I survived.

A teenaged boy, at the swimming pool, once put his hand on my head and pushed my ten-year-old self under the water and locked his elbow while I underwater screamed and struggled. If he hadn’t let me up, I would have drowned. I ran home and told my mother, and she didn’t take it seriously. I learned two things from that one. If a guy wants to kill you, you’ll be dead. And when the sh** hits the fan in my life, I’d be on my own.

When, at age 13, I finally told my mother that my stepfather had been sexually abusing me, she said, “You’re making too much of it.” Lesson: My safety mattered to no one but myself, and grown ups live in convenient little fantasy worlds and can’t be counted on.

My mother had gotten herself a brand new aluminum cake cover. I noticed that if you held it by the handle on top and thumped it, it made an amazing “bong” sound. I was 8, and was also experimenting with my cassette recorder. She wasn’t home, so I decided to record a home cake cover concert. When she returned, I proudly played the recording for her. When she discovered my instrument of choice, she went into the pantry to find her cake cover covered in dents. I had been enjoying the sound so much I hadn’t even noticed the results. Lesson: Not everyone finds joy in the same ways that you do. (And also that when I’m in the zone, everything else tends to fade away. That’s still true to this day.)

My sister, twisting a half a grapefruit in my face and laughing as I screamed and cried. From that I got that my sister (who was 9 years older) genuinely did not like me at all, to the point of taking delight in my humiliation, so I must not be likeable. (She likes me now, and always loved me. But I struggle to feel liked by anyone to this day, and while this incident wasn’t the primary reason for that, I’m sure it didn’t help.)

My other sister, 10 years older than me, got chronic kidney infections. One day she looked at me and said she may have to take one of my kidneys someday. I was 8. It made me feel as though I had no autonomy, even over my own body. (And let’s face it. As a woman, I still feel that way quite often.)

A more lighthearted one. I was sitting in the kitchen with my stepfather. There were about 3 flies buzzing around. He told me he’d give me a nickel for every fly I swatted. So I propped open the door and let in more flies. From this I learned that it pays to think outside of the box.

Lessons can come at you from all directions. They may not always be the right ones, unfortunately. You, too, are teaching, even when you don’t realize it. So it’s important to be thoughtful with your words, kind with your deeds, and make sure everyone feels safe and heard. Anything less can cause a lifetime of destruction.

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Lovegry

There is a certain kind of anger that can only be brought out of you by a loved one. It’s that blinding rage born of pure terror when they are doing something risky or idiotic. “What do you MEAN, you’ve joined a cult and are giving out free hugs in the midst of a pandemic?!”

I have a name for that worried fury, that impotent rage, that helpless frustration that makes your ears ring and everything around you turn white. I call it being “lovegry”. If you didn’t love that person so much, you wouldn’t be bothered with these strong feelings. You’d simply shake your head at this relative stranger and say, “what a fool.”

I’ve only been lovegry a handful of times in my life. Mainly because I don’t have children of my own. And, mostly, the people I love are relatively reasonable.

But, oh, when that feeling washes over me, it’s a very confusing and contradictory moment. Because I want to kill that person with my bare hands. Because they’re doing something dangerous. Because I want to save them. I suspect it’s like hugging a child who has run away, but also shouting, “Don’t you EVER do that to me again!”

If you’re ever feeling lovegry, congratulations. You’re human. Just try not to kill anyone until the mood passes.

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Hip Hop on the Drawbridge!

You see a lot of strange things when you gaze out of a drawbridge tower’s window. Especially late at night. There is no end to late night drawbridge shenanigans.

Some things, like suicides or assaults, are so horrible that you wish you could un-see them. Other things are delightful, such as marriage proposals. But what I saw the other night was unprecedented, and it was a pure joy to experience.

The reason I even bothered to look up is that I heard a shout. It didn’t sound like a shout of anger. It was more like a happy shout. Still, it got my attention.

And right there, in the glow of a street lamp, and (unfortunately) right in the middle of the bike lane, were two young men. And they were dancing.

You could tell that these two were close friends. There was a give and take going on that you only experience with people whom you trust. They were showing each other moves. They were teaching, and learning. They were having fun.

I didn’t have any boats on the horizon, so I doubted I would have to open the drawbridge anytime soon. I let them do their thing. They were out there for about two hours. I have no idea whether they were good or bad. Nor did I care. It was an entertaining way to pass part of my shift.

It did my heart good to see two people being able to let loose and have fun again. It was nice to see that kind of connection. It reminded me that people still need one another, and can do beautiful things, if given the chance. I wish I had had the opportunity to thank them for that gift, but by the end of my shift, they had already left.

I’ll leave you with a few videos of them. I didn’t want to intrude too much, so I kept them short. I wish I could have heard the music, but they were too far away.

Keep dancing, guys.

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Mid-Month Marvels: Life After Hate

A recurring theme in this blog is the celebration of people and/or organizations that have a positive impact on their communities. What they do is not easy, but it’s inspirational, and we don’t hear enough about them. So I’ve decided to commit to singing their praises at least once a month. I’m calling it Mid-Month Marvels. If you have any suggestions for the focus of this monthly spotlight, let me know in the comments below!

It seems that now, more than ever, a lot of people are walking around full of the type of hate and anger that leads to violence. This often stems from fear for their futures, alienation, uncertainty, trauma, shame and/or abuse. But violence has never solved anything. If anything, it perpetuates more hate, anger, and violence.

“Research shows that many violent extremists become disillusioned with the so-called ‘movement’”, according to the organization called Life After Hate, which was founded by former extremists in an effort to turn the tide. Their website states that “Life After Hate is committed to helping people leave the violent far-right to connect with humanity and lead compassionate lives. Our vision is a world that allows people to change and contribute to society without violence. Our primary goal is to interrupt violence committed in the name of ideological or religious beliefs. We do this through education, interventions, academic research, and outreach.”

Here’s an organization that does not pass judgment. They just offer a path forward. They offer insight and advice. They help you let go and break free.

Constant hate or anger has got to be exhausting after a while. If you want to find another way, if you want to move on with your life but don’t know how, or you have a family member who is heading down a violent path and you don’t know what to do, this organization is for you.

For more information, check out this PSA, and also this story of one family transformed. After that, reach out to them at info@lifeafterhate.org, or call 612-888-EXIT (3948).

Please join me in supporting Life After Hate. No judgment. Just help. We could all use a little of that from time to time.

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“I’m So Glad You Were Born”

I tend to write that in birthday cards. Some think that’s weird. But I don’t look at birthdays as a mere placeholder for the passage of time, or a great excuse to eat cake and send subtly insulting cards. No. It’s a day to celebrate the fact that you came into this world. What a gift!

Most people view birth as a momentous occasion, of course, but do we all fully grasp just how momentous it is? Yes, you now have a new family member. Yes, your DNA has been passed on to the next generation. Yes, the kid is cute. Yes, you have dreams for their future. But there’s even more to it than that.

I can think of several people who have radically changed my life, mostly for the better. If they had not been born, I’d be an entirely different version of myself. Each life is like a stone that’s thrown into a universal pond. The ripple effects are infinite. Even total strangers can make a difference. They can pull you out of the path of a bus. They can pay for your Starbucks and cheer you up. They can vote a particular way, and/or they can storm the Capitol Building.

If Jonas Salk hadn’t been born, we might still be battling polio. If Malala Yousafzai hadn’t been born, girls the world over might be missing out on an education. If one of your ancestors hadn’t existed, you wouldn’t exist either. We’re all intertwined.

Today is my dear husband’s birthday. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without him in it. If he hadn’t been born, my entire world would be altered. I’d probably be walking through life sensing that something was wrong, and not being able to put my finger on it, just as I did before I met him. I’d be living a tragedy that I wouldn’t even be cognizant of. Lucky for me he was born. (Happy birthday, love!)

We are all interconnected in such subtle, yet complex ways that we all have an impact beyond our comprehension. So, yes, I’m glad you were born, dear reader, for reasons that neither of us may even know!

I’ll leave you now with this link to one of my favorite comfort songs that explains it much better than I ever could. It’s a great song. Check it out here. I defy you to not feel better about life in general after hearing it. But if you are unwilling or unable to listen to it, at least read the lyrics.

“WE ARE” (By Dr. Ysaye M. Barnwell)

For each child that’s born, a morning star rises,
And sings to the universe who we are.

We are our grandmother’s prayers.
We are our grandfather’s dreamings.
We are the breath of our ancestors.
We are the spirit of god.

We are …
Mothers of courage,
Fathers of time,
Daughters of dust,
Sons of great visions.

We are …
Sisters of mercy
Brothers of love
Lovers of life and
The builders of nations.

We are seekers of truth
Keepers of faith
Makers of peace and
The wisdom of ages.

We are our grandmother’s prayers.
We are our grandfather’s dreamings.
We are the breath of our ancestors.
We are the spirit of god.

WE ARE ONE.

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