The Untold Stories of the Word of the Year

“Challenge.  It’s my word for 2015,” she said.

At that moment, for reasons I cannot explain, we knew that the conversation to follow would be memorable.  It was just clear that the four of us had moved from frivolous, fun, no-direction chatter to a much higher, sequential, magical plane.  We were about to discuss life and its importance. And from my vantage point, we weren’t disappointed with what followed.

Her plan was to select one word.  Just one word.  She would use that one word as a guide, a beacon for her journey from January until December.  She offered no additional rules, and asked if we wanted to participate.  Just choose one word and keep a steadfast focus on that word until the end of the year.  We all nodded in agreement.

In less than one week, my three friends had landed on their words: Challenge . . . Change . . . Zen, all intriguing, inspiring, daring, complex choices. But, within the same week,  I was still in some type of holding pattern.  Wordless.

Along with starting off 2015 searching for the right word, it just happened that I had been reading some very interesting writing.  A blog, familiar to me in the year past, was detailing circumstances in countries beyond my experiences.  The topics varied from post to post with what I identified as a golden thread of humanity holding it all together.  I would see the photos and read the words, and quickly my mind was blurring with thoughts.

Suddenly, I had a plethora of potential 2015 word possibilities: free, help, center, food, happy, others, world, poverty, irony, give, get, lost, woman.  The more I read, the more words floated to the top.  Now, my problem was no longer a lack of words; it was finding and selecting the right word from the crowded list.

Hmmm . . . what to do . . . .

Though my friend provided no particular rules, by default there seems to be a couple.  First, the one word that I choose must fit all occasions.  It must be able to balance between moments of distinct joy and happiness as well as moments of considerable pain and sadness.  The word must be able to lead me to new adventures, remind me of the difference between good and evil, give me an anchor when I need it, and allow me to laugh, love, and learn throughout an entire year.  It should be bold, blessed, and at times, comical . . . humorous . . . fun.   It should have an intent.

Even with knowledge and consideration of such rules, the days of 2015 began to pass in rapid succession without me finalizing my pick.  I truly was headed towards a million choices and not the selection of one, floundering in a pile of words, until . . . today.

In an odd moment early this morning, I found my word.  I happened to be walking through a snow-covered field at 7:45am.  It was a quiet moment.  The snow had settled, the morning had no wind, and the hour was too early for any traffic. The sun was peeking over a ridge of barren trees and a lonely bird swooned overhead.  It was a picturesque moment, an outdoor winter splendor.

A Crazy-Funny Winter Moment

A Crazy-Funny Winter Moment

Regardless of the extent of the beauty before me, my attitude was not following in kind.  My feet were cold, my shoes were wet.  The 6+ inches of snow buried the trail for my walk, and each step felt like I was trudging through cement moments before it solidified. My iPod blared out all the wrong music, but with a temperature below zero, I wasn’t about to remove my gloves to change it.  And the struggle in walking through the mounds of snow was causing me to be what I thought was late for my eventual rendezvous with my family – who were all comfortably inside about two miles away.

In that moment, at that time, just as my frustrations were nearly getting the best of me, it happened.  After nearly fifty days and after some interesting thinking on my part, I found that one word that I could hang my hat on for the rest of 2015.  As a matter of course, the one word is actually two, but its essence fits the bill.

So for 2015, I am going with crazy-funny.

For good or for bad, I have a tendency towards the serious side of things.  No doubt, I often see the world as having many challenges and problems.  And I know, deep in my heart,  that I must do all I can to help solve and resolve issues that press at all humans.  I must focus on the greater good at all times, lending all of my talents and treasures to such. It is easy to know that I all should do so.  But it is difficult to follow through with that focus for all of us. –  always.

That’s where my word crazy-funny works for me.

As I seek the greater good, I can see that it is important to laugh – laugh at myself, at life, at the crazy-funny situations that happen each moment.  This morning, I had chosen to walk to my destination through that snow-covered field.  I should have known that the entire experience was going to be nothing more than a crazy-funny circumstance and have expected nothing more.

Once I started to laugh at the strange pickle I was in, (wading through piles of snow with an attitude that was creating a huge weight around my neck), my trek became my pleasure.  It was a classic crazy-funny moment.  It just depended on how I looked at it.  Seeing it as crazy-funny made it so.  Still the same amount of snow, still the same distance, still the same challenges with walking, but it was all different because of the way I interpreted it.

I am hoping that my word choice will allow me  – and force me – to look at my 2015 with a truly different vision. Here’s hoping that I can hold onto the crazy-funny year ahead of me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

39 Years

It was October in Paris, and he asked me if I wanted to take a walk.  It is a question that he has asked me many times in the past, and it is one that I never tire of answering.  With an enthusiastic yes, I grabbed all necessities – including camera – and stepped out onto the street with him.  It was cold and raining, but right away, I knew that I was on another lifetime adventure.  We had no map and no agenda.  We were just out . . . in the city . . . walking . . . to anywhere.

From early morning to late evening, we walked throughout the city – browsing, touring, chatting, pondering, eating, and drinking.  We saw both the glorious and the ordinary – with both sides of that spectrum equally as interesting.  Our feet led us through the inside of famous and not-so-famous museums, through elaborate and not-so elaborate churches, down prominent and nondescript boulevards, and towards both landmarks and unknown hidden gems.

Heading for home at the end of the day, we took a right turn and found ourselves in what can only be described as a park of plenty.  I saw remarkable gardens and teenagers – dressed in preppy school uniforms – playing pick-up games of basketball.  At the edge of a large fountain, which state side we would call a pond, I saw a line of children using sticks to push small sailboats across the water while their parents relaxed nearby reading books.

In the middle of the park I witnessed two men, both dressed in “Jimmy Fallon – I love my tight” pants, playing tennis as if their lives depended on the outcome.  Fifty yards away, I saw an additional ten men, pairing off for friendly yet seemingly fierce chess matches.  And fifty yards from that point, I saw an endless stream of mothers with strollers, infants, and toddlers playing on some of the most extraordinary playground equipment I have ever seen.

But what caught our attention  – as if gardens, tennis, chess, basketball, sailing, reading, and the merry-go-round wasn’t enough – was actually tucked away near the edge of the park. Initially, we were drawn to a bench – more importantly a vacant bench.  We had journeyed for several hours, several miles – all by foot, and as we closed in on the bench, the idea of sitting became more and more appealing.

Had we not sat down, we would not have noticed the rest of the story.

For directly in front of us were two of the most interesting teams of people, playing one of the most interesting games, for what looked like was an interesting mix of both pride as well as a few, no doubt lucrative, side bets.  All of the members on both teams were seemingly old enough to be my parents, with only one of the approximately twenty team members being female.

In the middle of Luxembourg Gardens, these two teams were sparing and jarring over a very competitive game of Boules.  They would toss balls, run to the side of the court, measure the proximity of balls thrown to the stationary ring, and shout out words in their language that needed no translation to be understood in mine.

There were players with their own polishing rags and players wearing specialized shoes and players using pocket play-books to strategize with each other.  The most interesting feature, however, was something that I just had never seen in a park – or anywhere outdoors for that matter. It made me chuckle; it still makes me chuckle.   For sitting just outside the rectangular, rocky playing field was a sturdy, silver, shiny coatrack.

A coatrack. A coatrack.

The day was chilly and wet, but no one was wearing a coat. They were all carefully hanging from the court-side coatrack.   Crazy-funny at its best.

Moments – or an eternity later – we continued our walk.

Like many moments over the past 39 years, neither one of us said a word about what we had just witnessed.  In a relationship, there are many times when words are really pointless.  A look, a smile, a frown, a glance, a wink can convey an entire conversation. Words just lack the power, the ability, the nuances.

I am not sure when we learned the art of not speaking. I am quite sure it wasn’t in our first decade. I do know that as our early years passed, our security in our ability to speak without words has grown.

And in that moment in the park, as we watched twenty people shout and skirmish over a game played by grown-ups tossing balls on a pebble-laden court, with a random coatrack in the background, i knew that I was experiencing a day for the ages.  It is a memory that needs no words, that is memorable, in fact, because of the lack of language – which to me – is nothing shy of awesome.

Soon thereafter, we walked in silence for quite awhile – beyond the Boules courts, the tennis courts, and the chess courts.  I snapped a few more photos, we laughed at the young boy who accidentally fell into the pond chasing his boat, and noticed that the boys in the school uniforms had left for greener pastures.

We, too, did the same, with the silent hope that we will experience more such moments.

The coat rack :-)

The coat rack 🙂

Though I don't know the rules, the game was beautiful.

Though I don’t know the rules, the game was beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Wore My Shorts Inside Out

I wore my shorts inside out. . . For at least ten minutes. . . While shopping. . . With my daughter. . . On vacation. . . In Florida. . . They were lined Nike running shorts. . . Black. . . With black lining. . . Trimmed in neon yellow.

I had just tried on some clothes in a local beach shop. When I put my shorts back on, I put them on inside out. And I didn’t notice. . . At all.

I walked fifty feet to the cashier, bought a couple items, and exited the store.

I turned to my daughter and said, “My shorts feel a little sideways,” . . . never looking down at them. But she did. Within seconds, we were laughing so hard, our eyes were blurry and our stomach muscles hurt.

I actually wore my shorts inside out for at least ten minutes while shopping with my daughter on vacation in Florida, and didn’t notice.

There is no doubt in my mind that wearing my shorts inside out was one of the goofiest things I have ever done. Somewhere I am sure there is a long list of other crazy funny actions on my part. But this one happened a couple days ago, so it has risen exponentially as my number one memorable moment.

I asked my daughter if she thought anyone else noticed. Her response was: “How could others not?” She suggested checking social media quickly for ‘crazy funny woman with shorts on, lined shorts on, inside out’.

As we were still laughing upon returning to our vacation compound, I willingly shared my faux-pas with the remaining assembled relatives. Wearing lined shorts inside out while shopping. There was no need to embellish the story in any way. It was crazy funny in its short form.

I didn’t have to share the embarrassing moment with my vacation family. It was a choice. My daughter, following a politeness protocol, would have graciously kept the story to herself. But I threw caution to the wind and shared it.

I truly believe that the world is crazy funny more often than not. At any given time, someone somewhere is doing something that is just flat out funny. Most embarrassing moments are hysterical if the owners can overcome the embarrassment.

But it isn’t that simple.

Too often crazy funny moments are transformed into anger, frustration, or fright.

I could have blamed my inside out action on the lack of adequate light in the changing room. Or on the minuscule time I had available to shop. Or on my daughter for not alerting me sooner. The whole event could have been framed in anger with me passing blame towards anyone or anything beyond me.

During the same vacation week, I watched a young boy, a new bike rider, at a speed of less than 1/1000 mile per hour ever so slowly run into my cousin. I saw my college age nephew toss a bocce ball that broke into two as it hit the ground. And my thin and trim brother-in-law sat in three beach chairs, breaking each one, within a three hour period.

Each scenario could have been framed differently.

My cousin could have scolded the bike rider. With acres and acres of beach, it was rather quizzical for him to – at a snail’s pace – hit her. The opposing bocce team could have cried foul as a very competitive game came to a screeching halt when my nephew’s bocce ball split. The tournament was effectively ended. And with a three for three broken beach chair track record, my brother-in-law should have been a little frightened to sit in anything. Bodily injury was a possibility and his cost of sitting on the beach was escalating.

Instead we turned to the crazy funny side.

The little boy hopped off the bike, backed away (slowly) and we chuckled. The bocce players looked at the two half moon pieces, laughed, and went for a swim. My brother-in-law trudged three times to the trash can to dispose of the next broken chair while we howled.

And the inside out shorts?

The next morning as I arrived on the beach, five of the sweetest nieces and cousins suited up in their now favorite inside out shorts, inside out lined shorts, for that one extra belly-busting roller coaster laugh.

All I can say is . . . well framed!

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The Changing of the Guard

“Mom, you go first,” she said with confidence.

So I did, and as I looked back at her, I knew times were a-changin’.

The weather was beautiful and the snow was perfect. The slopes were glistening and we were skiing together as we had for the past 25+ years. This year’s ski-adventure started out like all those that preceded it. We arrived at the lift-line a few minutes prior to opening. We secured boots, strapped on helmets, slid on gloves, and clicked into our skis. Moments later, we hopped on the first lift and headed up the slopes. Throughout the initial ride, we chatted briefly about our ski-history . . . the times we had been together on this particular lift . . . the weeks we spent as a family skiing . . . all of the traditions of the past. We smiled because here we were doing it again – skiing for a week, and it was only day one.

Over those past 25+ years, I have learned that she prefers skiing in wide open spaces, in light fresh powder, the faster – the better. Steep downhills don’t phase her, nor does skiing over ice in cold, cold weather. In fact, she is an excellent skier – with the skill and ability to maneuver most any terrain.

At the top of the slopes, we plotted out our first runs – something a little easy to start the day. And for the first hour or so, we traveled back through some of our favorite ski-haunts – pushing powder here and there – gliding and sliding – laughing and chatting.

Finally, we decided to move on to bigger and better runs – something a little more challenging. With the snow conditions perfect and the sun shining, we opted to head to up to the top – to the summit – to see the sights and ski with gusto. A smooth six-person lift took us up. Once off the lift, we stood in awe of what we could see. We were slightly above the treeline – and the Rockies stretched out in front of us for miles and miles and miles.

And there we were paused – looking, watching, thinking – with the feeling that we were standing on top of the world. What we could see was so spectacular that skiing itself took a backseat to the scenery surrounding us. During that moment, time just seemed to stand still with the only sound heard best described by Robert Frost as “easy wind and downy flake.”

“Mom, you go first,” she said with confidence.

So I did.

The slope in front of us was actually a little dicey. Most of the snow at the top had blown off so we were starting out on ice. The second section had been well-skied by others, creating a few navigable moguls. Oddly enough, 500 feet from us, the ski patrol was assisting a young man who looked like he had an unfortunate meeting with a nearby tree. The final section would take us through glades and glades of evergreens until the run flattened out near the bottom.

Skiing is an interesting sport. Any great resort will have terrain for everyone – accommodating both beginners and experts and everyone in between. Most runs have an easy way to the bottom and a challenging, more exciting way as well. Skiers judge their own ability and choose their own paths.

Throughout our ski history, we have always skied following a simple rule – an unwritten and an unspoken one – but a simple one. The strongest skier goes last. If those in front of the last skier encounter challenges beyond their abilities, that strongest skier is a tremendous asset – having the skills to not only self-navigate, but to help navigate others when necessary.

In past years, more often than not, I was the last skier. There were many times when I hauled my children out of ski-misadventures – following them down slopes that were well above their abilities, chasing them down paths through snow-covered trees, fetching runaway skis, and pulling them out of piles of snow after a fall. The last skier.

But with those four simple words, I knew that the times were a-changin’.

I glanced back and saw her standing, confident and proud. She was perched just a few feet away from me and used her ski pole to casually point towards a solid direction that we should take. I nodded equally as casually and pushed myself slightly over the icy start.

The only sound I heard at that point was the swish of my own skis. I knew that she was waiting above me – as I had done for her so many times before – patiently and appropriately, making sure that I wasn’t going to encounter any problem or challenge. It was her turn now and my turn to let her have a turn.

Out of the ice, I hit the short section of moguls, and headed for the trees. I stopped for a brief second and heard snow spraying off of her skies when she stopped immediately behind me. Though nothing outwardly had changed – we typically stopped throughout any ski run, just for fun, laughing, resting, smiling – inwardly much had changed.

Everything in life has its own season, and though my initial response was to delight in seeing her move into a different one, it was also about delighting in my movement as well. I now had another person in my life who was following and watching over me, someone to follow me through my misadventures and fetch my runaway skis. It was the changing of the guard in a part of my life, and all I could think about was all the crazy-fun that would lie ahead for me and for her.

We finished the run with little to no fanfare – which is great when skiing – and hopped right back on the same lift to experience it – one more time, again.

The You Go First Moment

The You Go First Moment

(P.S. – I have been absent from my blog for awhile, but am glad to be back!)

Bring On The Goofy

I am quite sure that under the term ‘nice guy’ in the dictionary, you would likely find a photo of my cousin, Michael.

It is easy to describe Michael – because it is all good.  As a young man, he went to a great college, joined a great fraternity, graduated with a solid degree, and secured a great job right out of the chute.  He is typical tall, dark, and handsome – with a penchant for smiling.  Today, he is a wonderful family man with equally wonderful family members.  He is calm and responsible with that caring demeanor the rest of the world envies.  He has a stellar career, is involved heavily in his community, and happens to be a rather good athlete.

He lives a thousand miles away from me.  And over the past 40+ years, I have been fortunate to have spent a week-long summer vacation each year with Michael.  Sometimes the vacation is longer; occasionally it is shorter.  With all that time together, I thought I knew him as well as anyone might.

But I was wrong.

Turns out . . . he is willingly . . . goofy.  Yes . . . goofy.

As an adult, it’s tough to be openly and enthusiastically . . . goofy.  Children can be goofy and all is well. Goofy dancing in the grocery store at age three – great! Goofy attire in junior high – great! Singing goofy songs loudly at high school football games – great! For youngsters, it is all great to be goofy.  In fact, we often encourage the goofiness in our youth as a way of increasing those crazy-funny moments in our lives that lead us to laughter, hilarity, and merriment. I readily admit that my day is brighter when I run across the goofy-side of the world. Goofy is fun.  But goofy isn’t all that common once we exit our childhood and enter that mysterious adulthood.

I am not quite sure what my definition of goofy has been, but rarely if ever, would I have associated that term with my cousin, Michael . . .  until recently.

Michael is a charitable guy.  He works hard at service to others.  And he isn’t one to want the recognition that comes along with his actions.  In fact, he usually likes to be in the background – doing his thing to help in any way possible. It turns out that Michael is the chair of a fund-raising event in his home town.   It is a great cause and a good, solid charity.  It is in need of funds.  It always is in need of funds as there are more folks who need assistance than current funds available.  So, from my vantage point, it looks like Michael has been asked to lead the efforts in his community to reach a fundraising goal.

And, lo and behold, captured via camera, the world was introduced to his goofy side.  With photos forever etching the moment, Michael is seen standing dressed up in a full-fledged, head to toe Superman costume -including cape – standing in that well-known  Superman-pose that had me do a double take when I saw it.

I laughed . . . and chuckled . . . and smiled.   Michael – in a Superman costume – goofy as can be – putting himself out there for a cause.

Working on causes . . . charitable ones . . . philanthropy . . . isn’t easy for many reasons.

First, the opportunities are endless.  There are hundreds to thousands of great causes – and each one of them deserves assistance. Narrowing the scope and finding a good fit is nearly impossible.  There are local charities, state-wide causes, national organizations, and activities that may have personal ties.  There are opportunities to volunteer time, opportunities that require specific skills and those that just seek donations.  All of them require some type of effort in achieving their goals, and all of them are worthy, but how do we, as humans, make selections?

To add to the dilemma, the older I become, the more I see a world in great need.  From children to adults, the number of people facing daily challenges seems to be growing and growing and growing.  In fact, that number seems to far outweigh the number of folks who can assist.  As a teenager, I was just sure that by the time I entered my later years, I would see a reduction or elimination of the suffering, hunger, or poverty in the world.  How could that not happen?

I recall thinking – and probably chanting at some rally during the 70s – that if I was not part of the solution, then I was part of the problem.  Thus, reaching out and helping was and is the only direction to take.  And as I have aged, I continue to pursue more opportunities to make differences.  But, it doesn’t seem to be making even the slightest dent in the world.  For all of us, it can be disheartening to try so hard to make the world a better place, knowing that the fruits of our labors may come to fruition years, decades, centuries down the road.

And that is where my thoughts of Michael enter the picture.

Sometimes to make that difference in the world – to be a part of the solution – to help those in need – we have to step outside our normal and average selves and go for it!  If that means slipping over to our goofy side and dressing like Superman, then so be it!  If utilizing that sometimes inert goofiness inside all of us positively changes the world just one iota, then we all should strive to engage in the goofy more often.   I can think of no better use of crazy-funny actions than to save the world.

The willingness of others, like Michael, to be goofy to serve the greater good is, well, motivating.  If one person helps for one moment or gives one dollar more because of one action on the part of one person doing something relatively out of character, I am grateful and forever indebted.

So, today, I say . . . bring on the goofy.

mIKE

A photo of my cousin – in his everyday attire!

The View From Above

I work on a college campus, and I love it.

Though my days can be somewhat varied, most of the time there is a carefully plotted out routine to what I do. There are countless committee meetings, reams of email, tons of telephone conversations, numerous one-on-one discussions, lots of small decisions, and large decisions, significant time working with students – faculty – staff on problems, concerns, challenges. . . and the list goes on and on.

It’s normal, average college work and it’s what I do everyday.

As expected, I am generally busy. I come early and stay late.  Sometimes I stop at noon to eat, but more often, I use the lunch hour to catch up on reading, signing things, thinking.  I find my college activities quite interesting.  But, for those on the outside looking in, the picture might not seem so exciting. Instead, it might be viewed as . . . tedious . . . tiring . . . a little too much of the same old – same old, and not enough of the knock your socks off, type stuff.

Admittedly, I spend most days in my office or in conference rooms.  I listen . . . I talk  . . . I read . . . I jot something down . . . I confer with others. I squint my eyes, looking up just in case an answer to whatever problem being discussed floats through my mind. (Rarely happens, but I look anyways.)

Sometimes the day passes without me ever standing up and moving from behind my office desk to the doorway. The two chairs in front of my desk are like seats on a merry-go-round that bring all kinds of folks into my office to chat. Suddenly, I look up and the day is over. I head home. I eat, sleep, wake up and start the process over again. It’s been this way for many years.

Most of the time.

For this is a college, and I know that college life is full of both the expected and . . . the unexpected.

As was the case on December 5th, 2012.

The sun was shining, the weather was perfect, and I was ready.   I slipped out of my regular work attire and into worn-torn jeans, work boots, and a college sweatshirt.  The faculty in the West Building had invited me, and I jumped at the chance.  I was – flat-out – super excited about the opportunity.  It was as if the world leaned over and tapped me on the shoulder for a great, great adventure.

In a few moments, I met my partner-in-crime.  Joe quickly ran through the must-do rules, and I suited up.  One hard hat. Check. One pair of leather gloves. Check.  One cell phone and one camera. Check, check.  And one safety harness with tons of carabiners. Big time check.  And I stood – at the ready – waiting for more instructions.

Joe looked at me and smiled.  He and I both knew that this day wasn’t going to be the usual.  This day wasn’t going to end with me turning out the office lights, shutting the door, and carrying my shoulder bag out to my nearby car.  This day was going to be different.  It was going to be a memory in the making.  This day was going to be one of those crazy-funny college days.

Our campus is a proud one and like other locations, we are becoming more energy-efficient. We have hundreds of geothermal wells throughout campus and several solar panels perched on building rooftops. We recycle everything, drive energy-efficient college cars, collect dead batteries, drink water from the tap, and turn the lights out when we leave our offices. And, most important for this occasion, we have two brand new wind turbines strategically placed on our college farm.

And I was in luck for It was my turn to climb one of those turbines.

The time came, and Joe started to climb first.  Once he was a healthy distance ahead of me, he peered down, motioned for me to connect my safety latch, and begin.  For just a moment, I hesitated.  I was delightfully excited, but from the bottom rung, it looked like a long way up.  I could hear him telling me to take that first step, but my boot seemed glued to the ground.  It was like my mind said go, but my feet said no.

I glanced up and Joe, who was already about fifty feet ahead of me, glanced down.  He smiled and called out my name one more  – and most likely the last – time. And finally, I started to climb.  What I thought I couldn’t do and wouldn’t ever have the opportunity to do, I began to do.  And it was fun – crazy fun.

One step at a time, one foot at a time, rung by rung, I climbed.  I have no idea how long it took me to reach the top.  I only know that it took me longer than it took Joe.  He coached me through the last trap door and onto the top platform enclosure – where there was just enough room for the two of us to stand.

He opened the top hatch, and from that vantage point, the view was stunning.  Farm fields, nearby highways, barns, lakes, silos, the college buildings, athletic fields – the best word to describe it was magnificent.

Oddly enough the only thing that had really changed was that I was no longer at ground level.  I was seeing the same sights I saw everyday – the same farm fields, the same nearby highways, the same barns, the same lakes, etc., and it was like I was seeing something completely different.

I changed my perspective and everything changed.  Everything. Everything.

Today as usual, I sit at my desk with paperwork and people swirling around me, with a routine that feels safe and comfortable, with my shoulder bag waiting to go home right after I click off the office lights at the end of the day.  But I know that if I take the time to look at my world from a slightly different perspective, I will see something totally different  – something very interesting and exciting.  Just depends on where I am standing.

College is crazy-funny that way.

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