This We Believe

Separated by Differences, United by Beliefs

I’m Never Alone

Do you ever have that funny feeling that you’re not alone?  I feel it all the time but it wasn’t until a few years ago when I found out exactly WHY I was feeling that way.

Since I was young I had always had an interest in things that couldn’t be readily explained.  I would watch Ghost Hunters and marvel at all the Halloween specials on TV.  Nothing gave me any proof until I met my friend, Erik.  Erik can communicate with the dead.  Crazy, right?  That’s what I thought too, until he proved it to me in a way that still blows my mind.

Out of the blue one day Erik told me my grandfather, who died of cancer in 2006, was there with us.  Erik began by describing, in detail, my grandfather’s family.  He described my father and his three brother’s physical traits, ages, and specifically naming their birth dates.  He listed some of my grandfather’s favorite meals that his wife, my grandmother, cooked for him during his life.  But the one thing Erik said that made me believe was the mention of a moment my grandfather and I shared when I was just a young child.

When I was just a few years old, I toddled into the living room and noticed my grandfather napping on the couch.  I stood and watched him for a few moments.  Then, I pulled a pillow off the couch and plopped it on the ground next to the couch, proceeded to lie down and fall asleep next to my grandfather.

No one but my father knew about that moment until he told me about it a few years ago.  It was at that moment that I knew all the things that Erik had told me and all the things that I had thought about the paranormal world was real.

I believe that we are never truly alone in our lives.  No matter what happens or what bumps in the road we come to, our loved ones are never far behind to comfort us in the only way they know how; by being there even if it is from a different place that we cannot fully understand.  And now when I get that funny feeling that I am not alone, I no longer feel any fear, but comfort.

Because of my grandfather coming through to me years ago, I know that no matter what problems arise in my life, or no matter how hard it is to get out of bed some days, I am never alone.

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Just Three Days

June 7th, 2010. January 21st, 2011. March 8th, 2011.

The three days that have shaped me the most in my eighteen years.

June 6th, just another summer day. But, it was my birthday. I was ecstatic and didn’t let the fact of going to school bring me down. I got numerous calls from people, but there is one call I remember the most, it was my Aunt Wendy. My Aunt Wendy is my dad’s sister and being that my parents separated and I spent most of my time with my mom, I hardly got to see her, but we still remained very close.

I ignored the phone call. I told myself I was too busy to take it.

It was June 7th, 2010. I woke up and went to school. When I got home, my mom was sitting at the table. She said, “Sit down, hun.”…

January 21st, 2011. Snow fell to the ground as I watched through the window. When is this class going to be over? I thought. The bell rang. Freedom. I grabbed my things and was off to the bus. When I got home, I checked my phone. I had three missed calls from my Aunt Debi. So I called her back…

It was the evening of March 8th, 2011. I was in the car with my mom driving home. We were just talking and singing along to the radio. That is when I got the phone call from my cousin Rikki…

June 7th, 2010 my Aunt Wendy passed away. On January 21st, 2011  my Grandma, my Aunt Wendy’s mother passed away. And March 8th, 2011 my father, my aunt Wendy’s brother, passed away.

There are so many things I regret. I wished I had picked up my aunt’s call. I listened to that voicemail over and over again. I wished I had spent more time with my Grandma after she had developed Alzheimer’s. Mostly, I wished I had taken time to spend with my dad.

I had always taken my dad for granted. I never wanted to go over to his house for the weekend and when I did, I spent the time doing things with my cousin. I always treated him like he wasn’t good enough. I hadn’t talked to my dad for months before he passed, I remember when I saw him at my grandma’s funeral, I tried to avoid him.

When I see teens complain about how much they hate their parents because they tell them not to do something or to act a certain way it makes me upset. I wish I could show them how short life is, that you never know when you’ll wake up and the people you love will no longer be there.

This is why I believe that no moment should be taken for granted. Don’t let the fights last too long, never say something that you don’t mean, and tell the people you love that you love them as much as you can.

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Acceptance vs Happiness

I believe in happiness.

I thought that college was going to be like in the movies, where everyone is still trying to find themselves and open to accepting others. I’ve heard nothing but great things from both of my parents about college life and I sure couldn’t wait to get in on the action after I graduated high school, but that’s definitely not how my first year went.

My first year of college, I became associated with a group of girls that would slowly deteriorate me to nothingness. Though I didn’t know it then, I would become a person that I wouldn’t even recognize.

I entered the group knowing exactly what I wanted which was to be appreciated and accepted as one of their own and it started off just the way I was hoping. I was thrilled. In that moment, I couldn’t picture myself in a better situation, but that’s where I also slowly started to lose myself.

I tried to push it to the back of my mind but I started to notice them making fun of me behind my back as well as making me more of an outcast every day. I thought I was going crazy. Every time I would talk to one of them or say hello, they would snarl at me or laugh like I said the funniest joke. Some days they would never even acknowledged I was near. I didn’t understand.

Questions flooded my mind. Was I just imagining this? What if they were treating me poorly? Why would they? What did I do? Despite the tears and the anguish, I needed to continue because I wanted so badly be accepted by them that I was willing to sacrifice my own dignity. I needed to find a way into their group. I would be a no body if I didn’t.

But I found myself becoming sad and angry more often. I doubted myself every moment of the day, but I kept my eyes down and tried my best to continue.

One afternoon, I decided not to hang out with them because I wasn’t feeling well and I was getting behind in homework. I felt this foreign emotion of excitement, happiness, and carefree joy. It all came so fast and so strong, it was like something that I’d never felt before but yet I felt like I had at the same time. It was as if I was being reintroduced to an old friend. I was free. I knew in that moment that I had to leave, something had to change and I had to be happy once more.

I left and never turned back. There are days when I doubt my decision and wonder what it would be like if I continued. But I know in my heart that I made the right decision because now I know that happiness is more important than trying to fit in. And now, I believe in happiness.

 

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How One Movie Changed My Life

At this time in the world, we are constantly being bombarded by information.  The internet has thousands of new articles every day.  The local news is on every morning and every night.  Social media is full of the passing of information. For me the loudest voice has come from film.

A lot of people watch a movie just for the outcome of a story; I watch a movie to get a glimpse of someone else’s world.  If at the end I have a new outlook on life, then I know it was worth seeing.  Blackfish was one movie that changed my life forever.

The documentary starts with what looks like an actual attack.  The trainer is alone in the water and a killer whale is circling below.  He swims closer and the trainer looks down at him.  Then the whale darts at his feet and pushes him out of the water, but its part of the performance.

The film transitions to interviews with former Sea World trainers.  Everyone has big smiles on their faces talking about their first times in the water and how much of a connection they had with their whales.  But then those smiles turn to tears when they’re asked about Dawn.  Dawn was the most recent victim of the killer whale named Tilikum.  She was their most experienced trainer.

It turns to police reports of a detective talking with a paramedic from Sea World.  The paramedic explains that they never found Dawn’s arm because Tilikum swallowed it.  At this point, I’m angry with the whale and I have so many questions going through my head.  Mainly, why would Tilikum do this?  The film makers had this same question and this becomes the center of their documentary.

They interview a whale researcher.  He explains that whales are brilliant creatures with a strong sense of family.  They are gentle giants that have never hurt a human in the wild, unless provoked.  Sea World took these emotional animals and stuck them in a pool, what would feel like a bath tub to us, for their entire lives and separated them from their families.  These whales are so frustrated that they take it out on each other and cause serious harm.  When that’s not enough, they take it out on their trainers.

After an hour and a half of feeling immense pity for these creatures I had a new mission in life.  I want to make the captivity of killer whales illegal.  Seeing videos of their depressed eyes and raked skin caused an emotional reaction that will never fade.  A reaction I would’ve never felt if I’d read an article on it.

Film forces you to watch what a day in the life of a subject feels like.  There are clear images right in front of you that can pull at your heart strings like no other form of information can.  This film changed my life and I believe film has the power to change anyone else’s.

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Hero in the Streets

My father is my hero.

For many years, he worked hard to support his wife and two sons at an old hardware store downtown. He did whatever needed to be done to keep his family happy. I don’t think that it was entirely his fault when my parents got a divorce. My mother had met someone else, there’s nothing he could do about it.

Some of my fondest childhood memories come from my time living with my dad in the apartment he rented after the break up. He would make my brother and I barbeque chicken on the grill every weekend, and joke around and play video games with us, all while our favorite wrestling show would blare from the T.V.

My dad has been my hero my whole life. That’s why it is devastating to know that he now lives on the streets. Many years full of bad decisions, anger towards my mother, and depression lead to my father’s current position.

His life often reminds me of a sick joke, with the cards constantly being stacked against him. It’s as if he breaks down one wall, only to have another one built, obstructing any sort of goal that he has for himself. True, making better decisions could have kept him from being homeless, but so many other factors play in to my dad’s story. I myself don’t even think I know the half of what my dad really has went through. Because of this, I try to give my father the benefit of the doubt. Regardless of everything that has happened, I don’t treat him any differently. When I talk to him, I’m not talking to a homeless man. The man in front of me is still my father, and I still have all of the respect for him in the world. The decisions that he made in his life have put him in the situation he is in now, but they do not define who he is.

I believe that nobody should be the victim of a snap judgment. Walking past my dad on the street, one might think that he’s just the typical homeless man, even though my father looks exactly the same as he did when he was employed and living under a roof. The idea of living on the streets changes people’s perceptions. When people see my dad, they have no idea that they are looking at a proud father of two, a man that used to own his own house, and a hard worker who managed his own store downtown. Nobody knows my dad when they look at him, they just know that he lives on the street.

Everybody, no matter their position in life, has a story. People face different struggles everyday, and our decisions create our future. One bad decision could change somebody’s life, and ultimately, define how we perceive them.

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Background Revelations in a Kitchen

An honest way of describing me for a considerable bulk of my 19 year life would be “judgmental.” This trait isn’t exclusive to me—my family and close friends succumb to quick presumptions of others as well. It tainted my perception of people for a long time. Finding work at a custard restaurant of all places ended up being the key to my dilemma. After that experience, I can safely say I believe that you can never truly judge a person before you know his or her background.

Working in the kitchen at Culver’s could be a scary experience. There was a young man from Chicago who referred to everyone as “guy” and had a kid at 16. A manager had teeth missing from what is unanimously agreed to be alcoholism. A couple of the other guys would sell drugs after close. Being in my late teens, an aspiring scientist, and having never smoked or drank alcohol in my life, fitting in was a chore for about 22 hours a week.  I viewed them all in a negative light.

One kitchen worker, Tyler, stood out. In his early twenties, he seemed to share the same disgust I did for most of the store. He was typically sarcastic and swore like a sailor. I quickly befriended him, thinking he had a mentality just like mine due to our similar attitude about everyone else. Slowly I began to learn more and more about him through occasion inquisition, whether it concerned his constantly aching back or anger towards the world.

On a summer night while closing the kitchen, everything poured out.

About five years prior, Tyler was bitten on the chin by a rat belonging to a friend. He got Rat Bite Fever, a disease that resulting in bacteria destroying his cartilage, leaving him in relentless pain. He sued and ended up with over $50,000, which he promptly spent frivolously. He bought an aquarium, traveled around, bought drinks for everyone at the bar… anything he desired. Now he made eight dollars an hour putting ketchup on buns, despite being a manager at another store.

Everyday was a struggle for him. He barely had enough to keep an apartment with his girlfriend, his parents weren’t on good terms with him, school was impossible, and he got screamed at daily by Culver’s managers. I would never have presumed any of this, only that he was unlike the other workers. That night felt surreal.

I know there are other people out there, good and bad, who have had lives filled with negativity. Tyler had made honest mistakes in his life, and he received no appreciation from anyone due to quick judgments about his attitude and personality. I never would have guessed he had been through those tough times, and here he was facing the world with an attitude comparable to mine, despite such different lives. Now, I try to never make assumptions and always keep an open mind.

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When Death Seemed Close

News of tumors and heart attacks is unpleasant to hear. No child ever wants to see their parents get sick.  No parent ever wants to see their child in serious danger.  Over the span of a month, both of these things happened to my family.

During October of my senior year of high school, I got news from my mom that my dad was very sick. He was playing basketball the night before, nothing out of the ordinary, when he began feeling faint, and his heart was beating uncontrollably. My mom freaked out and she drove him to the local hospital where they discovered he was having a minor heart attack. He was only 38 years old.

Two weeks later, I went into the doctor’s office to get my updated physical for the basketball season. Everything was normal until the physician began listening to my heart. She told me I had a heart murmur, and it was unusual because I didn’t have a murmur two years before. After a couple of further tests, I was told I had a tumor in my heart on one of the valves. Thankfully it was a benign tumor, but I wasn’t going to be able to participate in the basketball season that year, or in any intense physical activity for that matter. This news crushed me.

For those few weeks, upon getting the news of my dad’s heart attack, and my own tumor, death seemed so close to me.  I began to think about how I would live if my dad died, or if I was given a limited amount of time to live. I started to care more about certain things that I didn’t pay much mind to before. I cared more about family, friends, and any relationships I was fortunate to have, and less about TV, video games, and any other pastimes. Why would I want to pass the time? Time seemed so precious to me.

All my fear, bitterness, and hate was gone. I didn’t feel like it mattered anymore. What did any of that matter if I was going to die? Why did any of those useless feelings even matter in the first place? I don’t know, but I do know that I will never waste my time holding onto those feelings again.

I learned to be thankful for the little things in life, appreciating family, friends, food, and shelter. Things that I just took for granted before, but now felt so fragile. Life itself felt fragile.

Thankfully, my dad and I are ok, but these events made me reconsider what I value in this life. These events lead me to discover a new belief.

I believe that the richest life I can live is a life lived like I am dying.

 

 

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Angry, Violent… Or Misunderstood? Uncovering Who They Really Are

It was my first metal concert. Hundreds of music fans filled the space around me, the distortion of the guitars hit my ears with never ending intensity, and I could feel every hit of the drums and bass pounding in my chest. This was it, I was finally going to see my favorite band and have an experience that I would never forget, but not for the reason I was expecting or could have ever prepared for.

Everyone had started moving around violently and pushing each other back and forth. It was like the doors had just been let open for Black Friday shoppers. I tried removing myself from the area but it was too late. I knew in my head what was going to happen next; the mob mentality was going to be the end of me. I lost my balance and went down. I was sure that I was done for. I was going to be trampled and seriously injured.

But to my surprise, I was on the ground for a maximum of two seconds. Everyone around me who was going crazy only two seconds before stopped abruptly to help me up. They all made sure I was okay before getting back to the concert. I was unharmed and able to move to a safer area quickly after.

I believe that the cover does not make the book. What I learned that day was and continues to be an important lesson that I apply to my everyday life. Never underestimate the good in others.

I thought the average metal music fan was angry and violent. But when I got to know the metal culture I quickly learned that it doesn’t support violence; rather, it speaks against it. The messages encourage making a difference, standing up for what you believe in, and ending violence. These messages were reflected in those people who helped me that day, and it is something I never would have before matched with their identity. Through their actions they were able to open my eyes and as a result, I got to know more metal fans. Now looking back, some of the best friendships I have made have been through a common interest in metal. I joined a community where everyone can display who they are and feel accepted.

Even today I continue to play that experience in my head over and over again, and the more I do, the more I am able to see the good in others.

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Fight For Love, With Love, Against Love

Fighting isn’t always pretty, but it’s not always bad. Sometimes it’s good. If done correctly, you can get within yourself to a point that activates change. I believe fighting with a loved one – for love, can be beneficial. My boyfriend does this for me almost every day; we argue.

My memory starts with me and my boyfriend sitting in his car pulled over on the side of the road Christmas day. I was tearing up, mid panic attack with the holiday stress and I missed my anti-anxiety meds that day.

“Why are you so worried? What does it matter what people think? Why are you so upset? Why are you crying? Why won’t you talk to me?” He bombarded me with questions, the usual way. I was hyperventilating. All I wanted was to go home and get this day over with.

“Just get us home.” I said mutely, close to my breaking point.

“No. We are going to sit-”

“BUT WE ARE LATE. Don’t make me cry and let them see my red eyes-”

“MICHELLE I DON’T GIVE A DAMN WHAT THEY THINK, WHAT MATTERS IS YOU!” I started to bawl.

“JUST SHUT UP AND TAKE ME HOME. I hate you! You always pester me all the time! Just leave me alone!!” I broke down shaking, a seething ball of energy towards him.

“Fine, I won’t ask you anything anymore.” In that moment, he gave up on me. I felt like I finally won.

Stress and anxiety are my middle name. I was depressed and lonely. It wasn’t until recently that I realized: he was right. Why did I freak out so badly? I subconsciously blurred out bad memories, until I realized I was the problem. Fear – afraid of having my walls I built up for so long, to be broken down. He reached inside me so far that day, and every other day we fight. I didn’t want to hurt him by fighting him; I felt I was always hurting him.

I felt so upset, and I couldn’t figure out why. He was opening up my very soul – something inside that I didn’t know existed or understood. That’s uncomfortable and I fought to keep him away – outside.

It’s not that I am not that stress ball anymore, but I have changed. I was terrified to be both vulnerable, yet loved in that moment. But he fought hard to bring me out- the real me, and still does every day. I am now real with him – raw and even passive-aggressive – but at least that’s something. My passion to fight him and his ideas was the passion to fight for me. He got to me in a way that I never knew was possible, and other people should have that experience too. Don’t be afraid to fight – fight for what you feel and fight for what you love. You will never be more surprised with whatever comes your way – whether that is freedom, sense of self or simple change.

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Grandmothers Know Best

I believe that each moment, whether they be extraordinary or mundane, should be appreciated for what they are: a unique space of time that will never again exist. I view moments in this particular fashion because of one I had with my grandmother.  While sitting in her small but comfortable living room, my grandma forever changed my outlook on the moments that make up my life.

On this day, I was seriously questioning the decisions I was making as a mother. I turned to my grandma and asked her, “Grandma, what decisions did you make as a mother that you regret the most?” My grandmother turned and looked at me with her no nonsense gaze and answered, “Nothing”. “Nothing?” I asked, sincerely confused. “Not a thing,” she insisted. As I was wondering how this could possibly be true, she reached over and grabbed my hand and said, “Carly, I don’t regret a damned thing I did while I was raising my kids, because I did what I thought was right at the time. If you always do what you think is in the best interest of the moment, you’re not doing the wrong thing”.

I was genuinely surprised by my grandmother’s perspective and I thought about what she had said to me quite a bit after that day. Finally it dawned on me exactly what grandma had meant.

First, I had to ask myself, what is a moment? Because that part of her statement stuck with me, the “in the best interest of the moment”. Life is nothing but a series of moments, played out over and over again. And though they repeat, they are never constant. Each moment is unique. And every moment is a brand new opportunity to begin anew. For me, this means I won’t be wasting time on regrets and “what if’s”. Instead I’ll be striving to make the next series of moments better than the last.

At the time, I took what my grandmother said to me as advice on how to be a better parent. However, the more I thought about it the more I realized that my grandmother was telling me to take those moments and live them the best that I could. To not regret how I used those moments because they are gone and are never coming back. And while that is certainly excellent parenting advice, it is also a life altering way to view the time one has been given.

Many of us spend too much of our lives worrying, stressing, and regretting. Many spend so much time on those activities that they are failing to appreciate the details, to stop and smell the roses, as the old saying goes.

Thus I believe each moment should be enjoyed and appreciated.  Rejoice in the everyday and the once in a lifetime. Individual moments are unique, and appreciating them will help each of us savor the moments that make up our lives.

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The Power of Plants

“Let Food be Thy Medicine, and Medicine be Thy Food”-Hippocrates

At age 23 a strong, otherwise healthy Lexus mechanic fell extremely ill with what he believed was the flu. Unable to keep anything down and with his kidneys passing blood, he ended up in the ER. He was suffering from acute kidney failure, a life threatening situation. A biopsy of his kidney was taken, and Jake, my fiancé, was diagnosed with IgA Nephropathy. IgA Nephropathy is a chronic kidney disease, one he will have for the rest of his life. During that summer day, his life changed forever. Months go by, and many blood tests were performed. The results were always the same, chronic kidney disease.

Following the only accepted treatment plan, he was prescribed many medications such as steroids, diuretics (water pills), blood pressure medication and countless supplements. These prescriptions are not intended to reverse or heal the existing kidney damage; they are only meant to prolong life as long as possible. Eventually chronic Kidney disease leads to kidney transplant or dialysis, but those too are only temporary solutions. Unfortunately, preventing further kidney damage came at a large expense, Jake’s quality of life. The supplements and steroids made him feel like a completely different person. I watched him countless days sick, tired, and in pain. I wiped his tears while he asked me to please not let him die in a hospital. My heart was breaking.

Feeling helpless and frustrated watching the one I love suffer, I decided to take medicine into my own hands.

Adhering to a plant based diet that is gluten free, low in sodium, oil free, and whole grain became my new treatment plan for Jake. I read as much information on this lifestyle as I could, and watched a documentary on the health benefits of avoiding animal products. After adopting this diet, something wonderful happened. His body started to heal.

Jakes body stabilized. His blood pressure returned to normal levels and he regained a considerable amount of kidney function. But kidneys aren’t like skin; it’s rare for them to heal.

I was already pursuing my dream of becoming a doctor when I met Jake, but now my focus has shifted from being an ER doctor, to a doctor that prevents patients from ending up in the ER. Preventative medicine allows people to spend more time living their lives, and less time feeling sick and recovering from disease. After all, preventing disease is easier than reversing disease, and a plant based diet prevents many lifestyle diseases that inflict millions of Americans today. The words Hippocrates spoke long ago have new meaning in an era where medications reign as a trusted way to combat diseases. I believe that food is medicine. I’ll stick to healing my patients with food and encouragement. So they too, can share the same tears we did. Tears of joy when his blood tests came back with wonderful results, he is no longer on any medication or supplements.

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I Have the Right to Care

I grew up knowing that discrimination happened.  I was too naïve to recognize it happening to me and those around me, but, like all kids, I heard about it.  It was on the news; stories about distant cities and countries.  It was in the history books; stories about Dr. King and Susan B. Anthony, the great vanquishers of evil discrimination and heroes of rights.  In other words, everything I knew about discrimination came with the words “long ago and far, far away.”  It didn’t happen to little girls and boys in middle class Milwaukee schools

Well…that’s how we were trained to think about it anyway.

As my classmates and I got older we started to see closer discrimination, more real discrimination, discrimination that happened in the here and now, but we were so pressured that it was not our problem, it was someone else’s fight, it didn’t happen to us that we almost universally believed that we didn’t have the right to care.  Someone else had it worse, so we didn’t have the right to care or act on it happening around us.

We got older and, suddenly, it was happening here, it was happening now, it was happening to us.  Boys would get pulled over while driving for no other reason than they were black, girls were bombarded by images of anorexic, computer enhanced super models a thousand times before they left the house in the morning, our schools would get money taken from them for being part of a failing district.  We still didn’t believe we had the right to care because we were told so much and so many times about other people, in other places, who had it so much worse.  Complaining about such…everyday things seemed like spitting on the suffering of those nameless people long ago and far, far away.

Don’t worry; this story doesn’t end this way, I promise.  You see, in 2012 this movie came out; Brave.  It was the first so called family movie where the princess was actually a hero, but a few months later Disney, which owned the movie, prettied her up to make toys; sparkly dress, perfect hair, the bow and arrow that changed the color of her hair but wasn’t actually a weapon, basically turning her into a rescue-me princess…which sparked outrage.  One day, while I read an article about it, I realized that everything I’d been conditioned to believe, about how I didn’t have the right to care, was bullshit.  The suffering of others doesn’t mean I have to back down when someone treats me as less because I am different.

So say this word with me; discrimination.  It’s okay, because I have the right, more than that, I have the responsibility, to care about it for myself and those around me regardless of other people who fight or have fought against more.

And guess what; so do you.

 

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