I Remember

September 11, 2001.

The day began like any other normal homeschooling morning in our home. My son, Seth, was thirteen years old and my daughter, Savannah, was six. As part of our normal school schedule, the kids and I would watch Good Morning America together as we ate breakfast. It was a way for us to start our morning as a family, learn about current events, and enjoy some fun lifestyle stories before hitting the books. I was busy making breakfast, Savannah was coloring, and Seth was working on schoolwork. It was a normal broadcast with ABC news anchors Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer doing what they did best.  It was like any typical weekday morning…or so we thought.

I remember it vividly.

At approximately 7:46 a.m., Diane Sawyer announced that there was a possible explosion at the World Trade Center. We now know that it was American Airlines Flight 11, crashing into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.  Programming was pre-empted and everything was a flurry of reporting.  My eyes were glued to the screen and what I was witnessing.  The next hour played out scene after scene of horrific events that unfolded, most of them unbelievable and hard to comprehend.  At 9:03 a.m., Charlie Gibson was getting bits and pieces of information that was probably being fed to him through his earpiece. They began live coverage and Charlie Gibson bagan talking to an aviation expert who was reporting on the first plane’s impact on the North Tower.  While they were talking, the second plane (United Airlines Flight 175) hit the South Tower.  Peter Jennings was at the ABC News Nightly News desk and they quickly cut to him. Diane, Charlie and Peter Jennings began their mutual coverage on this historic event.  At 9:37 a.m., while Peter Jennings was on the air with Claire Shipman, he broke the news of American Airlines Flight 77 that hit the Pentagon. The news quickly became a frantic race to cover the events, the fall of the Twin Towers, and the chaos that ensued. I remember vividly how the kids and I froze as we watched Good Morning America’s broadcast. Peter Jennings broke down on the air and told us that if we had kids, now would be a good time to call them.  I hugged mine closely that morning.  Our nation would never be the same.

 

We were working on art projects for school that would become magnets for a fund raiser. This was my art project and is a magnet on my file cabinet.

My husband, Sam, was not home. He was on tour with Lord of the Dance’s second troupe who were in a resident show at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi, Mississippi. We were so thankful that Sam was back at work. You see, he had just recovered from a recurrence of Hodgkin’s Disease and nine months off the road due to chemotherapy treatment. We had just come through an unexpected tragedy that hit our family.  I knew what it felt like to experience sudden fear.   I remember calling Sam frantically, waking him up. After a few calls, he answered and I told him to turn on the TV. Shortly after that phone call, my sister who lives in Arizona called me. She too was frantic; my brother-in-law was on a return business flight from Europe and was scheduled to land in New York.  He was on one of the planes that was forced to circle for hours while airports were scrambling, trying to find a way to land the incoming commercial planes amidst the chaos.

 

I cancelled school that day. I called all my friends, rallying those I knew to join me in prayer for the people of Manhattan and New York. My heart was so burdened, feeling so much pain, so much sorrow.  Oh, how the heart of God must have ached that day. The kids and I continued to watch, in dismay, the news coverage of that fateful day. Savannah’s coloring efforts had changed, bringing me a picture that she colored, her six year old handwriting recording the urgent need for prayer.

A few years passed, and my husband’s tour was scheduled for a week’s run in Washington D.C.  Once again, the kids and I were excited to visit all of our favorite places; the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, but this stop, we decided to visit the American History Museum.  Once we stepped inside, I realized that I was standing in a place of great sadness and memory.  There, in the lobby, hung the flag that once flew over Ground Zero.  It’s tattered and frayed edges still showed signs of that tragic day.  It was a somber walk through the museum as we walked by walls of the remains

Thirteen years have passed.

Our nation will never be the same. It wasn’t the same during World War II when Pearl Harbor was hit. September 11th is now a sacred day. Our nation came together like never before. There were no political lines, no bickering. We were a nation that, once again, endured a brutal attack. America’s people rose up and stood to face the enemy like we have so many times in the past.  May we always remember the great price that has been paid for our freedom.

God bless the United States of America, our armed forces, the people of New York City, The New York Fire Department and Port Authority, the NYPD, the people of  Shanksville, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., and the families whose lives will never be the same.

When I talk to my high school students, I have to remember that most of them were not alive when 9/11 happened.  Now, there are generations who only know about this event from history books or commemorative celebrations.  They will never know the fear and utter shock felt from this tragic event in history.  Who will tell the stories?

I will…..because I remember.

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The Dear Jon Letters – Happy Anniversary, Baby!

Dear Jon,

You’ve been on my mind today.  I’m sure you had other things on your mind, seeing as you were flying back to Nashville from Orlando.  I notice you don’t Instagram the folks sitting next to you on the plane (I really miss that!) or talk about the conversations that go on in your head while waiting on the runway.  I still giggle about the last one.

My, how our lives have changed.

Hard to believe that it’s been one year since we first met, how I was kind of thrown into your lap after writing you a letter.  Looking back, I can remember how terrified I was…my  husband had been taken into a planned procedure after five days on the critical care floor.  There I sat, in the lobby of Vanderbilt Hospital, surrounded by families who were also waiting the news on their loved ones.  I knew the news……but this, they said, could make him “more comfortable”.  My life was over, at the least the life I knew, and I didn’t want to go on.  I grabbed my earbuds and laptop, heading for the cafeteria and a spot where I could be alone.  Curled up in a corner, I started a letter to you…..one I thought you’d never, ever see.

But you did.

You acknowledged me.  You saw me.  In the midst of world wide Interwebs…….God made sure you saw me.

Thanks to you and the menagerie called the “Start Experiment”, my life changed. (Yep, I said it.)

And then your life changed.  I didn’t hear anything from you for a week, and I was very concerned.

In the midst of your own trial, you made sure to come to my husband’s memorial service.

When I came to see you at Belmont, and had to leave suddenly when my daughter had a car accident, you sent me a message later that evening, checking to see if she was okay.

And then you introduced me to Jenny and the girls.  We listened to music under the stars and talked about dreams, rebuilding, and life.  We went to the movies and saw Walter Mitty, a movie about being brave and chasing your dreams.  You came to meet-ups that I planned and responded to my tweets.  (Okay, so you said, “Ha!”, but that still counts.)

I watched you walk out what it meant to “Start” again, so I followed your lead and took my first steps.  I’m not an Acuff, but I’m a sassy Hawaiian who knows how to rock a great pair of stilletos.

So……in this last year,

  • I witnessed my husband give his life to the Lord, then join Him in heavenly places, healed and whole.
  • I watched God strategically move all the pieces into place, using you, the Dreamers, the Builders, and the Hustlers to rebuild my life
  • I’ve watched you live out your journey in honesty and integrity, qualities I greatly admire and respect
  • I’ve watched my children bravely overcome one of the greatest challenges in life
  • I’ve re-discovered my blog and my passion for the written word
  • I had my first speaking engagement at the Launch Out conference (you can see it here: “What I Did This Summer”)
  • Oh…….and best of all, I started my own company, offering my services in editing and private tutoring.

All because you saw me.

You took the time to see me, believe in me, and teach me how to sail.

I wanted to make this blog post fancy, you know, filled with flashy effects, glitter, loaded with cat pictures and selfies and hashtags……but it didn’t seem right.

I just wanted to say thank you.  Oh, and Happy Anniversary.  9-5-2013.

 

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What I Did This Summer

I love Summertime!!

Since I’m a teacher, I love having the summer off from my classes.  This summer was especially nice because it was the first time in over a year I’ve had time to stop and B-R-E-A-T-H-E.  Oh, don’t get me wrong.  I breathe on a regular basis, but my breathing has been stressed…sounding more and more like I’m participating in an on-going Lamaze class.

You see, I’m nine months along in this new journey of widowhood (widowness?  widowing?).
I’m finally reaching the point of almost being able to get through a day without bursting into tears.
I’ve learned things about myself that I never knew – some I liked; others not so much.

In the midst of it all, I’ve met some of the most amazing people who constantly challenge me to think outside of the box and believe in myself, something I haven’t done in a long time.

I’ve had to dream in ways I never knew I could.

I’ve had to rebuild my life when I didn’t think it was possible.

One of the most exciting things I did was to have my first speaking engagement at the Launch Out Conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  The conference was organized by the #Tulsa5Club, a dedicated group of entrepreneurs who are committed to dreaming, building, and launching some of the greatest projects and businesses by folks like you and me!

Launch Out road buddies

From L to R: Fellow Launchers – Nate Pruitt, April Best, Kevin Buchanan, Anna Floit, and me!

So on June 19th, I rented a Chevy Tahoe, joined four of the best road buddies a gal could have, and we headed to Tulsa!

We drove and drove……weathering the infernal nightmare that is I-40 across Arkansas.

My fellow travelers and I agree….I-40 through Arkansas is a new level of Dante’s Inferno.

We arrived in Tulsa ready to launch our dreams, meet with fellow dreamers, and step out into the deep.  I, however, wasn’t ready.  You see, my mother passed away the day before I left for the conference.  It was quite a shock, even though we had been estranged for almost 30 years.  That gut-wrenching feeling that no matter what, I couldn’t fix what was broken in our relationship.  After losing my husband last November, this was another blow to my already shaky resolve.

The title of my presentation – When You Walk Alone; Navigating Life After Loss.  Little did I know that I would have to live it out in the open for everyone to see.

  • Perhaps you’ve suffered loss in your life recently.
  • Perhaps you thought that you just couldn’t take one more step.
  • Perhaps you thought that God has somehow forgotten you.
  • Perhaps you feel like you’re all alone, with no one to turn to.

I’m here to tell you – it’s a LIE.  That’s what my talk is all about.  The story of how God has walked with me throughout my entire life…especially in the alone times.

I hope my words, as clumsy and haphazard as they were that day, will encourage you to hang on, even in the midst of dark times.  Will you trust Him?  I did, and it has changed my life.  I hope it will encourage you to change yours.

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#TBT – July 24, 2014

I love coffee.

It’s my morning routine to go downstairs and set the coffee pot once I get back from my morning run.  Over the years, I have gathered  an extensive collection of coffee cups from our family’s travels.  I’ve received them as gifts and purchased them as souvenirs.  It’s a great way to remember places and people while enjoying my morning coffee.

Today, however, as I was perusing the cups in the cupboard, I came across this one:

7-24 Coffee Cup TBT

It’s a cup that my daughter made for her Dad.  I remember her asking me to take her to the pottery place because she wanted to pick one out and make it special for him.  Notice the date – one week before his birthday.  Now, look at their picture together.

There’s no denying whose child she is.

This is the cup I will use today.
Someday, my daughter will have it in her own coffee cup collection.

I miss you, honey.

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How I remember Memorial Day

How I remember Memorial Day

Memorial Day weekend.  It’s a holiday filled with events that pay homage to those who have fought bravely.

In my world, Memorial Day weekend usually fills my calendar with multiple graduation ceremonies and parties, all of which are amazing and fun.  This day, however, holds special meaning for me because it was on this day that I discovered my own heroes.  If you’ve followed my story so far, you know that my husband received horrible news on April 1, 2013 –  hepatitis C.  This resulted in a flurry of tests, only to discover that he might be battling something far worse.

Spring season/early summer is usually the time that all major tours are prepping for the summer of show runs.  During the month of May in 2013, Sam was working with Alan Jackson, doing shows up and down the East Coast.  While taking Sam to the airport, the hepatologist (doctor who specializes in diseases of the liver, gall bladder, pancreas, etc.) called with his test results.  Sam focused on getting everything ready for his flight, so he put me on the phone with the doctor.  “It doesn’t look good, Mrs. Harden.  From the CT scan, markers show that he is definitely battling something serious.”  Now that’s a sentence you don’t want to hear as you are driving your husband to the airport.

If there was one thing I knew that Sam loved more than me, it was stage lighting.  It was his dream, his gifting, and he lived it well.  My husband worked for twenty years doing what he loved, and I loved watching him work.  He worked for some of the biggest names in the industry and I was either driving him to the airport or to bus call.  Today was different.  As I drove him to the airport, I listened numbly as the hepatologist rattled off his statistical test results.  Sam didn’t want to talk to him, more so because he was making sure he had his ticket, passport, etc.  “Could I call you right back?”, I asked the doctor.  I mean, should he even go on this trip?  It’s not like he had a choice.  Alan Jackson’s people had already purchased the plane tickets.  Shows were scheduled and it’s not like you can call in sick on this type of job.  So I did what any wife would do…I drove him to the airport.  I asked him to call me every day and let me know how he was doing.  I kissed him goodbye and dropped him off at the curbside check-in for American Airlines.

The drive home was surreal.  I called the hepatologist back to get the real answers.  Dr. Michael Porayko is one of the best at Vanderbilt Hospital, specializing in liver disease and liver transplants.  He was also one of the kindest doctors I dealt with.  “Mrs. Harden, I can tell you that this is serious…very serious.  From the markers on the CT scan, we usually have a sign of where we are.  I can honestly tell you that we’re looking at a 50% chance of survival for 6-12 months with palliative care.”  I’m sorry……what?  How did we go from getting preliminary tests run to a death sentence?  Just like that?  “Are you sure?” were the words that followed.  I was asking a veteran expert in the field if he was sure.  “I’m sorry, Mrs. Harden, but this is very serious.”

The next few weeks were a blur.  How was I supposed to tell Sam?  I didn’t want to call him out on the road and give him devastating news, especially since he had to spend the next ten days bouncing up and down the East Coast doing shows for Alan Jackson.  I didn’t want him stressing and worrying while trying to work.  I didn’t want to kill his dream.  Not yet.

Flash forward to life at home.  It was the end of a school year and I was neck-deep in year-end project presentations with my students.  I didn’t want to tell them what was happening.  Better to not let them worry about Mrs. Ronei and look forward to summer.  I also had to prepare for the upcoming graduation of our daughter.  Savannah had worked so hard during her high school years.  They weren’t easy.  She attended a college-prep classical school that allowed her to pursue a challenging academic path that eventually enabled her to dual-enroll her senior year at Middle Tennessee State University.  I serve on the board of the Middle Tennessee Home Education Association and our organization holds a special graduation ceremony for homeschool graduates.  We were especially proud because this year, our daughter would serve as one of two commencement speakers chosen by the graduation committee.

So……..it was graduation central in our house.  Sam had come home from his gigs with Alan Jackson and scheduled to begin prep work on Toby Keith’s tour.  The crew set up shop at the Curb Center on the Belmont University campus.  They spent a week setting up the show and doing rehearsals before the show hit the road for the summer.  Sam spent the week with the crew at a hotel near Belmont so they could handle the long days/nights of rehearsal.  Little did I know (or did Sam know) that this would be his last gig.  I think he knew it even though he never admitted it.  It was hard to watch my husband face this ordeal, but he did so with such fortitude and stamina that I am still in awe.  While he was in rehearsals, we were busy getting ready for graduation.

I can remember it like it was yesterday.  It was Friday night, May 24th, 2013.  Sam came home from a week of rehearsals and when he stepped inside the door, I had to contain myself.  He was YELLOW.  He looked like a human highlighter.  Even the whites of his eyes were yellow with jaundice.  He was also shaking and itching.  We would find out later that his bilirubin count in his bloodstream was 42, a level that most humans cannot withstand without severe pain and irritation.  “Sam!  Have you been like this all week?  You probably scared the bejeezus out of the crew!  Why didn’t you tell me?”  It was always like that with Sam.  He didn’t want to bother folks or make them feel sorry for him.  He was determined to finish his job well.  “Yeah, it’s been doing this on and off, but if I get some sleep, it seems to go away after a while.”  It goes away for a while?  Does that mean it comes back?  What was I going to do?  Graduation day was tomorrow!!  Savannah came upstairs when she heard us talking and saw her father.  She was equally concerned.  Sam, however, wasn’t going to budge.  I wanted to take him to the ER right then and there, but he wouldn’t have it.  “Tomorrow is Savannah’s graduation.  Let’s get through that first, then we’ll talk.”  Talk?  You are YELLOW and you want to talk.

I didnt’ sleep much that night.  Neither did Sam.  He was in a lot of pain and due to the high bilirubin levels, he was itching all over his body.  Our son, Seth, works third shift for Nissan.  The plan was that Seth would come home from work, sleep, then come by the house and pick up Sam and the two of them would join Savannah and I at graduation.  I had to have Savannah at graduation rehearsal and run-thru at 9am.  Graduation was at 1pm.  I called Seth to warn him of what he would see when he picked up his father.  Needless to say, when Seth got there, he asked me why we didn’t take Sam to the hospital. “Mom, he needs to go.  NOW.”   “Have you tried talking your father into going?”, I asked.  “I’ve got your sister on this end who doesn’t want to give her commencement speech and your father won’t go to the hospital until he sees her give her speech and graduate.  Two boneheads who won’t budge.  Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  I’d like to hear your suggestions on how to fix this.”  Seth knew all to well what that conversation would do.  Absolutely nothing.  “Just don’t argue with him.  Keep an eye on him and if it gets really bad, call me.”  Meanwhile, I had to convince a very nervous and very shaken daughter that we HAD to go through with this.

It’s times like this when you find out just how strong you are.  It was on this day that I discovered the heroes disguised as my husband, son, and daughter.  Who knew that we would have to walk this path together, facing insurmountable odds, and face lots of people who would have lots of things to say.  I had to call and warn my fellow board members and the graduation committee to not call an ambulance or cringe in horror when they saw my husband.  Savannah and I were on our way to the rehearsal, but would be just a little late.  Little did I know that they made an announcement to the entire graduating class (parents included) and took a moment to pray for us.  Boy did we need it.

We arrived at rehearsal and slowly but surely, Savannah started to crack.  She was fine until she saw her father walk in.  He was jaundiced and wincing from the itching and pain.  Still, he smiled at her and said, “You’re going to be great!”.  You see, Sam had been on the road touring with Lord of the Dance when our son graduated, so he didn’t want to miss this one too.  He was adamant about not wrecking this for her.  Savannah and I had spent lunchtime in the car, eating sandwiches and reviewing her speech.  “Mom, I can’t do this.”  We went through the line for the photographers, taking her senior picture in cap and gown.  Then it was time.  As I pinned her hat in her beautiful hair, she sobbed.  “Mommy, please.  I can’t do this.  I can’t.”  When the sentence starts with Mommy, you know it’s serious.  “Baby girl, there are times in life when you can’t stop and cry.  Great people have gone before you in this life, facing horrible circumstances while called upon to do something great.  God has given you this moment, THIS moment, to speak…not just to your graduating class, but to your father.  He needs your words now more than ever.”  I took her precious face into my hands and spoke the only words I knew to say.  “Savannah, in this life, you will face many things that will feel just as awful as this does.  But you’ve got to remember….you serve a God who is bigger than this.  No matter what happens, no matter how hard things get and how much life may shake, God will always be there.  Always.  He will be your constant when everything else around you falls.  He’s got you.  You can do this.”  I wiped her tears, she freshened up her makeup, and the rest, they say, is history.

Little did we know, this would be our last family picture together.

Little did we know, this would be our last family picture together.

So how did she do?  Well, you can see for yourself.  She was amazing.  As soon as graduation was over, we left for Vanderbilt’s ER.  Sam was admitted and for the next six days, Savannah slept on the tile floor next to her father.  There was no graduation party (except for the fundraiser she sang at to help one of her friends raise funds for her mission trip to Ethiopia).  No graduation presents.  No senior trip. No fanfare or friends to show up and support her.  Just the halls of Vanderbilt, the staff, and the unknown journey ahead.  We would have only six months left.  Still, we had this moment….together.

This is how I remember Memorial Day.  The day my heroes fought well.

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The day my friends made me call Bob Goff

I have the coolest friends.

These aren’t ordinary friends.  These are complete strangers, some of whom I have yet to meet in real life.  Friends who have surrounded and supported me in this wonderful thing called “community” that grew out of a project by my friend, Jon Acuff.  You see, God sort of threw me into this group because he knew I wouldn’t step out or speak up, so he swung me WAAAAAY back and sent me catapulting via the Great Slingshot in the Sky straight into the middle of Jon’s burgeoning online community.

I’ve learned so much through this experience:

  1. I’m more of an introvert than I thought
  2. I’m really awkward in new social settings
  3. People scare the bejeezus out of me
  4. God always has to shove me into my destiny
  5. I’m more afraid of success than I am failure

And so, this amazing group did what they always do…they DARED me to do something big.  Something brave.  They dared me to call the author, Bob Goff.  Mr. Goff wrote the New York Times best seller Love Does.  I haven’t read his book yet, but that didn’t matter.  My friends reached out to him, hoping that we would have a phone conversation.  Me.  With a New York Times best-selling author.  Whose book I haven’t read.  And I’m supposed to just call the man.

Well…..I did.  I thought I would show my friends that I’m not afraid of a dare, that I could be really brave and at least call to leave him a voicemail.  But it didn’t exactly go as I planned.

So here it is, live, in living color, for your viewing pleasure.  I took the time to insert my own annotations in the video to help the viewer understand exactly what happened and how I felt in the moment.  It should offer some entertainment for your day.  Oh, and you can only view the annotations if you’re on a laptop, desktop, or possibly an iPad or tablet.  Not on smartphones.

I hope you have friends that will dare you to take big steps, big leaps, and be there when you do the impossible.

My friends are the best, even though they make me do crazy things.

 

Update – Sept. 1st

I was contacted by Bob Goff’s staff asking me to remove the video from YouTube. Yeah. #becausemylifeislikethat

 

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Flying Solo

Flying Solo

Well, that was special.

I woke up at my usual 5am time, showered and got ready because today was the day.  I’ve been working with my attorney and financial advisor for the past few months getting things in “order”.  We filed the paperwork back in February, so it was time to head to Probate Court.

Or so I thought.

You see, since I’ve suddenly had to learn how to fly solo, things don’t go according to plan anymore.  Due to an incorrect date set in my calendar app, I thought today was the day for our hearing.

I showered, made sure to pick out the right outfit (the paperwork did have a dress code for court, who knew?), and began the tedious process of applying makeup through tears.  Tears.  The flood of tears that come every time I have to think about the death of my husband, sorting through and packing his things, and dealing with all the legal matters in regards to his estate. Endless memories.

I sent a few text messages to my attorney; one last night saying, “See you in the morning!”, and again this morning with a “See you in a bit!” greeting.  As I scrolled up to look at his earlier message, I found one that said our court date was NEXT Wednesday, not today.

What. The. Heck.

EXPECTATIONS

That seems to be my word for 2014.  It’s all about understanding how my expectations have to adapt to God’s expectations.

girl on bench

  • I expected to live happily ever after with my Prince.  Yeah, that isn’t happening.
  • I expected to have a family that stayed together.  When you have adult children, it’s inevitable that they leave.  They are processing things on their own which most of the time means it doesn’t include me.
  • I expected to always be able to transition back into the workforce.  At my age, and this present economy, it doesn’t look promising out there.
  • I expected relationships to be more than what they are; instead, God threw me into a group of strangers in a blogging community and expected me to “play nicely” with them.  I’ve never felt more vulnerable, exposed, and stripped bare in front of people in my life. Does He NOT understand how freaked out I get around strangers?  Whatever happened to “Stranger Danger”?
  • I expected to have my websites up and running.  I have a really sweet friend helping me with this, but she is waiting on me to get some information from my hosting company.  I just haven’t had time to call them yet.
  • I expected to be more consistent in a lot of areas with a lot of things.  Most days, I’m amazed that I remember my name and where I put my car keys.
  • I expected to be able to move on quickly and get this whole grief thing over.  Not easy when everywhere you look, you see couples.  Couples with kids, couples without kids, older couples having coffee or dinner together.  A daily reminder that I’m no longer part of a couple.  I fly solo now.
  • I expected to be further along in 2014.  I can’t seem to get out of my house on the right day, let alone think ahead to the future, even if its next week.  Now tax season is approaching……

I’m learning that this is a loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong process that I will have to endure until it’s complete.  According to my attorney, after our court date NEXT Wednesday, the probate process may extend until late May/early June.

I’d probably be in a better mood if the weather wasn’t ARCTIC.  Should I drink wine in the morning?

For now, I plug along, pushing forward to my dream, no matter how small the steps are to getting there.

Hoping to catch up to life and humanity soon.

 

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