Dear Dad: It’s been three years

Dear Dad,

November 21.

I guess that date will never again slide by unnoticed, just a day leading up to Thanksgiving, just a Monday, or a Tuesday, maybe a Wednesday.  November 21.  That’s the day my dad died.  How strange.  It still feels strange.

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Goofing around

For some reason, the days leading up to the day are the hardest for me.  I think back and think, this time three years ago my dad had a week to live and nobody knew.  This time three years ago, my dad would be gone in four days and we didn’t know.  This time three years ago, my dad was going to sleep and he was never going to wake up again.  I probably shouldn’t think about it like that, but it’s hard not to.  It wasn’t planned.  We didn’t know.  I went to work that morning, worked all day, and it wasn’t a big deal.  I also checked my credit score.  It’s funny the things you remember.

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I still can’t believe we wore these sweatshirts.  They had bells on them.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that evening that we found out, mom and I.  I haven’t really gone through the events that happened, that horrible night, in a sequential timeline.  I remember flashes of it at a time.  We were at the Dillard’s at Atlantic Station where we had met after work and we were in the dressing room trying on dresses.  I remember that there was an Australian woman in there as well, and she told me that she liked my accent.  I thought that was so odd but I liked it.  I don’t know why I remember that detail.  I don’t remember what happened to her, or if she was still around when the call came in.  Matthew called Mom while we were together, and she was so excited to get a call from him.  I was standing next to her, and she got so upset, she was saying over and over, getting more and more hysterical “He died?!  He died?!  How?  When?”  I didn’t know who, I couldn’t get her to tell me who, but I could tell from her reaction that it was bad.  “Mom, who died, WHO DIED” I kept saying, getting more panicked every time I didn’t get an answer.  Finally she said your name, that it was you, that you were gone, and the entire planet shifted.  I’ll never forget how she said you name.  I ran out of the dressing room, not for any reason other than I had to move, I had to move, I couldn’t stand still.  The floor would crumble underneath me.  Oh my god my dad is dead my dad is dead my daddy died no no no no no.  I remember the first sensation I felt when she said your name was a burning, frantic, panicked desperation to tell you all the things that I never told you, all the things I would ever want to tell you, anything and everything, that I loved you, but I couldn’t I never could again.  I could never tell you anything again.  I wanted to call you and tell you my dad died that something really horrible had happened, that horrible thing that only happens to other people, and I needed you.  Except it WAS you.  It was you I needed but it was you who was gone.  What on earth do I do with that?  That was probably just the first five seconds.

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After my senior bassoon recital at UGA

I called Sam and he left his full cart in Kroger and came to get us.  Maria and Triss were on the way to us, too.  Matthew called them before he called us.  Everybody was coming.  The nice ladies at the department store brought us bottles of water, boxes of tissues, and cleared the rest of the people out.  We sat on the floor together, not sure what to do or where to go.  I heard crying and I guess it must have been us, but it sounded so far away.  Somehow we got out of the dresses and back into our own clothes, though I don’t remember that part.  I think the ladies who worked there helped us.  Sam and Triss and Maria came and got us, met us in the dressing room, hugged us, and we all cried and cried.  My sleeves were wet from tears.  I remember at one point seeing my face in the mirror and I didn’t even recognize myself.  Were those my eyes?  I guess that’s who I am now, I thought.  Then I called your sister and I had to tell her that her brother was dead.  Sam told me to use the word “dead” because when you talk to people who are in shock, you have to use hard words or they can’t understand, they don’t want to understand.  I told her you died.  She called me back a few minutes later and asked, Kristen, did you really just tell me Greig died?  Yes, he died.  He’s gone.  I guess even when you use hard words sometimes it’s still hard to take in.

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Christmas 2007 at Stone Mountain Park

Somehow we got back to my apartment and so many people were already there, straightening up, with dinner and breakfast for the next morning.  Someone folded the clean towels on the couch and I remember finding it peculiar that I didn’t care if they thought I was messy for not having all my laundry folded and put away.  I let them do it for me.  Emily and Barbara had come, Erin, Jane, Pete was already driving from Birmingham.  It was the most vulnerable I had ever been, but our dear friends didn’t even give us the chance to fall.  They were under us, supporting us, providing for us, taking care of us before we even knew what we needed.  We sat on the couch for a long time.  I remember we passed through several cycles of intense tears followed by some relief and breathing and some light laughter, then I would remember and the wave would pull me down again.

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You guys loved coming to the football games.

Somehow the next few days happened and we waited while they brought you home from Colorado.  I’m not sure of the details of how you got here, though I remember one gut-wrenching moment when I realized I didn’t know who would meet you at the airport.  The day of your funeral was so cold and I think it was raining.  I didn’t have a warm enough coat but someone let me borrow one.  I don’t remember who.

But now, looking back on that time, three years later, what stands out to me most is not the pain and shock, though I still feel that, too, but the love and kindness.  From the strangers in the department store to our dear friends and family, we were overwhelmed with people wanting to help us, to make something easier when even breathing was difficult.  Friends brought food and folded my laundry, they sent cards and flowers, they came to your funeral and held our hands.  They put plates of food in our lap and encouraged us to eat.  Sam turned down the bed and had my clothes picked out in the morning so I wouldn’t even have to think about how to get dressed. My co-workers took on my workload and left me with not a single thing to do upon returning to work after Thanksgiving.  Emily brought me some yarn, knitting needles, and a pattern to keep my mind busy, but simple enough to where I didn’t have to think.  Sam’s family welcomed me for my first Thanksgiving with them and talked openly about my dad so I wouldn’t have to pretend nothing happened, and they didn’t recoil when tears came out of nowhere.

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Brunch at Cafe Intermezzo.  This was the last time we were all together.

I miss you terribly, Dad, but I wouldn’t want to give up what I have learned in the last few years. What matters is sharing a human connection.  I think every day that I want to make someone feel as loved and worthy as those beautiful souls made us feel when you died, Dad.  And I don’t want to wait until they experience a great loss or trauma.  I want to treat people like they matter right now.  Even if it’s just a smile in the hallway, talking to a student after class, making someone laugh when they’re having a crappy day, or remembering something they’ve said to me earlier and asking about it again.  I want to let people know that I see them, that I can see their importance in the whole of the universe.  I want to be an instrument of peace and a light to those around me.  I still get stressed and overwhelmed and forget, but I try.  I really try.  I’m a work in progress, too.  We can’t avoid pain in life, Dad, even the life-altering kind that divides the world into before and after.  I can’t know for sure that nothing will ever hurt me again.  What I am sure of, though, is that can I leave everyone I come in contact with a little better than I found them.  Thank you for helping me find my truth in life, Dad.  Be love and light.

I love you and I miss you.

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On not being a Classical Musician

This past week my husband and I met a friend at a neat little performance venue in Decatur called Eddie’s Attic (If you don’t know it, do yourself a favor and look it up — Eddie’s Attic).  We love our Eddie’s evenings and look forward to when our favorite artists come through Atlanta.  This is a place where the evening is all about the music– you sit, have a drink, maybe some food, and listen while some fabulous musicians pour out their souls on the small stage in the corner of the room.  The room is outfitted with bar seating and tables and chairs, and when the musicians start playing, you turn your chair around and get cozy, settle in, and enjoy the show.  During their sets, the musicians talk to you, maybe tell a story or fill you in with some background of the song they’re about to play you, sometimes even requesting audience participation.  It’s a shared experience between the musicians and the listeners.  It’s intimate– both in your proximity to your fellow listeners (you’ll be snuggly here as the seating is close) and to the performers, where the stage starts at the knees of the people an the front tables.  The set up really allows for the whole deal, from start to finish, to be a give and take between all involved.  You listen, maybe clap a little, perhaps sing along in some places, sometimes even cry a little, if a lyric or a harmony reaches out and touches you.  They sing and play, sometimes sharing the stage with each other, and you leave feeling like you’ve all had a good, deep conversation.  It is a personable, approachable, and engaging experience.

Can you picture the musicians that I’m talking about?  I’m sure you can.   Touring singer-songwriters, eager to sing late into the evenings.  Acoustic and electric guitars, harmonicas, often percussion instruments, sometimes an instrument I don’t even recognize.  If I’m really lucky, there’s a mandolin.  (I love me some mandolin).  The musicians each have their own approach to their art that shows through their musical style, their lyrics, harmonic choices, and how they dress.  Most of the time they stand up to play in jeans and a comfy flannel top, maybe a cool jacket, a killer hat, and often some fun jewelry or a cute dress.  I love how different each set can be.  Attending these events are so comfortable.  I can relax, enjoy the show, engage when I want to or just sit back and listen, sipping on a beer or eating some fries.  No pressure.

So last Wednesday, when we were sitting there listening to the fabulous Crystal Bowersox (no joke, check her out.  She’s worth knowing.), I started thinking about how much I was enjoying the experience and it actually made me a little sad.  See, I am a musician, too.  I’m a bassoon player.  A classical musician.  Picture a classical musician.  What did you just see?  Someone in a formal dress or tuxedo, standing on a big stage, maybe a full orchestral set up, while the audience, also dressed in nice clothes, listens, clapping appreciatively at the end of the work (not at the end of the movements).  It feels entirely different to me.  It feels sort of stuffy, maybe even, dare I say it, a little pretentious.  Don’t get me wrong.  I think there is 100% a time and a place for the tuxedo and the formal dress and the grand stage with the lights.  It’s keeping with hundreds of years of tradition and reflects the seriousness of the musician’s training and the depth of the works.  It is important to perform classical music this way.  It’s Carnegie Hall and the Berlin Philharmonic or a senior recital.  What a rush, what an amazing opportunity to play in that venue or with that organization and an important milestone.  It’s history and convention of an institution.

But as I sat there listening, I found myself wondering, is that the only way to perform classical music? At one time, I would have told you that yes, that’s it.  That’s how it’s supposed to be.  We do things how they’re supposed to be done, and that’s how we do it.  Don’t ask questions and for god’s sake don’t push the envelope.  But now, see, I’ve blown through enough supposed to be’s in the last few years to know that there exists a whole different kind of life on the other side of them.   Might there be one here, too?  The thought is intriguing to me, and oddly, it’s comforting.  You see, I am a classical musician, but I do not fit in as a Classical Musician.  I struggle to dig into the competitiveness of it, the focus on perfection rather than connection.  I struggle with the please don’t let me screw this up for fear of what “they” will think of me part of being a classical musician.  I realize that there is probably that aspect to a degree with any music, but it is strong in the musical worlds of which I’ve been a part.  I have seen it.  I’ve been in it.  We’ve been intimate.  It wasn’t fun.

Music, when you really get down to its essence, is about sharing something intimate between souls, between the performer and the listener and back again.  A wordless exchange of the intrinsic nature of the human experience.  It can be a mutual exchange.  That has been the exception for me, though, and not the rule.  So what are these singer-songwriters doing that works so well to break through the invisible barrier?  I’m not sure exactly, but I think the set-up of the performance situation might be an interesting start.  What if, just for kicks, we put on an evening of classical music and we didn’t call it a recital?  What if it happened at a place like Eddie’s Attic where the listeners could sit and have a burger and beer and the performer had a glass of whiskey on stage?  What if they wore jeans and talked to the audience like friends during their set?  I just can’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t take my seemingly separated world of Beethoven and practice rooms and make it a little more approachable for an audience– I’m sorry– listeners.  Would it maybe make it more approachable for the musician, too?  What if that could open up the give and take a little?  Us, sharing this, instead of me showing you.

You see, I think I’m a Flannel Shirt and Jeans Musician.  Music runs in my blood, but until recently, I just couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t get it.  Whatever it was.   I have spent the majority of my life studying music and playing many different instruments, focusing on bassoon.  It is an intrinsic part of me that I can’t deny (despite my best efforts).  Music is home.  I feel the most like myself with my instrument, but it also felt forced to a degree.  I am the square peg to the round hole of classical music.  I can’t be the only one.  What if there existed a square hole of classical music?  Would that make the music any less beautiful, exotic, or legitimate?    I really don’t think so.  It’s not a replacing of something old and antiquated, but an expanding and opening of something wonderful into a different way of experiencing it.

So let’s share the stage.  All of these different kinds of musicians are just people looking to share their soul with yours through their art.  We all practice hard for long hours and take lessons and struggle to learn basics and good technique and fundamental scales and chords.  Lyrics and guitars aren’t really so different from a flute concerto, after all.  Different means to the same end, perhaps, but I think they should be able to be equally approachable for everyone.  I will wear the formal dress and bow on the stage and proudly wear my concert black in the full orchestra, but I also really want to sit and play you a Vivaldi sonata over shared glasses of whiskey.

Now is the Time

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“I want my spirit to learn and grow and I want to share what I learn with others. My soul may be infinite, but my human body here is still relatively young. There is still time for me here. There is still time, but NOW is the time.”

I just came across this writing of mine from a few months ago. I can feel the truth of it resonate inside me, and yet still sometimes I’m not sure where to go with it. Do you ever feel like this? What is it that you yearn to do that you haven’t yet done? What’s holding you back? I freely admit have unhelpful reoccurring thoughts that have turned into beliefs that tint the way I see the world and how I interact in it. I am working to replace them with thoughts-turned-beliefs that help me shape my life into my dreams. I’m standing in my own way. Do you ever stand in your own way? What better time to begin to challenge those thoughts — now is the time.

Dear Dad: Two Years Later

Dear Dad,

On Saturday, November 21st, you had been gone for two years.  Two years.  Years.  What a strange thing to think about, that you haven’t been on this earth in two years.  That’s a long time, Dad.  It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to put into words what missing you has felt like, but I really want you to know.  Two years feels like such a long time, and maybe people think I should be “over it” by now– whatever that means.  But two years isn’t really that long, in the grand scheme of things, is it?

What’s happened since then, Dad, in those two years?  Everything.  It seems like everything has happened.  We sold the house, Dad.  The one I grew up in, the one where you worked in the basement and mowed the lawn and buried the dogs in the back yard and put up the zipline for us and our friends to play on.  The house where we had Christmas mornings and went trick or treating and we stood by the front door smiling for the camera with our backpacks and lunch boxes on the first day of third grade, where we waved as we pulled out of the driveway and left for college.  Where we played in the back yard when it snowed and played in the sprinklers in the summer.  The house where the neighborhood boys ran wild and then left their rubber boots in a pile in the garage and where Emily and I sat and made sculpy creations for hours at the kitchen table.  Where I learned to play the piano and then the clarinet and then bassoon.  Where we grew up.  Home.  We sold Home.

It wasn’t the same without you in it, though, Dad.  It was cold and smelled of sadness, of all those things so many years ago, the scent of them fading away.  I had a hard time going back there, Dad.  Mom did a beautiful job of making it feel like it used to, resurrecting the ruin to remind it of its former glory.  Candles, apple pies, decorations on the kitchen table.  If I held my eyes just right I was 15 years old again and everything was still okay.  You would have been so proud of her, Dad.  Taking that house apart was the hardest thing she’s ever done.  Taking that house apart was the slow undoing a lifetime of things made just right.  What to do with this picture, that lamp, these boxes of old things we don’t use but can’t get rid of.   Goodwill, yard sale, give to a friend.  Watching my hand toss this memory in the bin.  I can’t keep everything.  I don’t want everything.  I just don’t want it to be over.  We cried a lot, Dad, mom and I did.  We cried for what we had, for how it fell apart, and for how we can’t ever put it back.  We cried for you.  For your empty space in all the places where you should have been.

I also got married.  It was the most wonderful, happiest day of my life.  I still cannot believe it was so perfect.  There was so much love there.  Everyone who means the most to me was all in one place and I couldn’t stop smiling.  I wasn’t sad that day, Dad, not at all, because I knew you were there.  I knew exactly how you would have looked at me in my dress, how you would have been so proud to walk me down the aisle, how awkward you would have been when we had our dance, and probably how you would have said something inappropriate during the toasts.  I loved the pennies you left for me on the table.  They took my breath away.

Big things have happened, Dad, but small things have, too.  Weekend nights watching television on the couch with a commercial you’d think was funny, holidays where you’re not there, celebrations, bad days and tears when I can’t call you, more regular Thursdays than I can count.  Those are the days I miss you the most. I don’t go to pick up the phone and call you as much anymore.  For a long time I did, and it was a stab in the heart each time I’d remember.  I can’t call my dad.  He’s dead.  My dad is dead.  It’s gotten easier to talk about you in the past tense.  My dad was.  He used to.  It doesn’t take my breath away anymore.  I can tell a My Dad Was story without crying.  In fact, usually people laugh, which is what you would have wanted anyway.

I’ve tried to think of how to explain this to people who haven’t lost a parent, or someone so close and important.  I don’t think there is a way, though.  You have or you haven’t.  You know or you don’t.  Nobody wants to be a member of this club, but the membership is not optional.  You Know.  Living on Planet My Daddy Died is not somewhere anyone chooses to reside, and you can’t really write home to explain what it’s like.  I wish I could explain it though, because sometimes it’s lonely on this planet.

At first, the grief was a dark, bottomless ocean.  I felt consumed, so infinitely small and vulnerable, flailing and gasping, choking as the waves battered from every direction.  I was afraid of drowning.  It seemed impossible that I wouldn’t, that the pain was so deep that of course I would either be sucked under or I would get so tired I’d just breathe it in and let go.  That lasted a while.  Those waves would pelt me when I least expected it.  At work, at the gym, driving by a hardware store on the way to the grocery.  I was always on alert, always afraid of when the wave would knock me down.  Then there the was a day when I felt my toes touch something down below, grazing the rocky bottom of that angry ocean.  I realized then I would not drown.  I could touch, I could stand and keep my head above the water.   Little by little, I began to notice the sun rising.  I felt the warmth of normal life peeking back, small creases of pale light on the horizon.  The new sun on the water revealed not an angry ocean anymore, but something smaller, more contained now.  The waves no longer crested in angry foam, but came in swells, though sometimes still lifting me from my foothold on the ground below.  They still splashed fear and longing on my face, my hair still soaked with grief, but I knew that there was something solid below.  I was no longer afraid of drowning.  I learned I could move in it.  I could step this way, reach out my hands and feel around me, explore it.  I still felt small and overwhelmed, but I no longer feared being swallowed.  Even now the sun continues to rise in the sky and the water becomes less oppressing.  I’ve made it through the hardest part, I think.  It was a long night, but I did not drown.  Sometimes I still get splashed and even knocked down, but I am not afraid of the undoing.  I realize now that you can be totally covered by emotion, it can beat through all of your senses and swirl angrily around you, but you do not become the emotions.  They come and go.  But I am still me and I am making it through.  Grief may not be comfortable, but it will not be the end of me.

That’s sort of what it’s like I guess, Dad.  It’s been a very full two years, full of just about everything one can feel.  I don’t regret anything that I’ve learned or the ways I’ve grown from losing you, but oh, how I wish you could still be here. Maybe one day the grief will be a calmer water, a tide that comes lapping on the shore.  Maybe one day that’s how I’ll visit you.  I’ll walk along the shore of the grief and remember the time I had with you, letting the water wash around my ankles and chase the sand back into the surf.  How peaceful that seems now, to think of it that way.  It will have come full circle then.  That feels wonderful, Dad, because you know I’ve always loved the ocean.

 

Engagement Shoot by Dayna M Photography

Sam and I are SO lucky to be able to work with Dayna Hoyt to do our engagement shoot a couple weeks ago.  We were looking for an urban vibe, some places that would highlight our personalities and make use of all the amazing areas in our neighborhood.  We started at the Krog Street Tunnel with its awesome graffiti.  We stopped back by home to take advantage of the spring flowers blooming near Grant Park, and then finished up at Crossfit Downtown Atlanta.  We met at the gym, so we figured it was only fitting to take some fun shots there as well.

These turned out so great that now I cannot WAIT to see how the wedding photos will be!

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2014, Part II

I know, I know.  January is almost over.  I shouldn’t still be thinking about New Years Resolutions.  Well, starting them, anyway.  I’m sure plenty of people have already both started and stopped thinking about theirs, but that’s not really what I mean.  So yes, I’m still thinking about mine.  “Resolutions.”  Not really the right word, but we’ll use it anyway.

I wanted to talk a little bit more about how I decide what serves me and what doesn’t.  These realizations were a long time in coming, are still evolving, and probably will always be.  Honestly, what I have to say might piss some people off.  You might think, “Ugh! Heathen!”  or “How could you possibly believe that?”  That’s ok.  I would have thought that, too, before I started down this journey.  You don’t have to agree with me.  It’s perfectly fine if you don’t.

I no longer believe in right or wrong.

No should or shouldn’t.

Good or bad.

All of these words are definitive.  You have to pick a side.  There’s no fluidity, no movement, no room for free thought or changing your mind.  They are claustrophobic, requiring you to slam your fist on the table saying, “I am right!”

Right compared to what?  And right for whom?  And why?

Makes you stop and think, right?

Exactly.

Then there was the discovery of dialectics.  What does that mean, exactly?  Dialectical Behavioral Therapy defines dialects as “two seemingly opposite things can be true at the same time.”  For example, “I am doing the absolute best that I can at every moment, and yet there is always room for improvement.”  Seems like one cannot be true if the other is true, but that’s not the case.

We get so entangled with being “good’ or “bad” and doing something that’s “right” or “wrong” that we forget to think about what those words mean to US.  There is no thinking.  There is rule following.

I say enough with the rule following.  So what do I believe?  What feels true for ME?  I get to decide.  I no longer need to rely on anyone else’s opinion, nobody’s man-created dogma to tell me what I should or should not do, think, believe, read, or write.

Instead of using the black and what words, I use “effective” and “ineffective.”

Let’s look at this a little closer.  If you do something “wrong,” there’s the end of the thought, right there.  “What I did was wrong.”  Period.  (Although you can insert some unnecessary guilt here, most likely).  Rephrased using my new words “What I did was ineffective.”  That’s an open ended statement, ready for thought, mulling-over, and self-discovery.  “What was my action ineffective at reaching?  What was I trying to accomplish?  What can I do better next time?  Is there a different way to do it? What was my GOAL in the first place?”

Using the words “effective” and “ineffective” requires you to make goals.  It requires you to look ahead, to be aware of the whole of it,  not just the minute details.  It requires you to use your own thought power to be in control of your own life.  It can be as simple as “my sleeping late was ineffective towards my goal of taking my time getting ready and having a relaxing morning.”  It automatically sets you up for making a different choice next time.  (Note I said “different’ not “better”).  “I should have gotten up earlier” and “Sleeping in was bad” do not automatically offer the same direction.  See the difference.  Labeling something as effective or ineffective automatically sets up the question “towards what?”  That’s where growing happens.

Nobody likes to be wrong.  That’s where guilt and anger and defensiveness come in.  Negative feelings. (Ain’t nobody got time for that).  You have to work really super hard to get a positive from a negative.  Nobody wants to guilt themselves in to making better choices.  There’s enough guilt in the world already– don’t add it on yourself!  (Note: there is often good cause for guilt, when it is EFFECTIVE as a learning tool, but most of the guilt we feel is unwarranted).

I hope that this post made some sense.  It was a concept that took me a long time to digest and implement, and I’m still learning how to do it.  I promise, though, if you really make an effort to change your thinking and try this concept, you will notice positive changes.  I promise.  I was the queen of self-criticism and self-shaming for doing things “wrong.”  Once I discovered that those black and whites just do not exist, a whole new world opened up.  One where I set goals and work for them and I do not get punished for not meeting standards.  I AM the standard.  I get to decide.

Yes, there are social standards and laws, but more than likely, your goals will line up with the big ones.  For example, if my goal is to not end up in prison, shooting someone would be ineffective towards that goal.  If I really want to go to prison, though, shooting someone would be a highly effective way to achieve that goal.  See?  Perspective.  The decisions is yours.

Everything in life is a continuum.  Do not sell yourself short by blindly following rules that were handed to you by someone else.  Set goals.  Reach them.  Your life is your own, and it’s up to you to decide how to live it.

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