Surrendering

From the October Newsletter

I always thought that surrendering or letting go meant giving up something; that a part of me would be missing if I gave up something or that a part of my personality would be gone.  How could I still be me if I didn’t have my passion or my righteous anger?  Isn’t the very definition of surrender to give up control, to stop resisting, to admit that one is not going to succeed?  As a feminist haven’t I fought for so many years to gain control?  To be the Captain of my own fate?  To fight the good fight?

In the course of growing up and experiencing many disappointments and some failures, I learned that letting go wasn’t altogether a defeat or punishment.  I learned that when I surrendered to a situation or let go of what I felt was control over something, that I wasn’t failing.  I was more in a position to ask for help.  There are times where I want to do it all myself, that for whatever reason I need to show people that I can or I need to prove to myself that I can, and the idea of asking for help can almost feel like a failure.  What I discovered was that asking for help became a solution, became a victory, added some needed peace to my life.  It also was a reward in gaining friendships and closer relationships.  I’ve always been told that people really want to help; that they feel good helping and that asking for help was actually a gift to others.  I had not thought of it that way previously, but I do know that when others ask me for help and I can help them, I feel good about that.

Isn’t it human nature really, to want to help?  Is surrendering then a way to help our fellow humans be more human?

I had a friend once who was really good at accounting.  I was tasked with working on a committee at one of my past churches and needed to create a spreadsheet.  I had limited experience at this point in my life with Excel and was really struggling in creating this sheet.  I spent a week on it, going through tutorials, making mistakes and redoing macros, simply just having a horrible time of it.  When our committee met the next week and I presented what I had generated, we discovered that some key points of information that we needed were missing.  I felt so frustrated that I had put all this time in and it still wasn’t giving us what we needed.  My friend looked at it, immediately saw what was missing and made some very valid suggestions on how to improve it.  We proceeded through the meeting and made a lot of progress that day in terms of moving forward.  Afterwards we were walking out and I thanked her profusely for her help, explained all the work I had done on it and the time I had spent, and she just turned to me and said, “Why didn’t you just ask me for help?”  I honestly told her the thought had never occurred to me.  I had it in my head that I needed to do this, all by myself, with only my resources.  I had never thought to ask.  And I could see some disappointment in her eyes that I hadn’t thought to ask her.

How much community are we losing with one another by not asking for help?  How much closer could our relationships be with one another to share a task or a project and then revel in the success of it together?  I have a favorite quote that follows my signature on my email from Thomas Merton, who was an American Catholic monk, that states, “ We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.”   Surrendering can be a link to community, can be a strengthening of relationships and not a failure or a disappointment.  Surrendering and letting go can be a victory.

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Unexpected Blessings

From my September Newsletter page
For the longest time I never understood the meaning of Grace.  By God’s grace people would say to me, it could have been me.  Through the grace of God, others would opine, there go I.  What did they mean by grace?

Then one day someone explained that Grace was an unexpected blessing, a reprieve from suffering or misfortune; that for some reason they were spared suffering or pain when others were not.

As a recovering Catholic I was raised to believe that all human beings were sinful and imperfect, that we all had to perform penance to receive God’s grace.  I’ve never believed that human beings are sinful; I believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all human beings.  So I could never understand why some people would receive God’s grace and others would not.

Not until the explanation that opened my eyes – grace was unexpected blessings.

For this I could believe.  That some would receive an unexpected and unsolicited act of kindness or fortune was much more plausible.  It didn’t mean someone was more special for any reason; it was something that happened to you surprisingly or unpredictably.  It was luck in a way.

So when I began to watch the footage from the St. Louis area this week, my heart fluttered and sank.  I was born in St. Louis, raised in the St. Louis Metro area and lived there into early adulthood.  Why weren’t they receiving grace?  I wanted them to be blessed.  I wanted this part of the country that was such a part of me, where I still had family, where I had just traveled through on my travels to my new home here in New Jersey, to be rid of this evil, this racism, that seemed so pervasive when I lived there.  Now it was on view for all to see and nothing had changed in 30 years.  How do we get grace to visit these places that so desperately need unexpected blessings?  With so much visible pain boiling over, how can grace heal?

I don’t know.  I do know that we are actually capable of giving grace, that it’s not just in the purview of a Divine Power.  We can give random acts of kindness to others; we can work to contribute to the Common Good; we can live our Seven Principles daily to the best of our ability.  This indeed can be grace.  These would be unexpected blessings for others.

I was traveling in Los Angeles before my trek here and pulled into a Starbucks to take a Frapucchino on the road with me.  Unbeknownst to myself, I had pulled into the lot the wrong way and began to turn my car around to gain entry into the drive through lane.  As I performed this maneuver, I waved at a woman to enter the line and she allowed me.  I gave my order and started to pull up when she yelled out the window of her SUV, “So you couldn’t go around like everyone else, you had to cut in!”  I replied that I was visiting and didn’t know I pulled in the wrong way and was sorry to inconvenience her.  It rattled me though that she was so angry she felt the need to scream at me out of her car.  So when I approached the window to pay for my order I asked what hers was and paid for that too.  I believe it was God’s Grace that placed that thought in my head to ward off my own anger and frustration.  It wasn’t intentional for me to “cut” in line, but rather than fume at the anger this woman sent my way, I decided to give a random act of kindness.  I don’t know how she reacted as I just drove away afterwards, but I do know that I felt better.

Maybe that’s a first step in the world receiving more grace.  If we each give acts of kindness to each other unexpectedly, then maybe it will help to dispel the acts of hate and pain that seem to occur so frequently in our world.  It’s worth a try.  It’s worth grace.

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Leaving California

July 31st

A little while ago I drove over the border of California into Arizona leaving the state I’ve lived in the last 30 years.  30 years?  How did I go through so many years of my life when it seems like about a year ago I moved here.  In preparation for this move, I’ve gone through boxes of old letters, souvenirs, and notes, firmly sticking to my mantra of if I don’t love it, it can’t come with me.  I watched whole relationships progress through the written word, gave away my 26 year old sofabed, oh friends, what will you do when you sleep over!, and other non-essential items.  I went through grief, joy, anger, melancholy, pain and boredom, going through all that I had accumulated through all these years.  When I arrived in San Diego 30 years ago, I came with 3 suitcases (when they were free to bring that many, ah those were the days) and all of this stuff I’ve collected over the years.  I watched one relationship evolve through letters and saw the love that he freely gave turn to bitterness and resentment.  It was amazing in a way to see that progression, how he sent love letters to my work (this was way before email… ) how he begged for me to stay, how he resented what I took, how he argued how to divvy up the money upon our breakup.  It was almost like a sitcom to read these letters and I was surprised to find them, not realizing I had thrown them in a box many years ago never to see again until now.  That’s what happens when downsizing.  When there’s room to store, I guess I use it.  Now that I need to consolidate, I am finding the time to review so many things that were content to sit in the dark. 

I left with 3 plants from the many I’ve had and given away to so many friends and family.  They’re sitting on the passenger side of the cab of this 16 foot Penske truck and they seem to be making the trip rather well.  I’m moving to the other coast where there isn’t bougainvilla, agapanthus, eucalyptus, or jacaranda trees.  What flora awaits me on the East Coast I don’t know, but will soon find out.  I miss California already.  Farmer’s markets all year round, temperatures never dipping below 40 degrees, sunshine, sunshine, sunshine.  I have acquired California blood now and it will be difficult to reacquaint myself with frozen winters once again.  In driving down this glorious state, I’ve seen mountains and forests, deserts and ocean, cities and farmland.  Although in the 20+ times I’ve driven up and down this state, I’ve never seen it so brown – so brown it was actually a bit scary.  Our drought here is real.  Acres and acres along the way have been left unplanted, seeing miles of brown dirt where there used to be plantings that were green and growing.  There is not enough water and it shows.

 Driving from Prescott however after visiting my friend I encountered three rainstorms and two monsoons!  So hard of a rain that twice I had to pull over.  The second time I am coming down a mountain in the pouring rain and the gas light comes on as I was down to about an 1/8 of a tank.  Really????  Not just the rain, but the gas light testing my endurance after driving for 9 hours.  But I made it and arrived safely.

It is indeed an adventure.  A bit of a scary one.  It looked so much better on paper.  An exciting way to see the continent.   I’ve never done an ocean to ocean road trip before and I guess after this I’ll be able to say I did.  I think it might be the only time… tee hee.

Anyway I still love you California and hope to come back and live here again.

Going towards my new little piece of Mayberry,

Jo

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Moving

June 24th

I’m moving.  Really moving.  Almost 3000 miles moving.  I’ve been knowing that I was going to begin this, but now it’s become real.  The boxes in my living room are beginning to pile up and it’s getting difficult to walk around as I strew things about that don’t quite fit into boxes.  The Great Drive begins that will take me from San Francisco to Philadelphia, two great pillars of culture in our country.  From left coast to right coast, it will be an adventure. 

I’ve given away my couch and TV and a friend is taking my pair of parakeets that would not make this cross country trip.  I just gave them away today and I feel sad.  I am officially pet-less, at least for the time being.  It feels so final.  I miss their sunny chirping already.

I’ve gone through boxes that I had in storage that I hadn’t looked at in years.  Coming across old letters from an ex showed me in painful symmetry the sequence of the relationship that went from kind loving love letters to hateful recriminations.  How interesting that was.  20 years later it didn’t hurt, just gave me a lot of insight.  I can see the benefit of leaving that relationship so clearly now and remembering then how difficult it was to make it.  It would have benefited me to make that decision much earlier, but I guess that’s how I learn.  I needed to get to that point.  But wow, how I can see it now. 

There are programs and souvenirs of events I attended that I insist on keeping.  When they fill 3 boxes worth with no scrapbook in sight is that really necessary?  I shredded 6 bags of shredding and brought them to the bunny rabbit store for them to use as bedding and they were delighted!  So much better than just throwing in recycle.  At least my old mortgage statements are being put to good use.

So here I am, after so long not blogging, I feel the need to begin again.  I spent so much time in school writing reflections and papers and projects for classes that I never seemed to have the energy or time to write for pleasure.  I hope I’m back.  The road is open once again.  I look around and all my possessions are in transition yet once again.  Moving is so representative of transition.  I’ve always enjoyed change when it came at my prompting as this has, but…..   There are so many emotions that accompany change that I really don’t want to deal with sometimes.  It’s been 4 years since I began this journey and here I am again ……..moving.   With so many intentions to write silently moving past me like mist, I hope this time I can begin again.  There’s something about beginnings that offer a fresh and new perspective.  I miss writing.  Why is it that the things I love to do somehow never get done?  Time to reprioritize!  Setting a new intention to begin again.  (smile)… once more with feeling, Louise!……

 

From my little part of Mayberry,

JoP1040075

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My Article Published

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At last!  Here is the English translation of an article I wrote in Koloshvar, Transylvania.

Diary of an American seminarian journeying through Transylvania

Week 1 -  End of April

So the journey begins.  It is a two-fold journey, one to explore the history of Unitarianism – of which I am painfully aware I am lacking knowledge, and the other, the past of my own Hungarian family – of which I barely know anything about.

Landing in Budapest after a night on the plane.  I have never been here, but watching the light over the wing of the aircraft glinting beautifully from the sun is just wonderful.  We’re here, we have arrived.  My first stop has been two generations in coming.  My grandparents on my father’s side were from Budapest, or I find out the next day, really from a small town outside of Budapest called Detk.  My committee member Jay who has traveled with me on part of this journey has a friend who drives us out to the cemetery of that small village and we speak with a woman who cares for it.  None of my family lives there any longer or they have died she says, but if we come back Jay’s friend can research it for me and maybe find out where my family has gone.  More news than I’ve ever had and I know my cousins in America will be so pleased to find out.  We proceed to do some tourist type adventures in Budapest and onward to Koloszvar!  We arrive by train late at night so I’ve missed seeing what the city looks like until the following day.    My wonderful coordinator Robert takes me around and I visit the notable spots on the main street.  I’m amazed to see the churches and learn their histories.  I finally get over my jet lag after a couple of days and am able to attend a party honoring mothers a week before Mother’s Day!  I loved seeing how the families interact and noticed that children here are shown much more affection than they are in the U.S.   Parents and family members kissed and hugged their children frequently and I really liked seeing this true affection shown to each other.  I don’t know why, but in America, if it’s not your children, you don’t hug them and I find that sad that children are missing out of receiving love and affection like they do here.

One of the first things I learn is how to step over thresholds!  Our thresholds between rooms in America are flat and no one gives a thought when they are crossing from one room into another about lifting your feet!  After tripping twice, I finally get the hang of it.  Step up and then walk over the plank of board between the rooms or I will fall flat on my face.  A small difference between our cultures but one that is very important to learn.  :)

I’ve also learned to eat meat and potatoes every day.  I don’t normally eat either of these foods on a daily basis, even French Fries.  We have become a calorie conscious society in America with so many overweight citizens, so there are calories listed on all the menus when you eat at restaurants or listed on the foods you buy in the grocery stores.  Here everything is so healthy it doesn’t seem needed and I have yet to see calories listed anywhere giving me permission to eat whatever I want to eat!  (At least that’s how I interpret it!)  And there is so much eating going on!  I’m not used to eating such big breakfasts and certainly not the size of the lunches!  We never have 3 course meals in the middle of the day and this was a complete surprise.  I find myself acquiring a taste for food here that I don’t have in the U.S.  I also discovered palinka.  I’ve never had this before and I must be a weak American as I can only take tiny sips at a time!

Week 2 – 1st Week of May

In Kolazsvar I am here to attend the funeral of a father of a colleague, a sad occasion, but I am grateful I am here to support him and his family.  Death here is dealt with differently than our methods in the U.S.  We seem to have a very sterile and antiseptic approach to dealing with the death of our loved ones.  I was surprised to learn that with permission it is acceptable to bring the body home after death.  In America we would never be allowed to do this.  When my parents passed away, they were whisked away quickly and we didn’t see them again until they were presented in their caskets, after going through the whole embalming process.  I believe it takes some of the humanity away from it.  We all eventually die, but in America it’s a cleaned up version.  Again, family seems to be very important in making decisions here.

Week 3 – 2nd Week of May

I am staying this week in four different places!  I must say my host families have been amazing.  Children give up their bedrooms so that I, the guest, can stay in privacy.  Meals are provided to me, I’m taken on excursions to see different Unitarian churches, I am learning of the history of my religion – which is so different in the United States.  We need a greater sense of what was given up for us so that this faith could survive.  I have seen the lands of Balazs Ferenc, I’ve climbed the Citadel in a very special pilgrimage to see the memorial to David Ferenc, I have stood in prayer on the site where he died.  I am marveling at all the history that exists in this tiny part of the world and I am very grateful to have seen it.  I have attended services in Lupen, in Homorodufalu, in Mesko.  I have seen the members of Unitarian congregations worship in Sunday services, watched them honor their mothers and the women of this country on Mother’s Day, stood in the communion line on Pentecost.  I have felt the reverence of the spirit of God and I have learned so much about not only the history of Unitarianism but the history of this land.  I have learned of the years of communism and have tried to imagine what that must have been like.  Without experiencing it I know I cannot imagine it, but I have a greater sense of the sacrifice and courage so many have endured.  And I have seen the great architecture of our Hungarian ancestors juxtaposed against the backdrop of the communist buildings.  I much prefer the great architecture of the Hungarian builders.  :)  (but I may be a bit prejudiced)

Week 4 – 3rd Week of May

I have seen the Turda Gorge and the plaque commemorating the Diet of Turda in 1568. I have met the Bishop!  We had a wonderful conversation and I now hold a copy of the Diet of Turda of my very own.  He was very gracious to give some of his time to my visit.  Throughout this journey I have experienced a wonder at seeing what I had only read about before.  It makes it more real; it makes it more alive.  I have taken so many pictures I believe the number is close to 1000.  I have seen buildings and churches that were built before my country was born.  These are the amazing things I will take home with me (also probably a few pounds from eating that I hadn’t planned on!)  I have embroideries and painted boxes from local artisans that I can give to my Hungarian relatives who will probably never see this country.  I have made new friends who have been so helpful to me, Abigail who attends this school and helped to translate, Robert Balint who helped make this journey possible by arranging with my scholarship committee all of my stops and sights, his family and the families of Zoli and Maria and Lajos and Arpad and Belu and Kinga who allowed me into their homes and helped me to see what living here is like.

I will take back with me the quiet nights, listening to the crickets, milking a cow, petting a donkey that was plowing!  I will take back with me the visions of the church steeples, the memorials, the Kopjafas and  the Skekely gates.  I will especially take back with me the warmth and generosity of the people here who gave so freely of themselves to me – a perfect stranger.

I am more informed now about the collective history of Unitarianism that will only serve to enhance my ministry in the future.  I feel so much more prepared to teach congregations in the U.S. about the origins of Unitarianism, how the ancestors of our religion fought and died for us, how we can become inspired with the work they have done and are doing.  I especially am grateful for the opportunity to see Unitarian ministers here in action, to witness their preaching, their interaction with their congregations, and their undying dedication to their own ministries.  Ministers here give completely of themselves and it is inspiring to watch and learn.  All of this I take back with me from this amazing pilgrimage through this land.

I still have the end of my journey to experience once again in Budapest.  I sincerely hope I can learn of the history of my own family and “feel” more Hungarian.  And if all goes well, I will return in three years having the ability to speak Hungarian with all of you!  Thank you to all of you who touched my life and helped me learn so much about my faith and my family.

Kösönem Sapen!

Jo Green

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On Call Bell Ringer

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May 5th

They let me into their lives.  I awoke with the church bells ringing as they did.  They rang in the morning, at noon, and at night.  And depending on the village, morning and night times varied.  What I found amazing was the job of the bell ringer.  This is still done by one person, who rises in the morning to ring the bells, oh somewhere between 7 and 8 am, always very close to noon for the mid-day ringing and around 730 or 8 pm for the last bells of the day.  This one person does this job 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  I don’t know what they do if they’re sick – one villager told me they don’t get sick – and the bells always ring.  I can’t imagine a job like that.  Having to be on call basically all the time.  And these bell ringers have been doing it for 20 years.  One little old woman in the Homorod Valley had been the bell ringer for 40 years.  These are their lives and they are content.

How different their lives are here.  I envy them.  They really do watch the cows come home.   You can’t miss them actually, they completely block the road.  8 wheelers remain stopped in the road until the cows complete their journey.  I got to milk a cow tonight.  Well it was an attempt.  A tiny stream came out and compared to the teenager whose job it was I guess to do this nightly, it was a pittance.  He filled a large bucket in 2 minutes!  You need strength not only of pull but of pressure, and I was sadly lacking in this respect.  I will never be a cow milker.  :)

I also got to see the Szekely gates.  There is a place where various villages have placed a memorial gate – huge 10 feet tall gates with a door to one side – in memorial to King Orban Balazs I think.  My tour is all a blur now and my notes a little poor, but walking up the hill we pass gate after gate until we reach the top where his grave is.  It is decorated with wreaths and ribbons from different towns and families to pay homage to him.  History is important here.  History is sacred here.

I go to sleep at night listening to the sounds of the animals and insects of the night.  Crickets chirping, dogs barking, owls hooting, donkeys braying, dogs barking.  There’s as much activity at night here as there is in the day.  It’s actually quite comforting.

From my Transylvanian part of Mayberry,

Jo

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Watching the Cows Come Home

May 1st

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And at the end of the day I literally watched the cows come home.  :)

I found it amazing.  What life in this little village is like and what it can teach me and others.  It has been an idyllic day, filled with simple pleasures, a beautiful planet and the laughter of little children.   In Hungarian.  It doesn’t matter what language you speak, you can see the similarities in children from any land.  They tease their brothers and sisters, they squabble, they tussle, they drop things, they fall, they cry.  They all do the things children do in whatever language they know and you can always tell what they are doing. 

Our morning began with sleeping in, oh how I needed that after the 4 hour drive finally ending in the driveway here at 1130 pm.  (930 am PST)  My nights are now officially my days.  Today we had scrambled eggs with sliced tomatoes and homemade crusty bread so soft and moist inside that I thought it would melt in my mouth.  And they bought it homemade last night and it was still that fresh this morning.  We had the day to rest a bit so I did what all travelers do when they finally get the chance….. laundry!!!  Oh that felt so good!  I was on my last pair of socks and everything else so a host family with a washing machine was a welcome sight.  I hung all my clothes out on the porch on the drying stand to dry and as I placed all my things on the rungs a fresh breeze came up and I could smell the wonderful air breathing fresh scents into my clothes!  I hadn’t hung my clothes out to dry since I was a child.  No one does that any more with the advent of clothes dryers, but there is something so very simple about this act that is so touching.  The earth is drying my clothes.  Try it sometime.  You might just like it. 

Then something happened that can only happen in Transylvania – the gypsies came to the door playing their accordion, violin, cello and horn!   And they played and played until we gave them some money and a shot of palinka to drink!  Oh If you’ve never tried palinka you just must!  Stronger than any American whiskey and oh so tasty! (but not so early in the day)  :)

Then we went on a walk to some of the hectares of pasture right outside the village for a good old fashioned picnic!  What a joy!  We climbed up a hill and settled under the shade of a white pear tree whose blossoms showered down on us with each stiff breeze.  Blue skies, white clouds, laughing and fighting children.  Sounds very American doesn’t it?  Only I’m in the middle of a pasture in a southwestern valley of Transylvania and it could almost be a spot somewhere in the California Central Valley.  Our earth can look like our same earth in so many parts of this world.  The adults sat and chatted and thank you God for host families that know English!  I had a chance to quiz my host minister about what her parish was like,  some of the trials and tribulations of church Boards and what she experienced in her 18 years of ministry with the same congregation.  Did she run out of topics for her sermons; did she run out of things to say?  She has had basically the same 200 people as congregants all these years, I wondered to myself, did she get sick of them or they her?  I can’t imagine living in the same place for that long of a time and then on top of that, living with the same group of people?  What must that be like?  And to top it off she’s a wife and a mother.  It amazes me how some of the women in this world do as much as they do.  If men did that, they’d be canonized.  Women do it every day on a daily basis without recognition.

Kinga the daughter had been staring at me without my knowledge for a while and then presented me with a pencil drawing of myself!  What a sweet little girl she is, I promptly took it and responded, Köszönöm sapen!  Thank you so much!  A little later I was presented with a small bunch of lilacs and felt very accepted as this nearly mute visitor in their midst.  The parents know English but the children really don’t.  So I was a bit saddened that I missed out of so many of  the family conversations as I had no clue as to the dynamics except for body language and intonation.  I could only guess at the conversation. 

On our walk returning home, my minister host reflected to me how to watch out for the cow patties on the road as this was the path the cows took coming home.  So I got so excited and asked, is this something I can see?  Of course she said!  So Czaba the little boy came up to me later in the evening and said, “Can you come wit me?” I finally understood and he showed me a pad his father had written, please come with me.  The cows are coming!  So I sped out the front door hoofing my shoes on without tying them and ran out the gate to watch the cows come home.  Czaba had an empty pitcher that he gave to the woman across the street and we sat down, she knowing some English, at least to understand but not to speak and we sat there and smiled at each other mostly until I started to hear some small tinkling bells ringing!  We ran out on the road and up the path from the road below I could see cows walking up, some turning to the left at the juncture and others to the right, until a few actually came straight towards me and entered the gate of the woman I had sat with!  They knew exactly where they were going, no one had directed them.  They must have done this a 1000 times and knew where their owners lived and went to them every evening.  And people say cows are dumb. 

The woman handed the boy a bag of eggs and the full pitcher now of milk and we crossed the road once all the cows had passed.  The trucks coming down the road had to stop for them, some reluctantly and I nearly feared for the cows!  How selfish are they!  How often do you get to see the cows come home!  I found it a wondrous sight, it felt so simple and serene and just a part of nature. 

Today I felt a part of life.  Today I watched how my ancestors must have lived.  It felt so calming and natural.  I’ll never joke about the cows coming home again.

From my Transylvanian part of Mayberry,

Jo

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