The Worst of Times, The Best of People

Today, I want to share some thoughts in light of one of the most devastating storms to hit our country, Hurricane Harvey, because even though my area was not affected, it directly impacted many family members and friends of mine, including my best friend and her family and my dear cousins and their families that are scattered across the Houston and Beaumont areas.

The storm has brought the worst of times, but it has also brought out the very best in people, and I thank you for reading today, as I bear a bit of my heart.

It’s been a terrible roller coaster of emotions over the past two weeks, and now Hurricane Irma is posed to possibly do even more devastation to our beloved nation.

I teared up or cried more than once for my own loved ones and others devastated by the storm…

…in fear for the safety of my loved ones that I was powerless to help directly during the storm.
…as the rain unbelievably just kept coming down with no end in sight.
…at nearly every story of brave everyday people that showed up to help with no expectation of reward, often risking their own lives in the process.
…every time I heard a loved ones’ voice on the other end of the phone, just knowing they were safe and sound, at least for that moment.

I even discussed this storm-caused emotional roller coaster with a friend.  I’ve certainly waited with anticipation in the past as hurricanes and other storms have wreaked havoc on my loved ones in this area, but the extended time period of this storm made the waiting game almost intolerable at times.  And, I was far from the storm’s direct impact.  I cannot even fathom how bad it was for those in it’s midst.

Even though many of us aren’t really talking about it yet because of the dire situation at present, the bad news is still going to keep coming for quite some time.  I just can’t go there right now, but I know it’s not going anywhere.

The Worst of Times, The Unprecedented Storm(s)

Hurricane Harvey was an unprecedented storm.  Even though I live in the state, I’m still having trouble just comprehending the size and scope of the devastation.  I doubt any of us, except those on the ground in the affected areas, really know just how bad the devastation is, but I’ve had a little better idea, thanks to direct reports from those I know in the area.

The damage is now done, both physically and emotionally, to those in the area.  My family members and friends in the impacted areas thankfully had little damage, but they all know people that have been severely impacted.

Now, the long-term work recovery work is set to begin.  Of course, this is prime hurricane season, and everyone knows that seasonal rains and possible future storms are certainly not out of the realm of possibility at this point.  It’s just too much to consider right now, though, but Irma is certainly keeping us mindful of that possibility.

There’s been another sad storm over the past few days, too, a storm of negativity and division, often political in nature, like none I can remember with previous storms.

I was so shocked to see inappropriate, if not hateful, comments from the onset of the storm from some people, and I wonder if these people have ever known empathy at all, including the “keyboard warriors” that just cannot put “first things first” in a time of crisis.  These people also do not realize they are only hurting their chances of getting others to sympathize with their position at times like this when they spew their offensive or ill-timed comments, but one has to wonder if they even care.  Probably not.

“There are no politics in eight feet of water. There are human beings in eight feet of water.” — Sandra Bullock (donated 1 million dollars to the Red Cross)

However, I also noticed more people (who are typically quiet) come out against this negativity and division-sowing in light of Harvey’s devastation.  They are experiencing the truth first-hand, and they are calling out those that don’t speak it.  Maybe it’s time to do just that.

No doubt, most of these argument-prone, negative folks tend to be angry people.  These types of people are quite foreign to me, and honestly, I’m glad.  I don’t look for opportunities to read or hear their comments, but they are becoming almost unavoidable to see and hear at times, making this already bad situation truly “the worst of times” in an even bigger, and terribly sad, way.

There is supreme joy in helping and supporting someone in need, and I wonder if some are ever going to know that joy in their lifetimes.  It’s never too late to start being helpful, rather than hurtful, in both words and deeds.  That change can begin today, and it is a choice everyone can make right now.

Whew, thanks for letting me vent just a bit.  Like I said, it’s been a very emotional couple of weeks.

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Now, for the rest of the story, the stuff that has brought me to tears so many times over the past few days.

I want to document and remember when the “rainbow” appeared after the storm.

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The Best of People, The Resiliency of Victims and Everyday Heroes

My fellow Texans are a special kind of family.  I don’t know if people in other states feel this way or not, but I say with no hesitation whatsoever that I believe the majority of Texans feel this way.  If you’re a Texan, you’re family, and those of us not affected by the storm are going to be there for you as soon as possible in whatever way we can.  We’ve been with you in prayer even before this monster storm hit your areas, and we’re coming soon with everything we can possibly think of to help you get through this.

Texans don’t expect others to really understand who we are, but we love it when they get a glimpse of our true selves.  Right now, my fellow Texans are shining like bright lights in the darkness of Harvey’s aftermath, representing what the majority of us really and truly believe, and others are finally noticing some new things about us.

I’ve often wondered how others think we are not a diverse and loving people, when we are truly one of the most diverse and outwardly loving peoples anywhere.  We are too often stereotyped incorrectly to those elsewhere, but without a doubt, we know who we are.  That’s what matters most.

Love thy neighbor.  That pretty much sums it up, I think.

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Let me slightly digress for just a minute.

Texas can be hard… very hard.  Just look at the storms that hit us routinely.  We get everything from ice, deep snow, gale force winds, blowing dirt, huge dirt haboobs, frigid cold, blistering heat, huge wildfires, high humidify, flooding rains, tropical storms and massive hurricanes.  We also have the lovely privilege of having mosquitoes, love bugs (that are totally disgusting), rattlesnakes, alligators and other critters that keep us on our toes in many areas.

It’s just part of our Texas lifestyle.  We deal with it and keep going on with our lives, even if we let our frustration with these things be known, usually in a sarcastic or humorous manner.  Humor really helps.

But with all these routine challenges, most people elsewhere have no clue what some in our Texas family have endured this year, even before this storm hit.  National news outlets tend to overlook many stories that affect us, especially those of us in flyover country.

It’s been a tough year for many in my Texas family.  I’m especially thinking of the cowboys that lost their lives in a monster wildfire earlier this year in the Panhandle while trying to save their livestock.

Real cowboys still very much exist.  This was more than their job.  It was their life and their love.

Folks, these wonderful young people burned to death in a truly horrific way.

I teared up when I heard this story on the news and bawled longer than I care to admit when I read this excellent Texas Monthly feature about all of them.

If you haven’t read this story, you should, no matter who you are or where you live.  It’s long and detailed, and I’ll bet you will never be the same after reading it if you are an empathetic person at all.  Read that article and start to understand more about some of my nearby Texas family members.  This one hit especially close to home for me.

Sometimes we need to hear the difficult stories and cry the tears.

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Now, back to Harvey, and a look to the words of Luke in the book of Acts.

Acts 20:35  In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the LORD Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Hero Texans have been first on the scene to help each other during and immediately after the hurricane.  I’ve heard just a few of the first-hand accounts from our best friends in one of the worst-hit areas south of Houston.  While they were still not completely out of harm’s way themselves, our friends were actively helping their neighbors in life-threatening situations, and they were just two among many doing the same thing.

Hero Texans took matters into their own hands to not only rescue their fellow Texans, but they went after their pets and their livestock, too.  If anyone knows the value of life of any kind, it’s a Texan, and that includes dogs, cats, cattle, deer, horses, pigs and even bats that were stranded.  I saw all these rescues on television and bawled more than once.  And while we just have to admire the resiliency of all those huge floating fire ant colonies that organized to survive on top of the flood waters, we probably won’t shed any tears if they don’t make it!

I had to laugh when I saw this quote that was sent to me by text by a friend as the small boat rescues were still going on.  Laughter’s been a short commodity lately, for sure.

I’m tellin’ you guys, Texas needs to erect a statue honoring “random average dude with a bass boat.”

These hero Texans are just some of the “best of people,” and if you’re only hearing these harrowing stories on the national news, you can’t even begin to know just how bad it’s really been and likely will be in the days to come.  I don’t think anyone can at this point.  For now, it’s all just one day at a time.

One of the stories I especially love is the story of Mattress Mack.  You’ll not regret watching this great story!  What an inspiration in words and deeds… and heart.  Honestly, I really don’t think he’s an exception either, but I’m glad he’s been featured right now.  I can name at least a dozen older men I know that are just like him, including my own father, who passed away in 1999.

Another “best of people” focus today is all the many volunteers and state and federal agencies coming like the cavalry to help from all over the nation and around the globe.  You are all hereby adopted as fellow Texans, and we love you!  That’s includes all you Cajun Navy volunteers and all you folks with big trucks filled to the brim with food, water, clothes, diapers, medicine and all manner of goods that are desperately needed.  So many people are in need of your help, and by the looks of things, this relief effort may set records… in a good way.

These heroes are just now getting into the affected areas, and their stories will be told soon.  Texans strive to be self-sufficient, but we know that as much as we would like to not be a bother to others right now, this monster named “Harvey” was just too big and destructive, like no other storm in a very long time, if ever.  We welcome your charity, and we’ll make sure you know it, too.  Just watch how we come help you when it’s your turn in the storm.

Another “best of people” focus is a little surprising, as it’s all the fabulous people and groups harnessing the power of social media and newer technology, like Zello, to help those in the affected areas.  This is the first time I’ve witnessed just how the social media impact can be utilized to speed up both rescue and relief efforts.  No doubt, it helped save lives and is helping to get specific aid into needed areas.  We should all go download Zello on our phones now, too, just in case.

Social media now provides another way to channel assistance to some smaller groups that are closer to the devastation in a timely way.  Our first monetary donation was to one of these small groups that was on high ground in League City that was overwhelmed with the need to assist many people in surrounding areas that were severely flooded, a first for them.  They had a “donate” button on their Facebook page, making the donation process so easy for us and timely for them.

My final “best of people” spotlight is all the churches and local non-profit agencies in the area that continue to meet the most immediate needs of those that are hurting.  While many of them have suffered damage themselves, church members are selflessly out helping others.  Some have also suffered the loss of members of their communities, as is the case with our best friends, unfortunately.

Right now, there is an urgent need to get all the wet material out of homes before black mold begins to grow in the heat.  It is monumental and dangerous task, and the magnitude is almost incomprehensible.  Local churches have accepted the challenge to get this done in many, many areas, and I’m aware of two local churches that are working miracles right now in this area.

Seeing the “best of people” in full force over the past week has given me hope again that we as a nation are still comprised of mostly good, quiet, decent people, rather than the divisive minority that often seems to grab the spotlight.  I’ve honestly wondered if our country turned a sad corner, but today, I don’t feel that way.  The silent majority has shown its true colors once again.

Our Response, Date Night

Hubby and I enjoyed an impromptu date night that consisted of a tasty dinner at Costco, followed by purchasing supplies at both Costco and Wal-Mart for a nearby hurricane relief group.  We have decided to give more than we have in the past, hopefully helping several relief efforts, and we had a fun time together on our shopping trip, knowing that every single item was going to make a difference to someone that’s hurting.

Both clerks that checked us out asked if we were buying relief supplies, and I suspect the case of diapers at Costco was probably a dead give-away, given that we are not spring chickens by any stretch.  I got very teary, though, as I looked around at others in the checkout lines at Costco and saw that many of them had cases of diapers and other likely relief supplies in their baskets, too.

We also got some strange looks when we checked out at Wal-Mart with 20 bottles of bug spray, but it gave me the opportunity to explain what we were doing to man behind us in line, and he pulled out of the line to go buy his own supplies to take to the church nearby.

I also spent some time helping the group sort clothes that had been donated.  We sorted them into boxes by gender and size to assist the church in distributing them more efficiently upon arrival.  I enjoyed working with ladies that I’d never met, and we had a few laughs at some clothing items that were donated.  Seriously, folks, people in Houston do *not* need winter parkas right now.  In fact, they don’t *ever* need winter parkas!

Going Forward, The Challenge

The South Texas area is going need lots of assistance in the days, weeks and months to come.  Hubby and I want to be a part of the ongoing healing effort, and I hope you will also consider doing and giving what you can.  Look for reputable opportunities to make a quick and direct impact right now, if possible, and always be wary of scams that will no doubt pop up.

One more important need that I’m familiar with is the need for blood donations across the nation.  I donate regularly, but many others now need to step up and donate, too.  The need is critical right now and in the immediate days to come.  I can’t stress that enough.  Please spread the word.  It was critical prior to Irma, and it’s going to be even more so now as Irma heads toward Florida.

If You’ve Been Impacted

If you’re reading this today and you’ve been impacted by any of the current storms, including the horrible wildfires in other parts of the country, my heart goes out to you, as well as my prayers.  I cannot begin to fathom what you’ve been through and what you’ll be going through in the days ahead.  Ask for help when you need it because so many want to give it.  Allow others the blessing of blessing you.  You likely have no clue at the love and generosity that is headed your way very soon.

Just like the storm that was Hurricane Harvey, I hope the love and help coming your way is totally unprecedented!

#PrayForTexas

#TexasStrong

 

 

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Wordless Wednesday – A Helping Hand

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Well, it’s not quite “wordless” after all today, but the events and the emotions of the past couple of weeks have just been awful.  Thankfully, all my people in the affected areas are safe with only a little damage, but everyone’s nerves and emotions are shot, including mine, and I’m not close to the devastated areas.  They are still overwhelmed and short on supplies, and I can hear the frustration and fear when I talk to some of them.  Their stories are just unbelievable.  Our friends know a man that died in the storm, too.

I’m glad I’ve been able to actively participate in a local relief effort.  Our supplies arrived yesterday at a church in Friendswood, three charter bus loads full.  I want to do more.

Please continue to pray for Texas.

Texas is now praying for everyone in Irma’s path.

 

 

Little Did We Know

A tragic day in the Panhandle

At the end of my previous post on Monday morning of this week, I shared that we were in for another day of high winds and high fire danger.

Little did we know… that it would be a day of devastating wildfires across several areas of the Panhandle, a couple of hours north of my area.

I think we often take for granted all the weather and fire warnings this time of year, especially those of us that live closer to a city or town.  But this year, the devastation and loss of life has really touched so many of us.  This is our home, and these are our people and animals that have been lost.

One person that died was known to a good friend of mine.  Perhaps that brought the reality home even more this time.  My friend and her husband grew up in the area where one of the large fires hit especially hard and the loss of lives occurred.  Four good people died, three trying to save cattle and another that got caught on a country road in his car when the fire overtook him.  He just learned last week that his wife was expecting their first child.

My heart hurts so much for the families left behind.

We woke up on Tuesday morning to a strong smell of smoke in our house, as the smoke from the fires had been pushed south by a cold front overnight.  Over 31 years, we’ve never had such smoke inside the house, as the heating system brought it in overnight while we slept.  We immediately turned off the heat the next morning and just used a couple of space heaters until things warmed up.  The smoke persisted all day and into the evening, but for us, it was just a bit of an annoyance.

What we experienced was absolutely nothing compared to what folks had to endure further north.  The photos of the fires are just unbelievable.  Even the author of the Hank the Cowdog books, John Erickson, lost pretty much everything, including his ranch house and all his cattle, not far from Perryton.

There are days when I think my problems are just so awful, and then there are other days when I realize that I don’t have any problems.  At. All.  This is such a day.

My fellow Texans to the north have problems.  Big ones.  I just cannot fathom it.

I’m on the search for some way to help by donating or actually traveling to one of the affected areas to help serve as I might be able to do so.  I hope I can find a way to help these people that have lost so much in a single day.  I know I am certainly not the only person in my area that feels this way, too.

At times like this, I can hold my head high and be proud and grateful to live where I live and call these people my neighbors.  We live in an often hard land, but the people that make it here for the long haul, especially the people that work close to the land, are especially resilient.  I came from such people, original settlers on this land, and there is no one I admire more than a hard working cowboy or ranch hand.

I read a post on Facebook from such a cowboy right after the fires hit the news in our area.  His words absolutely broke my heart and probably the hearts of thousands of others by now, too.  I literally sat down and bawled my eyes out.

I don’t think I will be light-heartedly joking about the wind here for awhile, especially the “flaming tumbleweed” comment in my previous post.  I want to just go back and delete that part now.

#prayforthepanhandle

The beautiful people lost in the fires, three men and one woman.  May God bless and keep their families.

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Melancholy

Grief knows no calendar.

I guess I will always feel a little melancholy in January.

I lost my mom two years ago this month, and I continue to be surprised at just how much harder it is to move on from her death than what I’ve experienced after losing our other parents.  I don’t know if it was the fact that she was our last living parent, if it is because I was closer to her than any of our other parents, or if it’s something else.  Without a doubt, though, grief is taking it’s sweet time with me, it seems.

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I think most people tend to give a lot of leeway to family members and friends in the first year after the loss of a close loved one.  Tackling all those “firsts” can be so, so hard, and I certainly found that to be true after losing my mother, just as it was after we lost our other parents.  I had quite a bit of support, especially from my closest friends, and I’m grateful for the love shown that truly helped me through that first year.

Grief didn’t care about that calendar, though.  Not one bit.

Last year was my second full year without Mom, and I swear it was just as hard on many occasions as it was in year one.  Understandably, most people assume that after that first year, all is fine… or at least better, so I started to just keep my feelings to myself and not burden others with my continuing feelings.  Friends have other interests in their lives and suffer their own heartaches.

Life moves on for all of us.

But, as Shelby’s mom said in Steel Magnolias after the graveside service for her sweet Shelby…

“I’ll tell you what I wish. … That’s what my mind says, I just wish somebody would explain it to my heart.”  (Steel Magnolias… 1989)

Oh, how very true that statement is.  So, so true.  (I’m not sure a movie ever truly captured such a true manifestation of grief as this particular scene at the cemetery.)

I have no sage wisdom to share today, except to simply acknowledge that grief doesn’t stick to a one-year calendar, despite that conventional viewpoint these days.  Acknowledging the ongoing grief helps a bit, and that’s why I’m writing today.  Simple acknowledgement.

I hope this lesson sticks with me and reminds me to have a tender heart toward others in the future, perhaps by simply marking my calendar and letting them know that I’m thinking of them and offering a heart-felt, sympathetic prayer for them on their own hard anniversaries.

I want to make it count, this often hard path I continue to find myself on without my Mom in my life.  (The article linked is absolutely fabulous.)

During this anniversary month of Mom’s passing, I’m reading The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp, and so far, it is quietly speaking to my broken heart.  Ann’s writings are best savored slowly and deliberately, and every day, I’m slowly “getting it.”  Perhaps if you find yourself with a broken heart right now, this book might offer some insight to you, too.  If not right now, perhaps make a note of this great book for a time you might need it in the future?

Ann is “explaining it to my heart,” and I am grateful.

 

Wordless Wednesday – Found in a Geocache

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Beauty, Reality… and Beauty

I will never forget visiting this place.

On our recent vacation to the Enchanted Circle area of northern New Mexico, we revisited the amazing Rio Grande Gorge again after more than twenty years.  This area is actually a state park now, but it is still mostly just a natural scenic area, spanned by an amazing bridge.

Just prior to our visit to the Rio Grande Gorge, our first stop that Tuesday afternoon was a brief hour-long visit to Old Town in Taos, where we walked with the dogs and met so many nice people there who spoke to us and petted them.

Dogs are the perfect ice breaker when meeting new people, and even though we only went in a few stores while alternating outside with the dogs, we had a great time.  We would never have met so many nice people and chatted with them without having the dogs along, and the dogs relished every moment of the attention while getting some good exercise in this unique and historic place.  Big Red is such a people person, offering his paw to shake hands with pretty much everyone that spoke to him, and Girly Girl sat reasonably still when kids came up to pet her, wagging her long, fluffy tail as fast as she could.

Fun times, nice memories and lovely people, and I’m thinking a girls trip here sometime in the future would be so much fun!  It would be fun to spend a long weekend here sometime, for sure.

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The square in historic Old Town in Taos

 

After our quick visit to Old Town, we then headed out of town toward the Rio Grande Gorge.

In the remainder of this post, I want to share two aspects of this place that seem to stand in stark contradiction to each other.  Sometimes life sends an unexpected dose of reality my way when I least suspect it, and such was the case on the day we visited this park.

First… the beauty.

The Rio Grande Gorge is a beautiful, magnificent sight to see.  I vaguely remembered it from our quick visit many years ago, but seeing it again made me realize that it was truly more beautiful than I remembered it to be.

2016-09-06-16-13-54smfsAs we drove out from Taos to Rio Grande Gorge State Park, we would never guess such an amazing sight existed in the flat land just ten miles from town if we didn’t already know it was there.  The delightful thing about canyons is how they sneak up on you and thrust their beauty right in your face all at once, unlike mountains that you see coming at you for hours ahead of time.  We couldn’t see anything about this famous place in advance, and I happily savored the “shock” factor when I saw it.

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As you approach the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, you would never suspect such a magnificent sight existed below the bridge, but the many visitors are a quick hint to the existence of that sight.
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Rio Grande Gorge State Park
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Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

This was our first real sightseeing excursion on our trip to the Enchanted Circle area.  The lighting that afternoon was a bit challenging to capture both the canyon and the sky in a decent manner, but I’m pleased with the photos, given that no photo can actually do justice to a place like this anyway.  There is no way to capture such massive three-dimensional beauty in a small, two-dimensional photo, but I gave it my best “shot.”

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A small herd of elk was grazing near the bridge, but they never would turn around to capture a better photo.  This was the best I could do… elk behinds!

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Now… onto the reality of this place.

In my previous Wordless Wednesday post, I shared a photo that I took at a lookout spot on the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.  It is a photo of a suicide crisis call unit, and these units are now pretty much everywhere on the bridge.  I certainly did not remember seeing those units on our previous visit.

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I am going to freely admit that seeing these units everywhere on the bridge really affected me deeply, and seeing them also left a huge impression on my take-away feeling from seeing this beautiful natural sight.  I initially left this area with a heavy and conflicted heart, seeing such magnificent beauty while witnessing the evidence of a hard reality of the struggles that apparently have brought far too many people here in recent years for a vastly different reason.

It is unsettling times like these that cause me to dig deeper until I find something I’m looking for.  While we were enjoying a lovely getaway in the mountains for a week of vacation together, someone else was going through their own personal hell.  I confess that I personally cannot relate to something like this, even though I have a close family member who has attempted suicide twice via drug overdose.  Thankfully, there are others that relate to these situations and are gifted to do something to make a real difference.

As I continued to ponder this dichotomy of life, a quote literally came my way in a Facebook post by a friend…

“Beauty is simply reality seen with the eyes of love.”

And it hit me like a ton of bricks… the beauty of what was happening in the placement of those call units.  The sight that initially unsettled me terribly and caused me to dig deeper for a few days, is now a thing of beauty itself.

I have a long-time friend that lives near this area, and subsequent to our visit, she told me that the units are making a difference in the lives of the courageous people that push those buttons and make those calls.  For this outcome, I find myself with such admiration and gratitude for the people that have devoted themselves and their time to try to save others and help them at the most dire time in their life.

Seeing people through the eyes of love changes everything, and those call units and the people that staff the phones 24/7 on the other end are truly beautiful… far more beautiful than even this magnificent canyon.  These people have already seen in advance the beauty of the lives of the hurting people on the other end, and they are determined to make a difference.  God bless them for their significant efforts and life-saving impact in these beautiful lives.

This is truly, truly a beautiful place.

 

Wordless Wednesday – Life Saver

Make the call.

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