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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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.

 

A Piano in Heaven

We’ve lost a true treasure.

The water has been flowing freely in Texas over the past few days from the rain clouds, but today, the water is coming from the tears of many fellow West Texans over the loss of one of our true treasures, pianist and composer Doug Smith, who died in his sleep this week(A complete list of Doug’s albums can be found at the end of the linked article.)

My family heard Doug play in person on several occasions, usually at church, and I also heard him in concert on another occasion, too.  I’m not sure if any music has ever moved me so much as Doug’s music did over the years, and I know I’m not alone in feeling this way, especially today.

The news of his death also hit me yesterday as I remembered what a fan my mother was of Doug and his music.  I remember taking her to buy some of his CDs at a local store here a few years ago and remember how thrilled she was to have them and listened to them so often.  People young and old alike loved Doug and his music, it seems.

As an avid lover of both music and photography, I found his artistic collaboration with Texas State Photographer, Wyman Meinzer, to be a truly rare work of art that I probably won’t see again in my lifetime, and I think it will go down as one of the best representations of my West Texas home that will ever be created.  Any visitor to our area can benefit from first watching this magnificent video to try to first understand the soul of the area and its people that these two gentlemen managed to capture so beautifully.

Often, when we go camping, we listen to Doug’s music.  It is such a perfect fit when out in our beautiful Texas State Parks.  Many scenes in the “West Texas” video are from those state parks that we visit so often, too.  Today, I broke down in tears watching the video again and knowing that half of the artistic duo that created it is now gone from us.  That speaks to the impact Doug and his music had on so many of us.

Please take a few minutes today or sometime soon to watch the two videos below.  One is the video I spoke of above, the famous “West Texas” video, and the other is an eight minute documentary by Doug himself following his tragic car wreck in 2007 that paralyzed him and took away his ability to play the piano… temporarily.  It is an epic story of overcoming adversity and is one that I think you will remember going forward, too.

You will see the West Texas video in its best quality by watching it in full screen mode.

Wyman Meinzer’s West Texas from Wyman Meinzer on Vimeo.

I’m going to listen to Doug’s music this week as I go about my daily chores, and I will pray for his family and all that loved him.  They are legion, and some of us feel that we’ve lost part of ourselves in his passing.  We mourn both the man and his music today.

Today, it gives me comfort to know that the hands that Doug said he missed a few years ago are once again restored and that there is a piano in Heaven that is once again singing the tunes of the soul of West Texas at the hands of a master with a true gift from God who learned to play the piano by ear.  And for all the many, many hours of enjoyment Doug’s music has brought to me, and will continue to do in years to come, I wanted to offer my own little tribute today in gratitude.

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Reconnecting With Friends

Once again, life seems to be in just a bit of upheaval here again, but thankfully, it is nothing like we had back in the winter when my mom fell and broke her hip.  It is more a confluence of little things and slightly larger things that are taking my precious personal time that I try to guard as much as possible until circumstances demand some of it.  I am missing my quieter mornings right now, for sure, but hopefully things will return to normal soon, too.

I managed to take some time off earlier today to reconnect personally with a high school friend who is in town for a couple of weeks to see her elderly parents.  We have not seen each other in person since 1976, although we reconnected a few years ago on Facebook.  My friend and I met for a tentatively scheduled two-hour coffee visit at Starbucks, and four and a half hours later, we had to finally cut off our visit with the hope that we will be able to get together one more time before she leaves to return to North Carolina.

On my drive home, I felt especially blessed to have been able to reconnect recently with so many long-lost friends from my younger days, and I have been truly amazed at how we have all been able to pick right up where we left off.  The love and caring concern is still there in every reunion, and I realized that I have so many dear friends, even though we have been apart for decades.  I have also been amazed at how similar a path many of us have walked in our respective lives as far as life challenges, too.

Today, my friend and I discovered that we share several similar family struggles, including one that is quite unique.  This certainly helped to fuel the discussion for our extra long visit, but we also found that the friendship that we enjoyed in high school was founded on such a solid foundation that we will likely be dear friends the rest of our lives, despite the fact that we live hundreds of miles apart.

There are days that God sends such a special treat my way when I need it most, and this was one of those days, a special reunion with a dear friend that blessed me in such a wonderful way!  I am especially grateful today, and I have cried tears of joy… always a good thing.

This beautiful song has been a favorite of mine for decades, and it expresses my heart so perfectly today where my friends, both new and old, are concerned.  May it bless you richly today.

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Found

What I am sharing today is probably more for me personally than for you, dear reader. I was a part of this wonderful conference this past weekend, and I want to share it here for keeps.

We laughed together, especially about salsa.

We cried together, when many women accepted Jesus Christ.

We worshiped together, in loud and perfect harmony.

We prayed together.  I will never forget Mary’s prayer.

We hugged together. A total stranger totally blessed me.

I fell in love with Jesus all over again, and I have been powerfully reminded once again of whose I am. God works in mysterious and not-so-mysterious ways each and every day, and my cup of gratitude absolutely overflows once again today.  I can only imagine what Heaven will be like one day, after singing along with 7000 other women in unison praise this past weekend.

Our lesson for these two days was based on the first chapter of John, and it was a timely one for me.  May it never leave my mind or my heart.

“You’re all I need to feel alive.  This heart has FOUND its’ home.”
— “Found” by Travis Cottrell

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Wordless Wednesday – Summer Bible Study

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“When I am writing, I am trying to find out who I am.”

To my fellow bloggers/writers, I hope this inspires you as much as it inspired me today. RIP, Maya.

The Daily Post

Maya Angelou by Spanglej, CC BY-SA 2.0.Maya Angelou by Spanglej, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.

Find a beautiful piece of art. If you fall in love with Van Gogh or Matisse or John Oliver Killens, or if you fall love with the music of Coltrane, the music of Aretha Franklin, or the music of Chopin — find some beautiful art and admire it, and realize that it was created by human beings just like you, no more human, no less.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.

When I am writing, I am trying to find out who I am, who we are, what we’re capable of, how…

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