Change–Going The Distance

I don’t like change very much. I cried every time I tried to finish the song,“The Distance.” It’s a song about my son growing up and out of the house. It took me 5 years, really, to put the final lines together and then let it go, move on. Planted on my padded piano bench, my hands gently pressing into the chords, I would sing the first few words in the verse:

The sun sets as we drive the Trace

I’ll never forget this side of your face

It’s not the same as it was, so much has changed since I met you.

My heart would immediately connect with the image in my head: my young teenage son and me driving together on the Natchez Trace, a winding, scenic roadway close to our home. Although it stretches from Nashville, Tennessee to Tupelo, Mississippi, there’s a short section that connects a friend’s house to ours.

the Natchez Trace bridge in Nashville Tennessee

Way back then, Julian and I were crossing the lovely Natchez Trace Bridge which spans a yawning valley. The sky was sunset orange. In the glow to my right, I saw that my son was a young man in transformation. Soon, he would be in the driver’s seat and I would be the passenger. Not long after that, he wouldn’t need me at his side at all. The road before us began to stretch out in ways that my heart didn’t want to face.

Julian had already changed so much in the fourteen years I’d known him. But I knew there was more change to come. For that reason, whenever I sat at my piano determined to finish the song, the words got stuck in my throat.

Transatlanticism

In the awkward silences of Julian’s early teenage years, music was our connection. What kept us talking was our love of the melody and lyrics. A great song can really go the distance, keep its impact despite the flow of time all around it.

In the car, we’d sing along with our favorite songs, working out the harmonies and talking about the lyrics. One particular song by the group, Death Cab For Cutie, was a puzzle to both of us. What did “Transatlanticism” mean? What deeper message was hidden in the song’s images?

Part of its attractiveness was its mystery, the blank spaces left for us to fill. Somehow, it was a bridge in the growing gap between mother and son. It helped me to forge ahead with finishing, “The Distance.”

Change:young Julian DenteWe can’t always connect what’s between us now

And these silent stretches are longer somehow

We turn the music way up loud

And wonder what the song’s about

And the music spans the distance

It’s our transatlanticism

Love and Letting Go

As my son became a man, I finally finished and recorded my song about change and going the distance. Julian writes and records his own music now. He drives his own roads and goes places far from where we first traveled together. His songs keep me and the whole family talking. We all love the chord changes he chooses and sometimes we embarrass him with our enthusiasm.

Thankfully, I can say that I’m glad he has grown up and gone on without me. It’s good when sons—and songs—grow up and move on. He certainly comes back to visit and keeps me up to date on his latest favorite songs. The music he’s making is all his own yet has hints of his beginnings, links that connect him to home.

change: going the distance

Yeah, we always go together now

But I know what I know, soon I’ll slow you down

The time will come when I can’t keep up

And you’ll go on without me

Whether in small increments or large sweeps, change is a guarantee. How I traverse it is key.

Julian has a lovely wife and a son of his own now. I am learning to live with the distance that makes for a great relationship; mothers and sons are complicated! I am still listening closely to every lyric he writes and wondering what the song’s about. But I don’t have to figure it all out anymore or even assign meaning to every little bump in the road.

Trying to enjoy this ride we call life, I can see the mystery as attractive rather than scary. Find the beauty, deal with the impermanence, and go the distance with change. I’ll finish one song so I can move on to write the next one, connecting the changes in a chain of love and letting go.

Now we’re staring at that last bridge

And it feels like the Atlantic

Let the music span the distance

Read more about this and other songs in my book, Lifelines and the article, “Animal House!”

Listen to “The Distance” song and 9 others in A Little Light Left.

Thanks for listening and for going the distance with me.

Full lyric for “The Distance”

change: going the distance

The Distance: A Song About Change

change: going the distance

for Julian upon his high school graduation in 2010, from Mom

from the Out of the Grey project, A Little Light Left

The sun sets as we drive the Trace

I’ll never forget this side of your face

It’s not the same as it was

So much has changed since I met you

 

We can’t always connect what’s between us now

And these silent stretches are longer somehow

We turn the music way up loud

And wonder what the song’s about

 

And the music spans the distance

It’s our transatlanticism

 

C’mon, let’s drive along singing the same songs

Hear the wheels hum with our harmonies

Remember these, please

When you go on without me

 

Cos, yeah, we always go together now

But I know what I know: soon I’ll slow you down

Yeah, the time will come when I can’t keep up

And you’ll go on without me

 

Let the music span the distance

Of our transatlanticism

 

There’s a deer standing on the side of the road

So we stop to stare but she starts to go

She’s just so scared of what she doesn’t know

So many dangers on the road

 

Now we’re staring at that last bridge

And it feels like the Atlantic

Let the music span the distance

When you go on without me

Read the story behind this song in “Change: Going the Distance”

The Art of Compromise or The Compromise of Art

art of compromise

Gravity and Relativity

Out of the Grey lite. That’s what my husband Scott and I call Gravity, our fourth record. Actually, a fan came up to our CD table after a concert one night in 1995 and bestowed that description.

“I love all of your albums up to this point but this new one is more like Out of the Grey lite.”

Yikes! He was right.

Before recording Gravity, we’d written our ten songs and were ready to head into the studio. Monday morning, 10 AM downbeat. However, the Thursday before our scheduled session, the record label decided we didn’t have enough ‘radio-friendly’ songs.

What?

Scott and I dug in our heels for a short minute then went with the pressure to play the game. Over that weekend, we scrambled to write a few new songs with more pop appeal. Our producer, Charlie Peacock, helped us win approval by co-writing the songs, “When Love Comes to Life” and “Hope In Sight.”

Half of the songs and a lot of the production came out lacking what we thought of as Out of the Grey artistry. We did get some radio play, though.

At the end of the day, did we practice the art of compromise or did we compromise our art?

A Play on a Play

art of compromiseHave you seen the film, Bullets Over Broadway?

You could call it a play on a play. The story examines artistic integrity and how far an artist will go to protect and defend it—or lose it. It poses a question about the sometimes-dirty word compromise, asking if it has its place or if it is always reprehensible.

At the beginning of this 1994 release, David, a young playwright, tries to gather funds and cast members to perform his beloved work of art. Time constraints, human foibles, and money woes assail his stance on artistic integrity. At first, David stands his ground, refusing to give up control over his writing and his role as director. Nevertheless, when an underworld thug with the funds for production materializes and seems a godsend, David compromises. The catch of the money deal is that the gangster’s talentless girlfriend must play a small part.

After David softens his stance regarding talent and economics, taking the production money plus the girl, his agent leads him into other small compromises. As the play unfolds and rehearsals progress, David’s artistic integrity slips so far that he rewrites dialog at the behest of the manipulative lead actress. However, the playwright’s climactic sin is letting the goon who babysits the talentless young actress make changes in lines, scenes, and the plot. David recognizes that this mobster hitman is more talented than he. In the end, David is not an artist who is willing to stand by his original work.

This play about a play never reveals what the playwright’s play was actually about. We get the gist, though, that more drama, sex scandals, and realism are what the people want. Are the characters speaking our language? Does the plot mirror our own struggles? Have we left off the lofty and abstract so that the crowd can get the message point blank? Bullets fly at movie’s end when the story descends into an action-filled thriller.

Popular Art

The population at large loves what it can enjoy and comprehend without extra effort. As a pop music snob, I pooh-pooh much of the stuff that seems all fluff. I prefer a more complicated theme than, say, “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored.” Having said that, I’m aware that other types of music-lovers wouldn’t call pop music ‘art’ at all.

To be sure, inside a fine art gallery, I might lift my eyebrows at the abstract and inaccessible. Impatient and ignorant, I don’t take the time to find the deeper meaning, moving further along the wall in search of served-up messages. When it comes to Art, I dig in my heels in relative places, drawing my own particular lines in the sand.

For example, I have written some artistically obscure songs like, “Becoming,” not caring whether anyone heard them or at least not worried that some might miss its message. However, I have certainly written songs with radio play in mind. Economic forces drove my compromise in the form of pressure from the record company and the mortgage company. One argument for concession goes something like this: if some of my art compromises its beauty for popularity sake, it will expose my more artistic pieces to a wider audience.

Mass Appeal

Many an Out of the Grey fan found us first on the radio. Before Gravity, our popularity had been growing. A lot of people told us they liked our fresh, left-of-center sound. Record sales were adding up and we wanted to capitalize on the momentum. It’s an old story.

art of compromise

The pressure to compromise can sideline even the best of intentions. When something good gets more popular, getting more becomes the modus operandi. For example, in the 1990s, Starbucks was just a cool cafe on the west coast. Scott and I had to mail-order their exotic blends and dark roasts. Nowadays, there’s a Starbucks on every corner, the McDonald’s of coffee some say. Compromising quality for quantity some complain.

However, mass-appeal has its appeal. It allows me to find a cheap knock-off of the expensive version of something or other I could otherwise not afford to purchase. As Meryl Streep schools Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada about the origin of the color of her cheap cerulean blue sweater, so I should take a lesson and remember that design is a gift with a steep price.

Mob Mentality

I am an artistic snob when I care to be and part of the mob when I don’t. If I don’t sink my toes into certain artistic fields of expression, I am tempted to pass by quickly with a quick judgment. I may think you are crazy if you only buy a carefully curated olive oil while you may drop your jaw at me for spending so much time choosing between “a” or “the” in a song lyric. You may secretly judge my mall clothes as fashion mongrels while I am arguing internally that you can’t possibly enjoy the ‘music’ of Florida Georgia Line.

art of compromise

From Nicholas Sparks and J.K. Rowling to Feodor Dostoevsky and Charles Dickens, with so many in between, who decides what is good art or bad, high quality or low? Certainly, mass appeal isn’t a consistent measuring stick because watered-down art proliferates even as the cream rises to the top.

Relative Obscurity

Positively speaking, compromise is a humbled move toward peace. It need not always be an act of artistic cowardice.

What’s my point? Humility, I guess. If pride in my fine taste stiffens my stance in one corner of the rug, someone will surely pull it out from under my feet with revelations of what I am missing. More than likely, what appeals to you has merits I haven’t investigated. Maybe you love every song and sound on Gravity. I’m glad if you do!

In keeping my knees unlocked and soft, I can walk your way and experience the view from your side of the room. You can show me what I’ve missed in Picasso and I can point out the genius of Sting. We can meet at Starbucks, maybe stop to shop at the mall, and go from there.

Out of the Grey’s fan base fell off sharply after the release of Gravity. Our follow-up, See Inside, never found the listeners we thought it deserved. Scott and I sometimes wonder what would have happened if we’d held our ground on how we wanted to shape our sound. The question will remain: does gravity suck or is it just a natural force that no artist can escape? The answer lies in the ears of the beholder. The rest is left to relative obscurity.

Happy with Your Lot in Life?

living with your lot in life

Every spring, people get an itch for something new, something different. Many people move to new homes in this season, looking for a different situation or a change of view. They are imagining a better lot in life.

This spring, I have an itch for updating, remodeling, and just cleaning out the house I have. Yet, I am starting to look around, too. I’m noticing all the for sale signs and wondering, “is there something out there that could be better than what I have?”

Turn-Arounders

As a kid, I lived in several rented and temporary homes. No matter how many times we moved, Mom always kept my sister and brother and me in the same school district. But I didn’t like the impermanence of the shifting address, the change of neighbors. I wanted to settle in and stay for awhile.

These days, I live in a house of my own at the end of a cul-de-sac in a small suburban neighborhood. Cul-de-sac literally means “bottom of a sack.” The name says it all. In a cul-de-sac you can’t just drive through. It’s a dead end of sorts for those who don’t live there. My family and I call them the turn-arounders, the cars that come in to find they must follow the circle around to get back out to where they meant to go.

Not me. I belong here and I like being at the bottom of the bag where I can see who is coming and who is going, where I can watch the kids play and the neighbors can have an eye out too.

Permanent People

There are nine homes gathered around our little circle of macadam. Almost half of these have had the same families in them for as long as my family has lived in ours. Scott and I and our three children moved to this house in December of 1995. That same week, a Christmas card from some neighbors in the same circle appeared in our mailbox. Robert and Linda live three doors down and around. Amazingly, they had been in the cul-de-sac for many years before welcoming us and they still call it home these 24 years later.

Also, Joe and Amy to our left and Austin and Diane next to them have been here longer than we have. These four families, including ours, have grown up together. We watched each other’s daughters and sons grow up and go on to adulthood. We didn’t pick each other as neighbors, but we’re happy with the lot we got.

Camels and Change

When we moved to Nashville in 1988, Scott and I decided to live in the suburbs. Having both grown up in suburbia, he in River Vale, New Jersey and I in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, we imagined that living downtown would be expensive or unsafe and that living rurally would be inconvenient. Thus, when we were ready to leave our suburban apartment and buy a home, we settled on a nearby little neighborhood still under construction. We loved the lot we got and the area was spacious and safe.

At the time, the neighborhood was perched on the edges of development. It bordered farms and woods in an unincorporated little town. Not surprisingly, in the 20+ years since then, new towns and houses have sprouted up around us. Now, the traffic growls along the main road for most of the day. It rumbles in the background of our backyard into the evening.

 It wasn’t always that way. The birds and bugs used to be the loudest performers in our backyard haven beneath the trees. These days, I sometimes strain to hear them above a muffler’s roar or a siren’s wail. With city growth comes the inevitable sprawl. We are certainly part of the problem as our neighborhood was just the camel’s nose under the tent.

Convenient and Clean

Nevertheless, our subdivision is still a splendid place to live. Our kids say it was a great place to grow up. Friends were a sidewalk skip away and the nearby neighborhood pool was uncrowded and clean. Community in the front yard and privacy in the back. Grocery stores just a quick drive down the road and a homeowner’s association to keep our property values up to snuff.

Scott and I also found our Nashville suburbia to be the perfect place for making our music. We did all of our recording in local studios. Our first two records came to life in a nearby strip mall studio and the next several emerged from the Art House studio which was only a 5-minute drive from home. Nowadays, our own home studio is as convenient as it gets.

Back in the 1990’s, when we were touring a lot, we would board our tour buses in nearby grocery store parking lots. Our record label was only a town away. Managers and booking agents were close by, too. The airport is a quick 25 minutes on a light traffic day. What more could we want?

Country Cousins

My sister, her husband, and their seven children started out on the outskirts of Nashville near us. Now, they live far out in the country, closer to the border of Alabama than to Nashville. They asserted their aversion to homeowners’ associations and close neighbors early on after their move from Pennsylvania to our neck of the woods. Twenty years later, they have a home on a lovely hill surrounded by their twenty-nine acres. Although their church and community are quite close, their nearest neighbors are tucked out of sight and their closest grocery store requires a twenty-five minute drive.

They certainly have their freedom from associations. What Scott and I sometimes get are nosey board-member neighbors reporting  that our moldy siding and paint-peeled eaves aren’t up to neighborhood covenants. Or we get letters threatening fines for unruly lawns and other debatable infractions. At its worst, our homeowners association has been a small cabal of localized tyranny.

There are more reasons to envy others’ rural isolation. If I lived at the end of a dirt road, I could go out to get my mail in my underwear — if I wanted to. Additionally, it would be nice to not have that middle-of-the-night barking of the next-door dog, consistent and persistent these many years. There was one early morning, around 3 AM, that I actually went from my bed to the dog owner’s door in my underwear, half-asleep as I was from the disruption.

“Please stop letting your dog run around and bark in the cul-de-sac every night at this time. We are trying to sleep here!” She was shocked—by the accusation or the underwear? Both, I suppose. The barking stopped but only for a short time.

City Friends

Those we know who live in cities have a more eclectic community experience. Their neighbors are much more diverse. Our New York City family brushes shoulders with people from an amazing array of cultures and countries. I have family and friends who live in East Nashville and South Nashville neighborhoods who experience a lot of economic, racial and cultural diversity. With some intentionality, they get to know people who look, think, and live differently than they do. They also hear the occasional gun shots and keep their kids inside at night.

In my song, “Cul-de-sac Cathy,” I sing that all of my neighbors are somewhat like me. For the most part it’s true: we stay within a certain income range and have a lot of the same choices of schools and provisions for our kids. I did have an Afghani friend in the neighborhood for a while before she and her family moved away. I enjoyed learning about her views of Islam and America and family life. Mostly, though, I interact with people I can relate to. Seems to be a human propensity. Something about birds of a feather….

American Dreams

What am I trying to get at in my song and in this article?

I am reminding myself to be happy with my lot in life!

Perhaps I imagine judgements from city and country friends alike. These projections drive me to ask myself:

“Who are you to choose convenience and safety? Do you recognize the privilege in your choices?”

  • Do I have a right to affluence and permanence?
  • Is this middle-class American guilt?
  • Would you call it white privilege?

It’s definitely underpinned with lots of gratitude: I like my lot in life!

However, I do not want to sleep-walk in an American dream. I want God’s design for me and my family above all. The questions, however, don’t always get answered. Guess I’ll have to live in the tension.

In deed, I know I’ve got a lot that isn’t just a house. No more rented and temporary for me, I get to settle in and stay awhile. Thanks to the circle, Scott and I see our neighbors and they see us. We belong here. To this day we are all sharing our lives and dreams. In defense of suburbs and close associations, I’ll just say something about if the shoe fits….

                                                 Cul-de-sac Cathy

Everybody’s got two cars in the drive

We’re all working hard to give our kids a life

Tell me then, who am I to criticize?

The shoe is mine

 

I’m Cul-de-sac Cathy

Happy to be

Here where the world is convenient and clean

All of my neighbors are somewhat like me

Getting to work on American dreams

 

Why would I trade away my pretty little yard

Where the kids can play and life is not too hard

And it’s safe to stay outside even when it’s dark

It doesn’t get better than

 

Cul-de-sac Cathy

Happy to be

Here where the world is convenient and clean

All of my neighbors look somewhat like me

Falling asleep with American dreams

 

Well the country cousins say the isolation gives them freedom from associations

And my city friends seem so progressive in their accommodations

I must admit I wonder what I’ve missed by playing it safe,

playing it safe, am I playing it safe?

 

Guess I’m gonna live in this middle ground

Cause I got a lot that isn’t just a house

Location of the heart they say is everything

 

Cul-de-sac Cathy

Happy to be

Here where the world is convenient and clean

All of my neighbors are someone like me

Living our lives and sharing our dreams

 

Check out the other songs on my 5-Song EP, Closer to Free.

More like this: I Wanted My DogDead

Finding the Blind Spots

rear view mirror

I looked in the rear-view mirror twice to be certain no one was in that lane.                                                            Turn signal on, I made my move across that dotted white line.

“Watch out!”

My husband had been looking in the same direction as I had, but he saw the car I had not seen.                       An angry horn blast added to my addled nerves as I swerved back to my side of the road.

“I never even saw that car. Must’ve been in my blind spot,” I muttered, hands shaking slightly on the wheel.

Defensive Driving

We all have them.

Not that we know what they are exactly.

Blind spots are elusive but we’ve made enough dangerous moves to know they’re out there. Shouldn’t we conclude then, that there are things other people see that we are blind to?

My husband, Scott, and I made a deal early on in our relationship: When safety is on the line, we can say anything to each other.

We made this pact when we started having babies. Safety was tantamount back then, especially when driving around in vehicles. For example, if I saw some moves he was making that didn’t seem safe, I could tell him so. And he wasn’t supposed to get defensive.

Conversely, if he thought I was driving too fast, even if I didn’t agree, he could say it without fearing my justifications.

Or so it went, in theory.

We tried to acknowledge areas where we could be in error, not seeing straight. We agreed to stay open to another perspective.

The question is: What are my blind spots?

I don’t know exactly. But some of my friends and family do. Hopefully, I’m open enough to invite honest revelations from someone who cares: Christine, you’re over the line, with eyes off the road, and headed the wrong direction on a one-way street.

“OK,” I say, “thanks for letting me know.” Or so it goes, in theory.

Three Ways To See It

We approach the intersection of what we see clearly versus what remains murky with three choices:

1. We Can Help Others: Identify and point out the blind spots that others have.

Have you ever dared to tell someone what you see that they do not?

A dear friend of mine, who will remain nameless, was what I call a ‘nay-sayer.’ He’d often respond negatively when I first presented an idea to him. I did not think he was aware of this negative habit.

For example, I once asked, “Do you think we should try putting the couch on that side of the room?”

“No,” he said, “it won’t look right there.”

“Well,” I suggested, “can we at least try it?”

Minutes later, he admitted, “Wow, that does look pretty good over there!”

“You know, you do that a lot, saying no automatically before opening up to a possibility,” I mentioned.

He did not like the remark but took it to heart. A few days later, he responded to something affirmatively instead of a knee-jerk no.

It worked! When I dared to point out his blind spot, my ‘nay-saying’ friend reined in his bad habit.

Mostly though, people do not respond well to these types of observations and instead, they feel judged, threatened, and downright defensive. Honestly, it’s rarely worth the risk to help others by pointing out their blind spots.

2. We Can Help Ourselves: Another choice is to just notice others’ blind spots and learn from them without attempting to correct their vision. Spotting other people’s headlong rush to self-destruction, or just their annoying habits, is easy and we may even have a plan to get them straightened out. But usually, we do better to keep our observations to ourselves.

For example, I had an acquaintance who related to her teenage daughter more like a friend than a mother. I was certain they were headed for some rough roads if she didn’t step in and act like a parent. However, I decided not to go poking my fingers into their business. As the years unfolded, the girl grew up and turned out just fine. They did not need me to set them on the right path.

In other good news, my angst and my judgment did cause me to take a look at my motivation and try to find my blind spot in that situation.

3. We Can Humble Ourselves: The best choice I know for finding blind spots is to admit there’s always more than meets the eye. When looking at others and ourselves, humility is key to breaking us out of our pride and insecurity, two-sides of the same prison cell.

If I look for my own log jam and give the benefit of the doubt to others–also known as compassion–I’m on my way to finding freedom.

Consider the Blind Spots

Why do we defend first before considering assertions? I have noticed how I leap to justify myself when someone questions my moves.

For example, a few months ago, my daughter challenged me about a certain attitude of mine that boiled to the surface:

Two high school boys approached us as we were leaving a store. They had a box of candy which they were selling to raise money for something at school. Or so they said.

I was immediately suspicious and just told them, no thanks. The store manager had come out by then and asked them to move away from his storefront. As we walked to the parking lot, I told my daughter they were probably just scamming us, not really raising money for their team but for themselves. Her jaw dropped and she asked me if I might be judging them because they were African-American boys.

My feathers ruffled, I said, “no, I just didn’t see any official looking stickers on the box or have any sense that they were legit. I’m not prejudiced!”

She suggested, however, that I could have been reacting to them based on their skin color without realizing it. “They did have an official-looking document explaining it, Mom. You just didn’t see it.” Blind spot. Ouch. I had to reconsider my reaction.

(I found out later that, before she went to where her car was parked, she found the two young men and apologized for how the store manager had treated them and she wished them the best in their endeavor. That’s my girl!)

Poor Judgement

Jesus told us to remove the plank in our own eye before trying to nab the speck of dust in someone else’s. He says I will be judged in the same way I judge others. Is that really what I want?

No way!

My judges won’t see all of the extenuating circumstances or hidden situations in my life. They’ll make projections and false accusations. This gives me pause–a long inhalation of introspection–before I dare go pointing and poking.

Jesus’ point, I believe, is to focus us on our humility–or lack thereof.

Humbling myself is a slow-motion scenario. It involves an interlude of reflection before reaction or projection. Check the mirrors. Check them again. Ask what my fellow-travelers see. Look over my shoulder and proceed with caution.

Cultivating this sort of honest accuracy in your self-assessment will help you to know where your talents and limits truly lie, saving you from embarrassment in some situations while ensuring greater success in others. Meanwhile, you will have an honest and accurate sense of which areas you truly need to improve.

We know blind spots can crush us. If we refuse to look where we’re going, examine bad habits, and listen to what people are trying to tell us, then we’re headed in the wrong direction.

Three Best Case Scenarios

Here’s what we should do when it comes to blind spots:

  1. Give the benefit of the doubt to those we’re tempted to correct. Assume we don’t see the entire picture.
  2. Stop being defensive when someone points something out to us. Consider their perspective.
  3. Humble ourselves by taking an honest look in the mirror. Be willing to really see what’s there.

Through meditation, introspection, journaling, and just journeying, we can find some of our own blind spots!

But don’t stop there. Especially when you’re already in the car and picking up speed.

Ask for help from another set of eyes. Invite others to tell you some things about you. Seek another perspective before you make a lane change. Who knows, maybe if you drop some of your defensive maneuvers, the people around you will do the same.

 

*A word about Self-Compassion: This article is not meant to be one more way of beating ourselves up or driving ourselves to do more. Self-compassion is at the heart of a beautiful life. The instruction to love others as we love ourselves implies that we love ourselves. It is not a given that we actually do. In fact, some of us despise ourselves and it shows in the way we live. If we start with love and acceptance of ourselves, we can then find the freedom to live an honest, open, humble, and joyful life! More on this in another article.

Check out my related article: Making Connections, Not Projections.

Making Connections, Not Projections

making connections

Walking with my daughter, Carina, on a lakeside trail recently, I happened upon an epiphany:

I project when I don’t connect.

What I mean is, I create mental projections on the wall of my imagination if I do not have real-life interactions and conversations.

Like when a friend has not called me in a month, I might picture all the ways in which I have probably offended her. Another example is how I will tell myself a tale of rejection to make sense of an unanswered message I’ve sent with the sincerest of emoticons.

By creating a movie on the screen in my head, I can come up with all kinds of fictions explaining why someone hasn’t called, texted, emailed, “liked,” or otherwise given me a thumbs-up to acknowledge our relationship. When real-life conversations have fallen away, my brain works overtime to fill in the blanks.

making connections not projections

For instance, while side-by-side with Carina on the trail, I was explaining to her how I had been feeling disconnected from my brother who lives in another state. I admitted to her that I hadn’t called him because it was clearly his turn to call me. Way past his turn, actually, because I had been doing all of the connecting in the past year or so it seemed. I felt a bit hurt and had listed in my head all of the ways in which I deserved better.

Also, I had projected on the broad screen of my skull a colorful parade of the reasons he’d been neglecting, avoiding, and even rejecting me. I had come up with some scary scenarios and worst-case worries.

Maybe some of my mental projections were true. My feelings were definitely real. But I had gone too far. You see, I had left the mainland where the wires and synapses fire at the sound of human voices. I had crossed over to the island of extended imagination where weak signals send scrambled messages at best.

staying connected

My phantom brother, in that far-off country without communication, had become a flickering kind of figure. Like Princess Leia’s holographic image projected from inside R2D2, he was trapped like an apparition in my memory. I could only tell myself stories about what was going on between us for I did not have the facts.

“Carina,” I said, “I finally just decided to call the guy, whether it was his turn or not.”

I had pressed the green icon on my smartphone. When he answered, I told him immediately what I’d been thinking and feeling. My throat got a little choked. He said, “wow, you got to that pretty fast.”

I did. We talked for a long while. He told me about how busy he’s been with his job and family. We laughed about some of the tales I’d been telling myself.

Thank God for smart phones with good connections. When we pressed our red icons good-bye, I felt so much better. I remembered my little brother. The kid he was and the man I love. There’s nothing like an honest conversation for dispelling hallucinations.

With Carina it’s easy. Together on the path, we connect before there’s a chance to project. With others I love, there’s just more distance to cover. It can be done though. All it takes is making connections.

Henceforth, I will remember this lesson: don’t project–connect!

Instead of playing old movies on my wobbly mental screen, I’ll shut off the projector and use that modern machine. Just press green.

 

Out of Denial: How I Found Life in the Bigger Story

coming out of denial

Two Men and a Gun

When I was twenty, I got mugged by two thugs in Boston.

I was walking home alone from a friend’s apartment when I noticed two guys approaching me on the dark sidewalk. One of them had a gun in his hand. Before I could think, they grabbed me and shoved me into an apartment building doorway, took my purse, then pulled me back down along the sidewalk.

I realized they were moving me toward the top of a stairway that led down into a dark passage between two buildings.

In shock, I began singing the 23rd Psalm. They called me nasty names and told me to shut up. Soon, we reached the top of the steps, but, before they could drag me down, I threw myself back on the concrete sidewalk and began to shake as if having a seizure.

“My medicine, my medicine, I need my medicine,” I cried, clinging to the stair rail as one of them smacked me in the head with the gun and the other yanked my feet toward the stairs.

Just then, a taxi cab came swinging by with its headlights sweeping. The two guys decided I wasn’t worth it, and they disappeared into the dark place to which they’d meant to drag me. Honestly, God gets all the credit, no question. I jumped up, pumped my fist in the air, and shouted, “We won!”

Now, where did that victory fist come from? Like the singing and the feigned seizure, the answer is a mystery to me. All I knew was that God had saved me!

In Denial

That’s the version of the story I have been telling for thirty years. However, my memory of that night is like the memory of a photograph rather than the memory of the event itself. Some details are missing, and there’s a sheen of unreality on the face of it.

When my old college friend Bob contacted me recently, I asked him his recollection of that time period. He happens to have an amazing memory, and he told me things I had forgotten about that night and about myself.

Here’s how the story should go:

When I was twenty, I was assaulted and robbed at gunpoint and came close to being raped and murdered. I had left a friend’s house in the heart of a dangerous city at 11 PM, refusing his pleas to let him walk me home. I told him, “God will take care of me.” How naive I was, full of pride and risking so much for nothing.

Certainly, the parts about singing, pretending to have a seizure, and then jumping up in victory when my attackers ran are true. They happened without forethought. And I believe God did save me.

Nevertheless, after the fact, I failed to face the weight of what actually had happened, could have happened.

In the following days, with my black eye and bloody chin and scalp, I did not–would not–absorb the impact. I held on to the parts of the story that suited me. A few weeks after the incident, as Bob reminded me, I began walking alone again at night.

Here’s the weirdest part: I forgot most of the second story’s details. I did not remember my refusals of help, my pride and stupidity, or the black eye. Also, Bob informed me about some of our friends who thought I must have been crazy before and after because of my behavior and attitude.

I was shocked by how little of myself I recognized. Truthfully, it was over 30 years ago, but there are some things you just don’t forget. And yet, I do. I did. A lot. It sounds like someone in denial.

Out of Denial

Did I know I was in denial?
Of course not! How can you know you’re in denial if you’re in denial?

What is it exactly?

According to one definition: Denial is a coping mechanism that gives you time to adjust to distressing situations — but staying in denial can interfere with … your ability to tackle challenges.*

The Mayo clinic online staff says: “If you’re in denial, you’re trying to protect yourself by refusing to accept the truth about something that’s happening in your life.” **

My definition is: “Bearing false witness against yourself; being unable or unwilling to acknowledge an unacceptable truth or emotion.”

The shoe fit. I began to wear it.
Even so, how does one begin to come out of denial? How did I move in that direction?

Signs of Denial

Obviously, it’s taken me a long time to face facts about that attack in Boston and about myself as a young woman, to get a true picture of the person I was before I began to come out of denial.

As I look back again at what should have been a pivotal point in my life, I recognize some signs of my denial:

  • I didn’t want to burden others with my problems, wanted independence
  • I isolated myself, preferring aloneness to interaction
  • My isolation created in me a lack of perspective and outward objectivity
  • I thought I had to display a perfect, pure picture of myself to be a good Christian, not comprehending that my honesty and authentic brokenness would draw people to me and to God
  • The pedestal suited me because, at a distance, I could control people’s perceptions
  • I had a lot of answers and not enough questions
  • I had a secret, destructive habit which NO-ONE knew about

Defining Moments

My first step in facing the truth about myself was telling a secret which no-one knew:

When I was in my twenties, I had an eating disorder called bulimia. It was a destructive habit of bingeing and purging but I told myself it was my way of managing my weight. In fact, it was my way of managing emotions and memories too painful to let surface.

In retrospect, I wonder at how much of my story I kept stuffed inside, rarely sharing the hidden parts of myself. Fresh out of childhood, my feelings were trying to surface, but I didn’t have an escape hatch for them. This disorder kept me from dealing with the story of my past.

Then I met Scott, who later became my husband. He helped me take an honest look at my life and begin to tell my story. When I told him about my bingeing and purging, it was as though a tiny shaft of light broke into my cellar. My heart felt less heavy and I began to let the truth about my childhood come out. I began to let go of damaging emotions roiling around inside my gut.

We Write Our Own Medicine

Telling the truth has been an essential element in my spiritual and emotional health and recovery. Actually, it’s essential for physical and mental health, too. When my heart and mind were clogged, my body felt sick and looked for relief.

To keep the flow of freedom going, I began to write songs and stories. When I let my thoughts and feelings escape the jumbled places inside me, they’d untangle on the way out and take shape in creativity.

I also began to say out loud in safe places things I had never voiced. Over these many decades of my life, I have been part of recovery groups, prayer groups, and sharing groups. Counseling and all kinds of therapy have helped in my healing.

The Process

The hardest part of finding life for me has been the slowness of the pace.
The saying goes, “Don’t push the river,” but all I want to do is push.
Get with the program, River, and show me some results!
Problem is, the program is all about trusting the process, no matter how meandering and slow it feels.

Take my physical pain, for example. The list of methods I’ve used to relieve my chronic back, hip, shoulder, and neck pain is too long to share. My saying became, ”nothing works.”

Currently, I’m trying a new kind of yoga which is all about letting go. Instead of finding the balance between effort and surrender like my other yoga practices, this one is all about zero effort and 100% surrender.

Gravity does all the work as I lie on the floor breathing. And paying attention to how my muscles slowly let go of tension. While I do NOTHING. The poses are supposed to do the protracted work of releasing and easing the pain.

So far, I have noticed only a little bit of change. I’m tempted to go negative and declare that this process is not working. But those are old thought patterns.

Instead, I’ve decided to stick with it and trust that the long haul could be the ticket. This may take years of practice in letting go. I’m hoping for the best.

Three Tiers for Life!

What is life in the bigger story?

It’s like a puzzle. We admire the beauty of the cover on the box before we dump the contents and begin the sorting of the pieces. The pile of tiny, jumbled shapes is daunting, but we know there’s a big picture in there somewhere. We just have to begin with one connection, two pieces that make a perfect fit. From there, with diligence and patience, we begin to see small patches of the picture take shape.

Sometimes we swear the designer of this thing left out important pieces. Or someone has lost a few border pieces before us. Or we have dropped a few under the table without knowing, never to be recovered. And yet, we persevere, and the puzzle begins to make sense and emerge as a thing of beauty.

My “formula for finding life,” in a nutshell:

First, Come Out of Denial

You must look for signs of denial. Then you can begin to come out of that dank and dark cave.
Ask yourself: Are you, deep down, a wreck in some way?
In some hidden corner of your life, is there a bruised and broken part of you about to explode from the conflict?

What conflict?
The conflict between what should be and what actually is.
Is there a destructive habit or addiction in your life, even a damaging thought process, that keeps you from facing fears, feelings, or memories?

Here are a few helpful articles: 7 Signs ,  

Ask Yourself These Questions

Second, Tell Your Story

We are wonderfully made creatures. Our parts are all connected and meant to flow together freely. When we turn our insides out, we connect to others’ stories, which reminds us of the big picture, the thing bigger than us. The whole that is much more than the sum of its parts.

When you tell your truths, be as honest as you can. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen if I face the truth about this?” You will probably find that your answer is manageable. Then, do the next right thing to move in a healthy direction.

Here’s a related article I wrote:​ Get Out of Your Head and Into Health.​

I thought no one could handle all my deep secrets. My worst fear was to be abandoned.

But I found someone who could handle my reality.

As I began to share my hardest facts with Scott, some weight began to lift off of my chest. He heard my confession about the bingeing and purging, which I’d done since my senior year of high school, and he didn’t run for the nearest exit. He stayed and carried some of the weight and has been doing so for over 30 years.

Third, Trust the Process

There are many ways to process the pain and suffering of our lives.
You can find safe places, people, and programs that will help you on your journey.

As I came out of denial and started facing and telling the truth about myself, I looked around for more help. The resources I found included a community of friends who were telling their truths, too. I was part of formal and informal groups of women and men intentionally working on their life stories. One of these groups was a 12-step recovery meeting called Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA). Here was a safe place to say hard things about myself and my life. We listened to one another without comment or judgment. We began to trust the slow process of healing and recovery.

Have compassion for yourself as you would with someone else you love.
Remember, Jesus said the second greatest commandment was to love others as you love yourself. This implies that YOU SHOULD LOVE YOURSELF.

If you do not love yourself, how will you be able to love others?
So grab the oxygen mask dangling in front of your face and breathe deeply! Let the life-giving flow do its work. Trust the process.

Those are my three essentials for finding life in the bigger story.

The beautiful scene on the front of the puzzle box reminds me that each annoying little piece really does connect somewhere and can somehow add to my life.

Therefore, I will keep sorting through the pile and finding parts that fit the bigger picture. I will keep sharing my thoughts and discoveries in my bigger story blog.
Thanks for reading, and happy journeying!

Christine

*h​ttps://www.cbsnews.com/news/10-signs-youre-in-denial/


** ​https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/denial/art-20047926

Learning to Breathe

learning to breathe

I have been learning to breathe again.

I’ve been practicing breathing for a few months now. You know, the kind of breathing that requires a concentrated effort to simply listen to the sound, the sound of your breath.

No thoughts allowed. Just create a small wind tunnel in your throat and focus on that sound for twenty minutes. It’s supposed to be healing; a meditative exercise in calming the brain and body.

‘How does one not think thoughts?’ I wonder in my head as I try to listen to my breath. The sound reminds me of ocean waves on the beach in some small town along the Gulf of Mexico, and I picture myself on the sand, and, oh, I could use a week at the beach and–oops, there I go thinking thoughts again!

Letting Go of Tension

When I do this practice, I usually lie on my back on the floor with my knees up on a chair. This creates a release for my lower spine and gives me the best chance to not use a single muscle. Except for my breathing muscles.

I hold a lot of tension in my body, even when lying in this completely relaxed position. My neck is tight and my feet and hands slightly clenched. Honestly, when I roll out of bed every morning, I have more tension in my hips and back than when I rolled into bed. How does that happen? Do my muscles ever loosen their grip? If not in sleep, then when?

That’s why I am re-learning how to breathe, how to tell my brain that all is well. Then maybe my brain will give my muscles a vacation. Take a few days off, go to the beach, ahh the beach, the ocean, oh my thoughts are running off again and I was supposed to be just breathing, just listening…

Learning to Die

Have you noticed how an exhalation makes your torso collapse a bit? The rib cage shuffles down and the shoulders drop as the diaphragm forces the lungs to let go of their air. If I push all of the air out of my lungs, my entire body drops more deeply and more heavily toward the floor. Pausing between that full exhale and the next breath in, I lie in stillness like a corpse.


This place between breaths feels like a kind of death. When I empty myself of the breath of life and hesitate before the next inhalation, I am in liminal space. Between rooms, I pause on the threshold and take the time to examine where I’ve been, before moving on to God-only-knows-where.

As I understand it, the autonomic nervous system is divided into two parts: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. When I inhale, I engage the sympathetic so that my body is ready for flight or fight. My heart rate increases and my bladder is more than willing to empty itself.

When I exhale, my heart rate should drop as the parasympathetic system kicks in for calming and relaxing my body. In this state, I should be able to digest food and lose some anxiety. The bladder holds on and the bowels loosen up.

Not so much for me.

One Breath at a Time

My sympathetic system seems stuck on hold. Hyper-vigilance might be a good word: ready for anything all the time. It’s as if my body is saying, “no way, José, I’m not letting you die!”

Maybe I learned hyper-vigilance as a child, lying in my bed at night hoping Dad would come home so Mom could relax. Perhaps it was later when we were hoping he wouldn’t show up drunk to wake us up in the middle of the night. Possibly, I learned to be on high alert because of my personality, hyper-sensitive or something.

Let’s face it, the unpredictability of life presents a case for staying on the watchtower, no matter how safe your castle may seem.

What I want to know is: how do I let go and live now? Forget the past; who knows the future?

This very moment is what’s happening!

So, back to the breath.

Learning to Live

When I practice my twenty minutes of doing nothing but breathing and listening, I am learning to live in the moment I’m in. Trust the present being, let the doing take care of itself.

I’m not supposed to be thinking but here’s what I’m thinking:

  • The very first breath we take as humans is at birth. Our life in the womb suddenly opens up to the flow of air through mouth, throat, and lungs.
  • Then comes our first exhalation–a tiny death as life immediately shakes our bodies and creates fear and insecurity. We feel untethered. No wonder most babies start out with a good cry.
  • The next breath in is a tiny resurrection: Oh, I’m still here and I’ve been here before. I’m alive.

Something in Me Just Takes Over

And so it goes. Every breath a birth, death, and resurrection.

If it weren’t a mystery, we’d have stopped thinking, talking, and writing about it by now. But Life is wild. The daily-ness of each day, the normalcy of each creature, the magnitude of every morning. Why shouldn’t every breath we take be as astounding?

As I lie here learning to breathe, my shoulders settle for a better situation. A connective tissue clicks loose in my spine. An electric tingle sizzles on the tips of my fingers and toes. Small signs of change and movement towards release. I’ll take them.

I’m alive, I’m dying, I’m alive again. My soul longs for eternal life even as my flesh lies encumbered by the tension of suffering and death. With all of that to think about, I’m glad I don’t forget to breathe.

(Oh, and here’s a song about breathing: Love, Like Breathing)

Running Out Of Time: Escape the Hurry and Worry

worry a woman running

I am running out of time,

I’m running out of time

Running from the hurry,

turning worry into wine

In my mind

Out of time

I know ‘if only’ is what was

and ‘what if’ is in doubt

So I think I’ll find myself

a lovely here and now

So sublime

Out of time

I am always running out of time. Trying to get away from hurry and worry.

Hurry is the currency of productivity. I race to accomplish as much as I can in a day. However, the older I get, the less I like the chase. Lately, I’d rather say no to appointments and opportunities and shout yes to wide margins that make room for rest and reflection.

Why is it so hard to not be busy?

Worry has always been a part of my life. It operates on the battlefield of past mistakes and future hazards; a skirmish between if only and what if. My mind tries to battle it out. You’ll find my heart there in the middle, wounded in the cross-fire.

Why do I engage in the struggle?

Imagine the miracle of suspending the flood of bullets, as Neo does in the Matrix. When slow motion is an option, I’m all over it! Outside of time, I drink in this sublime sip of wine.

A Lovely Here and Nowenchanted forest mossy path

When I’m not careful, Time sweeps me up on her wide lap and tells me gruesome stories of the past.  As I try to escape her grip, she squeezes my wrist and whispers the worst is yet to come.

I have occasionally escaped into the enchanted forest of Timelessness where I rest my head on the mossy feet of wise old trees. They speak the language of long, slow exhalations. They tell the stories of feathers and feet that whisper by when stillness lingers. I believe in this moment.

Is it too good to be true?

My Place Apart

Actually, my enchanted spot is the plastic Adirondack chair on my mossy lawn. A full array of cushions for my comfort, feet bare to the earth, I breathe long and deep.

I listen for the small voices of birds and bugs that tell me to be mindfully present. I toss my to-do‘s to the wind and let the weather dictate my schedule.

Wasn’t it a lucky wind that swept my list away

Wasn’t it a happy rain that changed my plans today

Made me stay, out of time

In my mind, out of time

I like lists and schedules. They keep me sane. They capture part of the swirling cloud of “musts” and “shoulds,” keeping it in a safe place lest I lose my mind. Yet, lists and schedules tend to paralyze me, leaving no wiggle room for the muses to come and play.

Being Productive

When writing this song, I sat at my piano and experimented with a kind of cyclical melody. I wanted it to feel like a soap bubble blooming from a child’s wand into the calm. Barely a breeze as it lifts and tilts and floats up and out of sight. A quiet meditation, an open-mouthed gape.

I asked my son, Julian, to produce this and the other new songs I had written. He said yes! so I sent him my rough demos. They were recordings of me plodding through the chords on my piano while singing into my smartphone. Not very inspiring.

It’s a tricky business for a producer to dig out and polish the gems his artist assures him are there. Julian found mine and some extras of his own. He helped create a project I am proud to call ours. (He also dealt well with Mom-as-Artist and Mom-as-Mom.)

Visit my YouTube channel to see some of our fun exchanges.    Christine Dente and Julian Dente in the recording studio

It’s About Time

Julian has been making music since he was a few years old. Growing up in studios and on the road, he didn’t have much choice. Jules, as we call him, has developed his talent by playing in lots of bands and also writing and recording his own music. He graced my songs with his years of musical experience and the innate sensibilities that words cannot capture. Only his artistry does.

Notice the very cool rhythms and counter-melodies he wove into the music. He played and programmed everything on the recordings, too. You’ll also hear his voice in some of the backing vocals.

In Running Out of Time, Julian took the time to create the wide musical spaces of breathless suspense. Makes me want to go and live in the moment for a while.


Read more stories about our recording process here: New Music & the recording process

Read more about the new songs here: Closer to Free and See Through Me

Buy the digital 5- song EP Closer To Free here or on Amazon or listen to it on Spotify!

The Rock and The Hard Place: Finding A Way Out of Unsolvable Problems

When UP is Not an Option

There’s the rock and there’s the hard place. Then there’s me in the middle.

The sides of these impossible walls are smooth and sheer. They are close enough together to make me claustrophobic but far enough apart to keep me from shimmying up between them. Sure, I can look up but what good does that do? Clear freedom sky to taunt when up is not an option.

So I sit. And think. And whimper and simmer.

Years I’ve been here in this quandary. My few choices seem like no choice at all.

I have tried to kick against the rock and it bruises my toes.

I have turned to pound my fists on the hard place and it mocks my futile flesh.

Is there no way out?

My Rocky Place

Do you have those stuck places in your life? Ever feel like you’ve been dropped into a deep hole out of which neither God nor the universe is offering a hand?

Call it your quandary of (insert your monolithic predicament here). Describe your rock of (insert ineffective solution here) and your hard place of (insert equally-useless option here).

Here’s one of my stuck places: my body doesn’t feel so great. Pain and discomfort have stuck with me for most of my adult life. I have spent a lot of time, energy, and money trying to figure out how to feel better physically.

Over the years, my mysterious aches and pains have driven me to various practitioners of the healing or medicating arts. I always hit a wall. No-one seems able to answer my questions or make me feel better. When I try some new supplement or just plain eating well and exercising, I still end up achy and disappointed.

Therefore, I’m caught between the rock of “trying to make myself feel better” and the hard place of “living with the pain and suffering.”

Both choices have been no choice at all. The first hasn’t worked and the second has not been much of an option. Am I missing something? Is there a third way to grapple with this problem?

The Reconciling Third

After I have spent my energy in seeming futility, I imagine what else I could do with all of this drive to find a way out.

In his book Falling Upward, Richard Rohr reminds me to survey my surroundings with different eyes. About necessary suffering, he says,

“Being held long and hard inside limits and tension….allows us to search for and often find the ‘reconciling third’ or the unified field beneath it all.”

Jesus reminds me that in this world I will have trouble but, through suffering, He has overcome the world.

St Paul says that I can rejoice in my suffering, knowing it will produce endurance and character leading to hope.

Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade shows me that a step of faith can reveal a hidden and unimaginable way forward.

Hard-Pressed Hebrews

Long ago, Moses and the fleeing Hebrews found themselves in an impossible situation. Pressed between an Egyptian army and a watery wall, they saw no options. The ‘reconciling third’ was nowhere in sight. What they had forgotten, as I often do, is that sometimes the third way is the way God comes through. In the case of the hard-pressed Hebrews, it was a miracle: the supernatural broke into the flow and carved a path through the impassable.

Miracles like this have not broken into my predicaments. Often, my problems resolve in the natural flow of time and space where step follows step and a small erosion brings change and freedom. Like when I realize my feet don’t ache as much or my low back has loosened a bit.

A true miracle for me, though, is when I surrender to the suffering and my suffering reveals itself as a blessing. God sometimes comes through for me by shifting my perspective.

Paradigm Shift

hard view new perspective
pixabay

This shift in my paradigm, my frame of reference, reveals a new angle on an old point of view. A tiny shaft of light breaks into the space.

Like when I accept my physical limitations and suddenly the permission to rest and relax feels like a miracle!  Or when I stop thinking and worrying about the pain and it somehow loses its intensity.

When the situation has not changed but my heart sees it in a different light, I realize that the change I have been searching for is taking place within me. My narrow place gives way to more space.  Hallelujah!

Two Hard-won Nuggets

1. Keep moving.

I will always have seemingly unsolvable problems. However, I’m old enough to realize that many struggles work themselves out as I get up and on with life each day.

  • Any kind of faithful obedience in the same direction, despite hardships and intractable issues, reveals the next step on a journey of hope.

2. Find freedom within the prison.

I try to get a new perspective, letting Surrender and Acceptance be my purview.

  • Any kind of faithful obedience in the same situation, despite hardships and intractable issues, reveals a beautiful new view within the confines of my condition.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not done searching for a way out of my pain and suffering. But my body must give way to the hardness of the way things are. My heart must soften and yield to what is yet to be revealed.

Who knows, maybe someday I’ll find a foothold in one of these walls after all.

 

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