Willing Life

Chester smiled at Bree, squeezing her hand, “What an absolutely gorgeous day!”

“I know! After all the rain, it’s nice to feel the sun again.”  Bree lifted her face toward the sun, she and Chester standing still for a long moment on the park’s dirt path, just past the weathered magnolia tree not yet in bloom.  “The air smells so clean, doesn’t it?” Bree inhaled and exhaled, looking at Chester who nodded his affirmation, his eyes still closed against the sun.

Bree clasped her fingers through Chester’s and they walked on, enjoying the greening grass, the azaleas, rhododendrons, dogwood, cherry, and ornamental pear trees in varied states of blossoming.  Spring was the hardest for Bree, the time of re-birth and awakening, but this was the fifth spring without Jason, and Chester seemed to sense her thoughts as he brought her hand up, kissing her fingers.

The path turned onto the broader paved bike lane where concrete benches sat every few hundred yards, and shade trees offered respite from the sun.  A calm breeze ruffled the edge of Bree’s new spring skirt and she hoped the wind would stay mild.  She bought it because she needed something new and pretty, but more because it was Chester’s favorite cerulean blue, and he liked it when she wore something other than jeans and t-shirts.

A woman sat knitting on a bench, and Bree felt her stomach tighten as she noticed it was a small, red, sweater.  Chester put his arm around Bree’s shoulder as he felt her trembling, and guided her beyond the bench.  Tears welled up in Chester’s eyes at the memory of Jason at two years old, in the red sweater Bree had knitted him, the sweater he was wearing that awful October day.

Bree had been doing laundry down cellar while Jason napped.  He had fallen asleep on their drive to the store and hadn’t woken when she brought him inside.  She put him in his crib and rushed to get some chores done while she could.  She had just finished transferring clothes from the washer to the dryer when she was seized with terror.  She ran upstairs and into Jason’s room to find him hanging over the side of the crib, the neck of the sweater having gotten caught and twisted on the crib’s edge, choking him.  He wasn’t breathing, his body tinted a grey-blue, and Bree heard herself scream but it seemed that someone else far away was screaming.  She frantically untangled him and began CPR, but it wasn’t working.  She scrambled to get the phone, her shaky fingers missing 911 twice before she connected.

She begged them to call Chester at work, not able to remember where he was at first.  The first responders found her clutching Jason to her, her face swollen from sobbing, and unable to speak.  She heard herself growl as they tried to pry Jason out of her arms, and she came back to herself when they told her she would have to let them help her child.  She thought that meant he was alive and she jerked herself up holding Jason out to his redeemer.  She didn’t notice the other responder had taken her arm and was pulling her back.  She heard soothing tones, but she didn’t know what he was saying.

Jason wasn’t coming back to life, and Bree felt hers slip away too as the edges of her sight narrowed and she was no more.

She woke up in Presbyterian Hospital, Chester holding her hand, looking gaunt and vacant. “Hi, love”, he said, bringing his face closer to hers, taking her face in his hands, and kissing her. “We almost lost you, too.”  Tears dropped onto her face, mingling with her own.

“He’s gone.  Our baby’s gone, isn’t he?  They lied. They didn’t save him.”

Chester kept his face next to Bree’s.  “They tried, honey.  They tried with all their might. I love you so much, please stay with me.  I can’t lose you too.”

Bree wailed, the sound chilling to all who heard her grief, and Chester dropped his head down to her shoulder, sobbing along with her.

The next year went by in a blur for both of them.  Their families and friends rallied around them, providing them with meals, comfort, and distraction.  They decided to sell the house and move into a condo.  Chester and Bree took leaves of absence from work, and it was several months before Bree stopped contemplating suicide daily.

Several years passed until Bree’s mourning was less surface, and she and Chester were learning to live side by side with their grief.  The first time Chester and Bree laughed felt like a new ability to Bree, but she felt guilty for having mirth, as though the world should be in black and white now, and always raining.

Bree had a psychic friend who came to tell her that Jason needed to see her happy.  He was waiting for her, just out of sight on the ‘other side’, and her joy would make him glad, and comforted.  Bree wasn’t sure she believed her, but she appreciated her friend being kind and consoling, and trying to guide Bree into the present.  Chester often looked lost and not as ready with a laugh or a joke as he used to be, but he went back to work sooner than Bree, and he started telling her about his daily routine again.

This year Jason would be seven, and Bree saw Jason in any boys about his age, wondering what he would be like.  She and Chester thought about trying to have another baby, but neither of them were ready yet.

Bree forced herself to breathe deep and slow, and find an object to focus on.  A beautiful maple tree grew several hundred feet off the path, and Bree noticed the tiny yellow-green leaves against the dark wood branches.  She looked at Chester who was also admiring the majestic tree.

“Life keeps going, honey.  Maybe we can think about trying to have another baby before we’re too old.”

Bree let the statement hang in the air, but she held Chester closer, and murmured, “I love you so much.  I’m happy to be with you, but I’ll think about more.”

Chester leaned in, kissing Bree full on the mouth, kissing her across her face and down to her neck.  He knew it embarrassed her, but he couldn’t help himself.  Being together in the beautiful day with his gorgeous wife, having survived such loss, but willing to risk again made life feel new for the first time in many years.

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© seekingsearchingmeaning (aka Hermionejh) and Life On Earth’s Blog, 2010 – infinity.

DPChallenge: Dystopia, The Musical

Set Present Time. Suburban neighborhood. Backdrop sunny, blue sky, distant hills, but a dark pall hugging charred tree tops, suggesting recent fires, and dank atmosphere.

Act I
Scene I
Chorus in black-hooded robes, heads bowed, arms folded tight to body, hum discordantly – low in front of curtain. Curtain rises on street scene: once beautiful homes graffiti-ed, broken windows, smashed bird bath, broken fountain. The chorus retreats US center, in a crescendo-ing hum, then silence as grey-ish filtered early morning light rises on a disheveled lone female quickly searching through a garbage bin on the sidewalk.
A shot is heard – the female rises erect, alert, looking around for close danger. No one appears. The woman relaxes her stance, continues her search, and finds a torn one-armed rag doll. She stares at the doll a moment, then holds it close, silently weeping as music begins. She wipes her tears as she sings:

 What have we done? What have I become? Is this reality now?
I can’t believe this awful dream, I’ve got to wake somehow.

She puts the doll in her coat pocket.

Enter two children, dirty & hungry, salvaging. They see the woman and turn back.

“No, stop! It’s ok – I won’t hurt you!” The children stop hesitantly.

“I’m looking for food too. We can look together.” They look doubtful. The woman takes the rag doll out of her pocket. “Look, you can have this, if you want it?” She holds out the doll to them.
The boy steps in front of his sister, stopping her from going closer.
“I know you don’t trust me, but I’m really not going to hurt you, or take anything from you. I’d just like to help – and have some company.”

The boy relaxes and lets his sister take the doll.
“If we stick together, we can try to help each other, alright?”
The children nod in expressionless agreement.
“Are your parents alive?” The children look down, unanswering.
“Oh, you don’t know? I’m sorry.” The woman looks toward a fenced compound on a near hill. “Sometimes the Citadel cooks throw out scraps or bones, but you’ve got to get there early and be fast to get anything. Do you want to come with me?”
The children look hungry, but doubtful. “You don’t have to go near, you can wait by the trees, and I’ll try to get what I can – if there is anything today.”
The children follow the woman off SL.

Scene II

The woman and children enter in front of the curtain, SR, through a line of trees.
“You wait here. Don’t eat the mushrooms, they’re poisonous.” The woman points to mushrooms growing around and on the trees. “And if you see anyone, pick some and pretend you’re going to eat them, but don’t really put them in your mouth. The juice can make you very sick, especially when you haven’t eaten anything else. They’ll think you’re stupid and won’t bother you because they think you’ll die soon anyway.”

The choir chants low ominous sounds, becoming louder as the curtain opens to reveal barbed wire fencing with a metal prison-door like gate, and security cameras facing all directions. Choir falls silent.

The woman walks up where a window is seen from the fence, her face obscured by a tattered scarf. She searches the ground for scraps and finds none. As she waits, others begin gathering. The woman stands more erect, but does not look at anyone. A figure appears in the window looking out at the gathering crowd, and closes the curtain. Some soft cries and groans are heard among the crowd, the signal that no food will be thrown today. They begin shuffling off stage L&R. The woman and three men remain in hopeful expectancy. One man puts his hands on the fence as the others are too late to warn him. The shock jolts him, and he cries out from the powerful surge.

The window curtain opens slightly, and the figure in the window looks at the remaining few. Two large meaty bones are thrown out over the fence. The woman has drawn a knife and readies for a fight. Choir takes up chant, pantomiming the actors with voice and action in their group. DS man draws a knife and the woman lunges, slashing his arm. He retaliates, narrowly missing her shoulder as the woman ducks and slashes again, missing his leg. US man has grabbed a bone and the woman lunges at her foe’s face with her knife, meeting his shin with her foot, stomping down. Choir finishes tones in triumphant harmony, reforms original stance.

The woman grabs the remaining bone and runs, the man limping after her in pursuit. The choir takes up a crescendo-ing chant for the chase. As the woman nears the line of trees, the man catches her shoulder, but the children rush out screaming and running toward them, the woman using the moment to plunge her knife in through his ribs and twists it in deep. He falls dead. The choir ceases their chanting through rushing expelled air.

Act II
Scene I
Curtain opens on the woman and children sitting around a fire where a pot containing the meaty bone and gathered roots has cooked. They share one cup, sipping the broth. The woman watches the area for intruders, but none come.
The woman speaks: “When I was your age, my parent’s left my sister and me in the care of the Citadel home while they went to look for work – before the Citadel fell to Bolinger. They never returned, and my sister and I tried to find them when I was old enough to travel longer distances on our own. She knew about wild plants – what could be eaten, or used for medicine. Bolinger’s guards found us. My sister died defending me. I had fainted and they left me alone in the woods. I came to next to my sister’s body, and I cried through the night. No one came to help, and I had nothing to bury her with, so I covered her with nettles, leaves, and branches. I wandered through the woods hoping I’d find some help, and came across a family that let me travel with them, probably because I was still young enough that I wasn’t a threat, and acted as a look out for them when they hunted or stole food and things they needed. I learned to steal too, but I never got used to it, and I finally found work washing clothes for food and shelter at the Citadel. I spoke up to Bolinger’s men mistreating an older woman, and was beat and thrown out. I’ve been on my own ever since. I’d like to know what happened to you, if you’re willing to tell me?”

The boy looks at his sister, and back at the woman, and speaks: “We woke up one day last week and our parents were gone, and they haven’t come back”.
“Did you live far from where I first saw you?”
“No, we left our camp trying to find something to eat – and then we met you…”
“It’s OK. I know what it’s like being alone and lost – inside and out.” The woman smiles, and gestures toward his sister. “Does your sister talk?”
“Yes, but not since our mother and father left.”
“I’m sorry. I hope they find you again soon. We can stick together until then.”
“I’d like that.” The boy looks at his sister who has moved closer to him, and he says – “We’d like that.”
“We need to find somewhere to sleep tonight, and maybe I’ll find somewhere to work for food tomorrow.”
“I can work too”, the boy says.
“I think your work is taking care of your sister. It looks like you both could use a washing, so we’ll go to the falls. Have you been?”
“No. My father said to stay away because it’s too dangerous. The rocks are slippery and you could fall and die on the jagged rocks under the falls, and there are bad people who live there that like to eat children.”
“It’s trolls who like to eat children, and they don’t live at the Falls. They live in fairy tales and made up stories. Your father was right that the rocks are slippery, and there are jagged rocks in the water below, but that’s where the sweetest fish are too – when there are any to find.”

As the woman and children walk through the woods, the chorus begins a low hum and appear in staggered relief in the woods. They cease humming as forest dwellers who have been watching the woman and children’s progress step out to confront them.
A man speaks: “Where do you think you’re going?”
The woman says: “We mean you no harm. I am bringing my children to safe sleep for the night, and then we’re on our way out of these woods.”
“There is payment required for safe passage.”
“But we have no coin or goods to offer.”
“Then you’ll turn back the way you came, and hurry through, or you may not make it out at all.”
The girl holds out the rag doll which the man takes and rips off the other arm, throwing the doll roughly back at the girl.  The men laugh coarsely.
“That was all we possessed.” The woman picks up the doll putting it in her pocket, takes the girl and boy by the hand and turns back the way they came.  She speaks quietly and urgently to the children: “Don’t look back, and walk quickly. They’ll leave us alone if we don’t stop.”

Scene II
The sound of a waterfall is heard as the woman and children walk in front of curtain. Two of the forest-dweller men trail them at a distance. The woman turns to pick up the girl to quicken their pace, and glimpses one of the men. She pretends not to notice as the curtain rises revealing jagged looking rocks and cascading water. The choir appears on an US riser, intoning rising cacophonous sounds as the men move in for the kill. The woman lifts the girl to a higher rock, telling the boy: “Take your sister over these rocks staying as far from the water as you can. You can make it, but you must not stop, no matter what. There is a Citadel corn field down below that you can hide in and wait for me. Now go!”
As the children disappear over the ridge, the woman takes the opposite, more treacherous path by the water, slipping toward the edge of the falls, but finding crevices for her hands and feet as she goes. She finds the opening she once knew under the falls which the men do not see, and comes out onto the opposite side, stepping out onto a rock where the men will see her. She mimes difficulty ascending as the men leer at her and begin climbing to reach her. One of the men grabs hold of a rock protruding from the Falls, assuming that was the woman’s path, and loses his footing, falling to his death on the rocks below. The other man looks for an alternate route, and slips onto a jagged rock, lying there in obvious pain as the woman expertly climbs her way over the outcrop of rock and disappears over the other side. The choir has been rising and falling throughout, emphasizing the man’s demise, and the woman’s triumph. Close curtain.

Scene III
The children huddle at the edge of the cornfield below the stage, anticipating the woman’s arrival. Unfamiliar sounds, an owl hoot, or coyote howl, are heard in the distance, causing fearful reactions as they wait. The woman, scratched and hurt, limps toward the cornfield in front of the curtain, checking around her as she goes. As she comes offstage toward the cornfield, she spots the children and reunites.
“Are you alright?”

The children nod yes, but the woman sees a gash on the boy’s arm. “We’ll have to get that cleaned out so you don’t get infected. We can’t stay here because Bolinger’s guards will soon pass by, if they haven’t already. Did you see anyone since you’ve been here?”
“No one has gone by since we got here. I was afraid you wouldn’t find us.”
“I was afraid too, but we’re OK now.  We can rest for the night in Fairwoods – it’s near the brook where we can wash up, and if my old mistress is in her cottage, we might have something hot to eat.”

Exit SL

Scene IV

The woman and children are seated DS, the wooded area behind them, their faces are clean, and they are eating stew from an old chipped porcelain bowl.

“You’ll clean the bowl in the brook when you’re finished.  I’m going to try to catch some fish and we’ll leave it at my old mistresses door for feeding us such good rabbit stew.”  As the woman walks toward the brook the Chorus enters with low, ominous chants.  A lightning storm stirs up and thunder crashes as the Chorus chants the louder, urgent cacophonous tones as a bruised and limping man brandishing a machete lunges toward the woman from SR.  The boy sees the man and picks up a large rock, coming DSR, throwing it and connecting with the man’s head, just as the man has slashed the woman’s shoulder and arm with the machete.  She cries out, badly hurt. The man has fallen, unconscious.  The girl cowers US with the doll in her hands as the boy does what he can to help the woman USC and helps her sit.  He takes the shirt off the man and tries to staunch the woman’s wounds, but the woman is fading.

“Go and tell my old mistress – that I am done for, and you will work – for her – if she can take you.  Help – your – sister.”  The woman dies.  The girl cries and hugs the woman, and keeps crying as her brother puts his arm around her, pulling her away, and leads her off SL.  Curtain closes.

Scene V

The boy enters SR, a rough shack is USL, in a wooded area.  The boy has a large fish that hangs partially over in the chipped porcelain bowl.  He goes to the shack and knocks, but gets no reply.  After a few knocks with no response, he leaves the fish in the bowl in front of the door, and turns to leave with his sister.  A window curtain is slowly pulled aside in the shack and we see an older woman peering out at the backs of the children, and she closes the window curtain again.  The Chorus has been chanting slow, quiet, tones, and stops as the light fades on the shack and comes up diffusely focusing on the girl who has dropped her doll and stoops to pick it up.  The boy has stopped to wait for her.

The girl sings, with a quiet echo of the woman’s voice in the air:

What have we done? What have I become? Is this reality now?
I can’t believe this awful dream, I’ve got to wake somehow.

The children exit SL.

End.

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© seekingsearchingmeaning (aka Hermionejh) and Life On Earth’s Blog, 2010 – infinity.

Evolution Of A Boy

I found this letter/ode I had written to my son in a bunch of old papers I was going through to recycle today.  I wrote it when he was twelve, and pulling further and further away from me – right on schedule!  But just because biology dictates a thing so, doesn’t mean it wasn’t terrible for me…

                                 Evolution Of A Boy

When you were born I held you close, rocked you, walked you back and forth while you screamed with colic – or was it protest at being out in this cold, drafty world from the temperature controlled, fluid womb?

You stayed in a crib until you were two and a half and began crying to me of your needs in the night, or in the morning, coaxing me with “Up, Mommy? Up, Mommy – peas.  Peas, Mommy?”  How could I ignore that?  You asked so politely, so pleadingly.

As a toddler, and ever since you were born, I read to you day and night.  It became the bedtime routine: books and a back rub until you fell asleep.  Often you would play with my ear – a throw back from your nursing days – a comfort habit that never bothered me.  Whoever held you until you were four or five would have their ear manipulated by you.

Nighttime was our time.  It was sometimes the only peace in the day.  I was really present most of the time for you then, and we both knew it wouldn’t be a struggle of wills; it was a time any outside observer wouldn’t question my parenting skills.

That nighttime routine when you wanted me to lay down with you after reading and rubbing your back until you fell asleep – or nearly – lasted until you were eight or nine.  I would sing Mockingbird – replacing Papa with Mama, of course – and Lily Of The Valley, three or four times each, and sometimes you would sing along.  Then we would always play the ‘I love you more than’ game.  “More than chocolate cream pie with ice cream and marshmallows, and a ton of whipped cream” – or whatever we would dream up.  A phrase we had read: “I love you to the moon and back”, began a long tradition of sometimes jokingly arguing over who loved the other more – “I love you the most – eternity, infinity!”

The mornings nearly always had me picking you up and carrying you into the kitchen for breakfast until you were about seven years old.  It seemed to help you wake up just that little bit more.

Sometimes you would jump up into my arms for a hug and you did that until you got too heavy for me to grab you up into a hug like that.

Now you’re twelve.  You are on that precipice between knowing you are not a dependent child to knowing you are not quite grown-up either.  It can be confusing, frustrating, and scary – but exciting too.

You are, at times and often, so much more than you think you are.  You have so much to offer this suffering world.  She needs boys and men who care, as you do.  Societies may seem indifferent or hostile to boys and men who care, but that is because societies are not grown-up either.  They don’t know how to accept the whole boy or the whole man – but they are learning.  Just as I am learning to let go – but I have built a path from my heart to yours – and there is a path from your heart to mine too – so that we’ll always know there is a home for us, especially when you find the need, or just to be reassured that it’s there.

I love you my dear child.

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© seekingsearchingmeaning (aka Hermionejh) and Life On Earth’s Blog, 2010 – infinity.

Scarecrow’s Night

The pumpkin was now a Jack-O’Lantern lighting up the night, a visage peering from the porch to give the kids a fright.  A scarecrow without a head sat listlessly nearby, he had no eyes to see with, so couldn’t even cry.

Little Gretel Gardner saw what needed to be done; she bravely picked the Jack-O’Lantern up, though it made her want to run.  She set it down upon the neck of the body filled with leaves, and then stood back, no longer afraid, and feeling very pleased.

She thought she saw the scarecrow wink, and release a happy sigh, but knew, of course, it couldn’t be, it was just the breeze passing by.

Gretel went upon her way – she didn’t see the scarecrow turn – and didn’t hear him say, “I wish she wouldn’t go, for now I want to play!”  The scarecrow did his best to rise upon his shaky legs, but found he wobbled much too much, so stayed upon his ledge.

Oh, but the sights he saw that night!  A skeleton, a witch, a vampire, and a ghost – there was even an angel walking with a heavenly host.  Each came by and admired him, and he felt flushed with pride, but a terrible monster frightened him – even worse than the monster’s bride.

The night grew late, the pageant thinned, and the Jack-O’Lantern’s candle began to dim. The scarecrow knew that his time would soon come to a close, and he sighed again, as a tear dripped into his nose.  It was a sad little sigh, a lonely sigh, but just before the end of his light, he saw one last wondrous sight.

Little Gretel Gardner had slipped out from her bed, with a thought to bring the scarecrow a pillow for his head.  She felt sad to see how dim his glow, and said how she would miss him so – then kissed his cheek and hugged him tight, and told him how glad he had made her, this very scary night.

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© seekingsearchingmeaning (aka Hermionejh) and Life On Earth’s Blog, 2010 – infinity.

Tale Of Antigone

Interviewer:  When did you know, or suspect, it all went wrong?

Me: There was nothing indicating that I’d failed until now.

Interviewer: Was there more you could have done?

Me: Clearly, I’d re-think my assumptions and take further steps, or not become so narrow in my thinking, and maybe even my objectives.

Interviewer: Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you’d like to share?

Me: Whatever you create takes on a life of its own.  It no longer belongs to you, even if you’re credited – or reviled – for its existence.  Most of us know, or have read, Mary Shelley.  We understood, generally, that forces beyond our reference can intercede, but we also reason that that only happens when you’re careless, or evil.  I used my genetic code to create a better version of myself because I wanted to see what that would look like in the world.  What choices would she make?  What heights would she attain?  I believed all the variables were controlled and contained…  I deeply regret my arrogance.

That was the gist of the short and feeble phone interview I allowed after Antigone created and released a virus that was far more devastating than the Bubonic plague, Ebola, or AIDS combined.  She was everything I had hoped for upon her awakening.  Her human DNA combined with programmable memory – designed to interrupt inhumane or violent thoughts or actions, failed to take into account her ability to rationalize her actions.  Humanity was a scourge, Antigone reasoned.  Few were working toward sustainable life – and those could be inoculated against the virus before it was released.

She chose a swath of humanity to protect – so many scientists, leaders, philanthropists, teachers, and other forward-thinking citizens.  Antigone tiered the die-off.  There would eventually be four hundred million dead in the United States, and in all of North America; two hundred million in South America; two hundred million in Europe; three hundred million in Africa; three hundred billion throughout Asia, and Australia; and several hundred million throughout all other reaches of the globe.  The first wave of dead would be burned and buried before the second wave broke out, and before an antidote was released.  The third wave would not reach quite as many as intended because Antigone released the antidote shortly before her destruction.  Whatever humanity lived within her must have surfaced as she bore witness to her action’s outcome.

Why she spared me is something I continuously ponder.  She knew I would suffer, certainly, but did she feel some sense of connection to me as her creator?  I was not incarcerated because my scientific work was too valuable to the Government, but I was under house arrest.  My research notes, experiments, and coding work, revealed that I did not premeditate Antigone’s actions due to her fail-safe programming.  She didn’t override her programmed code, but circumvented it, which led to her demise.  I had coded an undocumented interval virus that I could remotely activate to shut down Antigone’s AI, and kill her body, if ever necessary.  I hadn’t considered the scope of Antigone’s thought process.

I had thought, of course, that she might try to undo, or act against her code, but that thinking was only as a series of precautions during her programming, or so I attempt to console myself with.  Her code worked, but her human brain, her DNA – my DNA – overcame her AI, and all other barriers to inhumane actions.  The virus, was, in a sense, humane.  It acted quickly – killing the brain before mutating to kill the body.  It worked within hours, and was stunning in its delivery.

Antigone came to see me at my Newport, Oregon, home soon after she released the virus.  She wasn’t emotion-less, but believed she acted justly.  It was a moment that changed me down to my very cells.  I had created a monster.  Frankenstein showing on a towering screen at that moment would not have construed the quake of shock rocketing through my being.

She left without further discussion, and after activating her internal virus, I notified the Center for Disease Control, whom Antigone had already contacted.  She had claimed sole responsibility, and stated her reason for her actions.  I owed the world my explanation, my regrets, and the end of my life, which will have happened by the time this tale is revealed.

Antigone is gone, and I go with her.  May the world never experience the like of us again – but knowing humanity as well as we do – I hope you’ll fare better then.

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© seekingsearchingmeaning (aka Hermionejh) and Life On Earth’s Blog, 2010 – infinity.