the horse you rode in on

A week or so ago, one of my friends (and former colleagues) reminded a few of us about an incident that happened several years ago, at St Francis Middle School.  At the time, I was one of the assistant principals at this ex-urban school.  The Study Center is a small inner-office complex that housed us assistant principals, some administrative assistants, and a small waiting area for students to come and regale us with their latest Middle Schooler foibles and escapades.

One of our teachers, Adam, came into the Study Center from the hallway, and poked his head into my office.  “Can you come out here for a minute?  Crystal (not her real name) could use a little–help.”  We went into the hallway, where Crystal was pacing back and forth, arms crossed tightly across her chest.  She was seething.  Have you ever been around someone who was so angry or frustrated, that their emotions were felt by you?  A visceral, raw, state, where it was like walking into a physical presence?  That was Crystal.

“I’ve been trying to have her some in here,” Adam said.  He was calm, and kept his distance from Crystal.  “Hi, Crystal.  What’s up?” I asked.

“I’m NOT going in there!” Crystal yelled.  Great.  Happy Days are here again!

“Huh.  You look kind of upset” I said, rather please with my powers of observation and insight into the psyche of adolescent girls.  “It’s going to be passing time soon.  Maybe we could go chill out in the Study Hall for a few?”

“I said, I’m not fucking going IN THERE!”  See?  Told you she was pretty upset.

“Come on,” Adam said.  “Let’s just go in for a minute.  Then there won’t be a bunch of other kids around during passing time.”  “Yeah,” I said.  “Please come on.”

Crystal, not well pleased at the is point, stopped her pacing and looked at us in turn.  “Well, fuck you guys and the horse you rode in on!”

Now, what followed wasn’t one of my more professional reactions.  I laughed.  So did Adam.  I said to Crystal, “What, are you forty?  Nobody says that anymore.”  This did not endear me much to Crystal, but at that point we didn’t have much to lose anyway.  Plus, it was pretty damn funny coming from an eighth grader.

I don’t remember what happened next.  Likely my partner, Bobbi, came to rescue the situation and got Crystal to come inside.  But, I really don’t remember.

I’m not sure what set Crystal off that day.  Adam just happened to come across her, so he had no idea either.  What I do know is that Crystal carried a lot of anger and a lot of hurt with her, all of the time.  I mean, All. Of. The. Time.  I also know that this was a funny, smart, creative, and articulate kid, who up until that point, and probably well past it, didn’t know she was any of those things.

What Crystal knew was dysfunction.  She knew abject poverty.  She knew that men in her family went to jail or to rehab.  She knew that her mom worked her ass off, and it still wasn’t enough.

Crystal, like so many others, had in a way befriended anger, welcomed hurt, and grew intimate with pain.  Crystal had understood that it’s much easier and much quicker to keep those very powerful forces close at hand, so that they could be used to shield and to hide.  It was what she knew.

Crystal should have been suspended out of school that day.  That was one of the rules.  A kid tells an adult to fuck off (and his horse), you don’t get to be there.  It’s easy.  Look in the student guidelines, put your finger in the correct row and column, and BAM!  Solution.  Easy, easy, easy.  And, since it’s literally in black and white, there can be no argument against the consequence.  Easy.

And yet…

We don’t sign up for easy.  We sign up for the mess.

Bobbi took Crystal into her office.  Not sure of their conversation, but I know Crystal got to stay in school that day.  Bobbi is pretty amazing, and she got Crystal off of the ledge, at least for a while.  And, Bobbi didn’t just forget about her after that.  She did her best to be there for Crystal, to provide some consistency and sanity in her young life.

What we do is we sit with one another.  We just sit.  We look at the beautiful person when they can’t see their true selves, we hear them above and more deeply than they words they might be using, and we stay with them while they are in it.

And, if they sit with us long enough to know that we are not going away, that we are not going to screw them over, that we will absorb some of their anguish, then their armor begins to crack.  Just a little bit.  But, it’s enough of a start.

Now, for those of you who are at this point asking, “Don’t people deserve consequences for their behaviors?” Yes, of course.  However, sometimes rules are made for those who are going to obey them.  The kids who are in a place of deep hurt and deep distrust punish themselves far more than we ever can.  Yes, they can and did get consequences.  But that wasn’t the real work.

I know that I often failed kids.  Maybe I didn’t take the time to see them, to listen to them, to try and understand them.  Or, I would just be tired and frustrated and “throw the book” at them.  Yeah, for sure I did that.  We all do.

But, we get better at it with practice.  Just sitting and seeing people for who they truly are, despite what the might be saying, feeling, or seeing about themselves.

So, Crystal, wherever you are: I still don’t have a horse.  And, I hope that you have come back to your true self.

 

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Posted in education, Life

shiny

antique armor black and white chrome

Photo by Mike Bird on Pexels.com

Earlier today I was having a conversation with one of my very best friends.  She was recently on an airplane, and apparently the woman behind her was a little bit disturbed. Some gentleman accidentally sat in her seat, and she “went off” on him, saying something like, “I’m so mad right now!  I could kill you!”   There was a bit more, like her having some significant issues with my friend tying to recline her seat.

Wowzers!

Not a great experience for my friend, and likely the passengers around this woman.  I said, “Man.  I wish I could have been there.  That would have been fun!”  “Ummm…”  I just thought, wouldn’t it be interesting to discover all of the layers why this woman was so bothered at this point in time?  Wouldn’t be great to get underneath the armor of her apparent anger, fear, and disintegration?

No?  Just me?

I know it’s assuming a lot–that there is something at work in this woman that is either causing her to behave this way, or to at least be influencing her behavior.  However, there’s always a reason why we behave like we do when we do.  So, I thought I would write a short piece on how sometimes we cover ourselves with armor.  It’s in first person, because it seems more compelling that way.

(Note: This post isn’t about me.  It’s about what I have seen in some of the amazing people I’ve known over the years.)

Anyway, here we go.

I like my armor.  I keep it shined up, free of rust.  When it gets dented in battles and fights, I’m quick to pound out the dents.

My helmet protects me well (it’s so heavy, heavy, heavy…).  The face plate is pretty narrow, so my vision isn’t very true.  And, it’s really hard to see what’s next to me.  Impossible to see what’s behind me, even if I turn and look.  Still, it protects me, keeps my head whole, my brain in tact.  But it’s so very heavy.

I’m completely covered with this armor, head to foot.  When I wear my armor, I’m barely recognizable.  Maybe I put on some color, some symbols, on the outside.  Then, when I wear my armor, it’s me-and-not-me.  Safe, secure.  Heavy heavy.

This piece covers my anger.  This piece my fear.  This one hides my disappointments, my hurts, my feelings of betrayal and distrust.  But this one–this one that I spend the most time taking care to polish, to push out the dents?  This one is my favorite.  It covers my shame, my feeling of being unworthy.  Of love, of happiness, affection and joy.

Isn’t it pretty?  I’ll bet if you get close enough, you can see yourself in it.  Because I know you can see yourself in this, in me, in what I’m covering.

This armor–so heavy.  And, it takes such effort to keep it clean, to polish it, to whack out the dents.  But it’s worth it, because it protects and hides me.  Even if it makes me walk clumsily along in life, with narrow vision, it’s better than being hurt.

—–

Well, I think that’s it for now.  Part 2 will be the other side of this, and will come out soon.

On a side note:  If you get the chance to stream “Knight Fight” on the History channel, it’s pretty rad.  Men get armored up, use blunted weapons, and beat the hell out of each other in a competition.

 

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Posted in Coaching, Life, mental health, Uncategorized

Go

 

Unknown

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve tried to like the game “Monopoly.”  There are vague memories playing this with my brother and sister.  Glimpses of the past, when I would inevitably and quite quickly run out of money and property, and end up bankrupt.  Every single time.

As a teen and adult, I would cheat, stealing properties or money.  Even then, I would lose.  Badly.  Not that I cared all that much.  Playing Monopoly was fairly boring, the games lasting too long and not having enough action, even with the cheating.  Plus, the whole idea of accumulating wealth for its own sake, and at the expense of the other players, was pretty revolting to me.  (If you’re interested in the real history of Monopoly, and how it got bastardized, look it up.  Pretty interesting)

However, I’ll admit that passing Go and getting that two hundred dollars was somewhat satisfying.  I liked how that one space represented a starting point, a stopping point, and a through point.  I liked getting rewarded just for having shaken some dice and moving a token around a board.

How are we doing at with our Go spaces?  How are we doing in our starting and our continuing? This past Sunday, our pastor preached on this.  One of the things that has stuck out for me is that we can’t finish something unless we start it.  Several years ago I heard a similar admonition from Seth Godin:  Ship it.

We get to go, if we really want to do so.  Obviously the comparison with Monopoly isn’t entirely clean-fitting with our starting something and continuing on with it.  But it has relevance.  We start, evaluate, make adjustments, and continue on.  We look back to the origin of the idea or project, to see if we are still holding true to what we started.

But we have to start.  Nobody else is going to do so for you.

I wish I had more wisdom in this, but I don’t think we need much more than this.  All of the advice in the world isn’t going to matter if we choose to remain in the same place today as we were yesterday.

So, Go…

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returning

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the phrase, “returning to oneself,” or “returning to me.”  I believe the impetus for this was listening to “Barking to the Choir” by Father Greg Boyle.  He often writes about how gang members return him to himself.

This is what relationships are about, then, at least partly.  Us returning to ourselves, remembering who we are in God as He originally intended and created us.  We get into trouble and have conflict and dysfunction when we forget this.  When we forget ourselves, and become, at least temporarily, less than we truly are.

We can get caught up in momentary distresses and disruptions in our lives.  God lets it rain on the good and the evil, the book says, and we can expect to have troubles.  When we allow these troubles to consume and overwhelm us, we run the risk of forgetting ourselves.  (This is not to make light of or under-play real, present, and pervasive circumstances, chronic illnesses, etc)

The results of this are at best discomfiting and at worst disastrous.  When we forget ourselves we get angry, depressed, and mournful.  We fall out of relationship to one another and within ourselves.

During my first two years or so of coaching, I often forgot myself.  I thought that if I could bend the athletes to my way of thinking, to my way of seeing the world, then we would be successful.  This wasn’t about exerting a healthy influence, which we need to do when in positions of leadership.  It was more about command and control, thinking that being somewhat domineering would win they day.

I think mostly I was afraid.  Afraid of looking like I didn’t know what I was doing, masking it with control, anger, and sarcasm.  Afraid that they would see me as a phony and an imposter.  Afraid that if they didn’t know I was “IN CHARGE!!”, then all sorts of hell would break loose.

Foolishness, really.  That’s not who God made me, or anyone else, to be.  I think I even knew it at the time.

Now, I let the athletes in more.  Give them some insights into what makes me tick, allow them to see around the corner to what really is.  Let down my guard a bit more, to SEE me.

I might have more on-the-mat success if I acted like an asshole to my athletes.  Or, if I kept a clinical distance from them, maybe we would win championship after championship.  I still struggle with that a bit, wonder and evaluate if the path we are on leads to places that are good and right and true.

What I am certain of is that when I open the crack for them to see me–to really see me–they let me in, too.  We bring one another back to ourselves.  People who were designed to be loving and be loved, to live in solidarity and kinship.

And we can work on the important things in life as well as the game.

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Posted in brains, Coaching, Fitness, Leadership, Life Coach, Martial Arts, mental health, neuroscience, st. michael-albertville, Uncategorized

rub, 2

So, I’ve been listening to the book “Barking at the Choir” by Father Greg Boyle.  If you don’t know much about him yet, look him up.

One of his homies relates the story of how he was abused and tortured as a kid.  From the age of 9, he wore three T-shirts to school.  The first two weren’t enough to cover up the blood soaking through, so he put on a third.  He did this up through much of his adult years, because even after the active abuse stopped, he was ashamed about his scars.

However, this gentleman says, “Now I welcome my wounds.  I run my fingers over my scars.  My wounds are my friends.  After all, how can I help others to heal if I don’t welcome my own wounds?”

I think that’s pretty interesting, and potentially spot-on.  To be honest, I am going to sit with this idea for a while, mull it over, and try not to interfere too much in the process of letting God speak to me about it.  Because it feels like there is something profound there, something simple as well, if I can just see around that corner.

I get that we have will more empathy the closer our experiences are to the experiences of others.  I get that sometimes we need to be in the same sacred spaces as others who have walked similar roads that we have.  I get it.

I also know that in order to love and serve others, I don’t have to have the exact, or sometimes even similar, experience that they do.  My scars don’t have to look like yours do in order for us to embrace one another and to share life together.

I’m just not sure about making friends with the wounds.  About rubbing them with–what?  Affection?  With love?  I’m not sure I am there yet.

But, I want to be.

So, I’m going to sit on this and in this for some time.  Not so much so that it stops me from living my life, or from being healthy.  I’m just going to give this idea room to grow, see where it takes me, if anywhere.

 

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rub

 

Sometimes, I will catch myself rubbing an old scar, or scratching a new one, without fully realizing that I am doing so.  My understanding is that rubbing a wound serves to soothe and protect the wounded area from further damage.  When we get hurt, our hands instinctively go to the injured area, again to protect and soothe.

There are times when we will rub or scratch a scar that has faded as well.  We are just so used to rubbing that wound, we keep going to it from time to time.  Our brains haven’t quite let go of this habit we acquired as the wound healed.

I think our psychological wounds can be a bit like this.  When we get hurt, we turn our attention to the affected area, assessing the damage, protecting it from further damage, and then spending time with it as it heals.  This is natural and healthy.

We rub and scratch at these wounds as they heal.  Most of time, these scars fade as well.  If they didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to function.  I don’t know about you, but there are times when I will find myself picking at an old wound, one that I had perhaps thought was gone for good.

Something can trigger a memory or a feeling that was associated with the hurt.  Rub, scratch.  Sometimes I sit with the memory for a bit, turn it over in my head, and then dismiss it.  Sometimes I just have a thought like, “That’s weird.  Haven’t thought about that in a while.  Huh.” and then it’s done and gone.

Then there are occasions when an old wound will stick around for a while.  It’ll just pop up, presenting itself like it’s brand-new again.  Sights, sounds, smells, noise, even taste can come back and haunt me for a time.  So, there I’ll sit, rubbing away at something that doesn’t exist, or at least isn’t “supposed” to exist anymore.

Thankfully, these are rare for me.  And my circle of tight friends is small and healthy.  My wife is my number-one go to, and she is full of grace and patience.  I have two other tight friends to confide in, and a wonderful mother.  I have a healthy relationship with the Creator.  And, honestly, that’s enough for me.  More than enough.

Once again, this post didn’t end up like I imagined it would.  That’s fine.  Many of you can relate to this, and I hope and pray you have surrounded yourself only with people who have your best interests and your health in mind.

Thanks.

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then

So, sometimes, I miss “the good ol’ days.” Or at least, I think I do.

The way I grew up in martial arts is a bit different than how it is presented today.  My first training hall had three adornments: The South Korean Flag, The US Flag, and a giant sign that said, “House of Discipline.”  My instructor spoke better Korean than he did English, and he used to carry around a pail with gravel.  Master Park would punch and spear the gravel to toughen up his hands.  He could also do a lot of push ups on his index fingers (no joke).

We trained on a cement floor that was covered with pretty disgusting, thin carpet.  The only pads we used were on our hands and feet, and we were encouraged to wear a cup.  We didn’t ask questions of our Master, and we didn’t laugh in class or we got smacked or kicked out.  It was great.

My best friend at the time was a bit of a trouble maker, except during those classes.  Well, sometimes he tried to get me to laugh so he could see me get punished, but he only succeeded once.  It was amazing how he could turn on and off his behaviors before, during and after class.

At tournaments, we got trophies or medals for First, Second or Third.  Everyone else got the experience of losing.  Our tests for our next belt levels were two or three hours of non-stop work.  Everyone tested in front of our Grandmaster.  If you messed up during the test, you went home.

There are times when my nostalgia affects what I do.  Humans have pretty bad memories, even though we think otherwise.  While we usually get the general idea of past events fairly accurately, we forget much of the nuance.  If I think my students are not listening to me as I would like them to, I tell myself that if I could pound on them a little, or smack them with a broom handle in the shins (yay! good ol’ days!), they would come around.

Which they would, for a short while.  Probably right before their parents took them out of my school and sued me.

Things have changed in the last several decades.  We found out how dangerous smoking is.  We realized wearing seat belts is a good idea.  We reaffirmed that Rock ‘N’ Roll never dies!

We are discovering how our brains respond to pain, fear, and threats.  The thing is, our brains tend to learn better, and retain and use information more readily  when we are calm and in a good state of mind.   When our neural pathways are free and clear of the clutter of fear, anger, hunger, regret, we tend to learn more quickly and retain it.  (We also tend to store abuse and neglect, but that is a different posting)

It feels “good” to say to others that I trained on a cement floor, that we didn’t wear pads, and that our Masters took it to us.  However, I am certain that it was not as harsh as I remember, or I wouldn’t have stayed.  Except for the floor–that carpet-covered cement was nasty.

 

I am having a bit of difficulty finding a clean ending to this post.  I get that this is one thin  slice of one issue, and there is a lot more to it.  Maybe I will write more about it.

Or not.

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accelerate

1976-fiat-spider-1800-1

 

I have a love-“meh” relationship with driving.  When there is little traffic, or when I am able to drive with no particular place to go, it’s wonderful.  Commuting is often a different thing altogether.  I try to turn that into a game, to find the seams in the traffic and get to and through those at a good clip.

I tend to not do this as much when my wife, Christine, is in the car, although I think she secretly enjoys it.  When I get to 90 or so, she sighs and says, “OK, Patrick.”  Yes, I slow down.  Yes, we laugh, even though I drive her nuts.

When I was a teenager, my mother had a classic Fiat Spider convertible.  Because Mom is both generous and likes cars, she let me drive it fairly often.  Because I am her son, and share lots of her genes, my assumption is that Mom knew how I drove that car.

One of things that was most thrilling was to see how fast I could go over the posted speed limit on curves.  My goal was to get 30-40 miles per hour faster than was “safe.”   One memory I have is of going on an on-ramp, where the suggested speed was 35 mph.  I went 70.  That little car was so low to the ground, and the gears shifted to well that it was fairly easy to keep it right on the edge of crashing.

I used to drag race other vehicles as well.  Manual transmissions are great for this, because you get to manipulate to RPMs more so than in an automatic.  It’s just great fun.

When my brother went into the service, he handed me the keys to his 1976 Malibu Classic.  That car hauled!  Since the body was so big and the engine was so powerful, it really didn’t “feel” like you were going 110, 120.  Not that I did that…ahem.

In an automatic, when you punch the gas, there is a slight hesitation before the car begins to accelerate.  Punch it.  Pause.  Go!

This has been on my mind the last couple of weeks.  This season for me feels a bit like that.  The word I keep coming back to again and again is “acceleration.”  I am convicted this is true for the team I coach, and the school I run.  Likely, it’s true for my faith and my family, and my growth as a man of God.

I have been interested in the pause that happens before the acceleration begins.  What the significance of the pause is, what can be found while sitting in that time of quiet anticipation.

A time to either catch your breath or let it out before you go.  A time to pray for discernment and wisdom, faith and favor.  A time to take a look around at what is really going on, before that acceleration kicks in.  A time to make sure obstacles are really out of the way that need to be, and that we’re not missing any signs warning us of danger or destruction.

So, it’s been an interesting place for me to be.  It feels holy, at times disquieting, and pregnant with promise.  There is a visceral quality to it, that longing of almost and not quite yet.  I have a vague picture of what some of the end of this will look like, and look forward to learning the rest along the way.

And, it’s soon.  Very, very soon.  For me, and by virtue of relationship, those in my life who are on the ride with me, who don’t always mind the wind in their hair and can still have the presence of mind to quietly say, “Patrick” when I need to hear that.

We are made for times such as these.  It is time for the pedal to be pushed, for the acceleration to begin.

Go.

 

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Posted in Business, Coaching, Leadership, Life, Uncategorized

edge

Recently I came across this poem by Guillame Apollinaire:

“Come to the edge,” he said.
“We can’t, we’re afraid!” they responded.
“Come to the edge,” he said.
“We can’t, We will fall!” they responded.
“Come to the edge,” he said.
And so they came.
And he pushed them.
And they flew.

I can relate to this.  Likely a lot of you can as well.  This is one thing I want for my children, students, and athletes.   For us to be people in their lives who are able to nurture and challenge those in our care, and to bring them to situations that are daunting but doable.  For them to be people in our lives who respond to us, who walk with us, who will partner with us in their growth.

This is a worthy endeavor.  For them to come to the edge, despite being afraid.  For them to find out that when they get to the edge, and they are pushed in the right way, they will fly.

I’m interested in the transformation that happens in this poem that isn’t noted.  “They” say that they will fall, and “he” invites them to come to the edge again.  And they do.  In my imagination, something wonderful happened between those two points.

They grew in their trust of him.  He pushed and prodded, provided support for them, and  maybe sometimes cajoled them.  Their reticence turned into courage and determination, and they went to the edge.

It’s interesting that they didn’t jump.  They were pushed.  Didn’t think they were ready, were still holding back a little, unsure.  But he knew.  As we often do before our kids do, or our students or our athletes.  We think, “Yes, you’re ready.”  We have insight and wisdom they don’t yet posses.  So we push them over the edge.

And they fly, they soar, sometimes despite themselves.  And, it’s beautiful and breathtaking.

 

 

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Posted in Coaching, Leadership, Life, mental health, Uncategorized

soon, 1

Lately I have been thinking about a piece by Marianne Williamson.  I encountered this some twenty years ago, when I was still working in the public schools.  Most of you have read this, from “A Return to Love,” which says:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

We encounter people who seem intent on being thorns in our sides.  The closer we get to breakthrough, the more they seem to come against us.  One of the reasons they do this, I am convinced, is because the dark just cannot stand the light.  It rebels against it, because it hates it.

The dark within ourselves and within others tries to extinguish light.  Success, joy, peace, love–all of these are much harder to come to and sustain than is failure, anger, fear, discord, and hate.  These latter things are deeply rooted in the part of our brain that is the most primitive, and the easiest to access.  My faith speaks to a constant struggle between agents of darkness and light as well.

People who are in a place where they are deeply sad, abused, or are suffering in some other very real and very present way often want to bring others to the place where they currently reside.  Misery loves company in part because misery simply cannot understand a better way.  There are neurological, bio-chemical, and spiritual reasons for this.

And while we are still in the dark, we are being constantly invited to make the choice to move towards the light.

We get to make the choice to understand and use the gifts God has given us for a greater good.  We get to begin to step up.  Our “playing small does not serve the world.”  We get to let our light shine, so others may see it and be affected by it.

I don’t know if our presence “atomically liberates” others.  It’s much harder than that, especially for those who have been living with darkness for an extended period of time.  Often, the first reaction people have to us is to mistrust and show derision.  The dark hates the light.

And, we still have tremendous influence over others around us.  Our presence does affect others.  The way we think about ourselves provides a lens through which we see the world.

There are times when we do need to sit with in what appears to be darkness.  For example, we need to mourn, be sad, experience anger.  We will be frustrated, have set backs, and trip over obstacles and our own feet.  How we exist in those situations and how we come out on the other side of them is determined in large part on how we entered them in the first place.

This post turned out different than I originally had intended.  In some future posts, I will look more in depth about how our light frightens others, and what to do about it.  I think.  For now, I would challenge you to re-read the selection from Williamson, and see how it speaks to you.  I would love to know your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

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