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I like this pondering of hell without judgement. I also like thinking that losing our stories is a form of hell, reminding us that remembering who we are, where we come from and our connection to the earth and each other, is a way out of hell

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I confess I've never been much interested in hell as some kind of other, or heaven for that matter either, though I love picturing the angels playing cards and drinking Cosmopolitans. Perhaps that reflects my Protestant ethos, where heaven and hell as extremities were soft pedalled, all a bit too dramatic for a tribe that values the middle ground.

But the hell here and now, this interests me, as do writers, poets and artists who play with the darkness but offer no easy answers, no certitude as you say. The hell of here and now is familiar. And less terrifying as the years pass.

I love that your man carried two things, Padraig, and you don't know what they are! What a surprise poetry is.

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founding

What a moving poem, and all your reflections. Thank you Pádraig. And safe smooth travels!

Reading this, I am reminded of a time years ago when I took a course on death at a local Zen center. One week, we partnered up and shared with our partner what we most feared about death. I responded with some sense of certitude “pain.” A phrase shared by my favorite physiology teacher came to mind, a phrase he used to describe a condition nicknamed the “suicide disease” — “lancinating pain.” So I told my partner, “Pain. I’m afraid of lancinating pain.”

Then it was his turn. He was much older than me. At the time I was in my late 30s or early 40s, and I assume he was in his late 70s or early 80s.

He said, “being alone.”

Ohhhh.

My throat dropped into my heart dropped into my belly dropped into I don’t know where but way waaay down (hell?). THUD. I listened to my partner. After he shared, I thanked him. And then said, somewhat sheepishly but also urgently, as if correcting my words would really make a difference, like changing an order at a restaurant, except with much greater consequences than ginger sauce vs garlic. “I changed my mind. I don’t want to be alone. I can probably be in pain if I’m accompanied….” What I meant at that time was accompanied by another person. Having been recently divorced, that easy assumption of who might be there at the time of my death was absent. And as I read your post now Pádraig, I think, perhaps I’d be okay, so long as I’m accompanied even if by a myth.

The past few months I’ve been going in and out of a hell realm, to use the Buddhist term, psychologically speaking. As I’ve been uprooted from my home due to mold, this saga seems to have taken roots in my system - neuro, immuno, soma, psyche…. who knows it’s exact location, locations, like spores, insidious, innocuous to some, incendiary to others….. this story.

I need a new one.

In the midst of this hell realm I’ve been in and out of since January 9th, I’ve found tremendous support in the words shared in these newsletters, Pádraig. In the radiant smile of young Brian, the nighttime gatekeeper of my temporary shelter, the support of dear beloved friends, the inner encouragement to work with the gatekeepers of my own cells, neurons, my heart-mind, in which the words of so many flow in to offer relief. “A flower in hell, a trickle of water offered as an obeisance, a hare galloping through the underpassages, an echo, a track, a desire-line, a way. A handprint on the wall from someone else.” I’ll allow these words entry, again and again. The hidden streams, the silence, that which no flame devours…. the two things.

I walked into Wilner’s chemist on Thursday looking for a flower to offer some relief from this hell. “Let me read about them,” I thought. “I’ll see if one resonates.” The first in the list, alphabetically, was agrimony. “To soothe all those tormented in body or mind and bring them peace. The restless, the worried, the anxious, the tortured. Those who can find no peace of mind, no rest. There is such a vast army of these sufferers who so often hide their torment under smiles and joviality. They are often the cheeriest of people, and frequently humorists…. They will do anything rather than depress others with their trials. Even in severe illness they will jest and make light of their trials. They are brave people and Agrimony will help them so much.” Sometimes a poem, sometimes a flower.

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Apr 10, 2023·edited Apr 16, 2023Liked by Poetry Unbound

Hell , as presented by the Catholics, never called out to me mythologically or otherwise. I took note of the legalistic thinking, though, even at age 7 or 8, in catechism class. I took note of the unfamiliar words, especially the ones that described sin -- venial and mortal. Words like contrition and making an act of contrition also interested me. I got it that there was some kind of ceremonial apology making and forgiveness seeking going on. This was in preparation for taking a stiff, sticky wafer into one's mouth -- a pretty strange idea, I thought. For the life of me, I couldn't get on board with the idea that I had sinned. I knew I was expected to confess sins and I understood the kinds that should be confessed. "I said a bad word." "I talked back to my mother." "I was mean to my friend." I didn't really think I was guilty of too much in that regard. Maybe I was guilty of not knowing what to do with my feelings or of being secretive, because no one really seemed interested in me. Who was I going to confess that to? When I made my first confession and subsequent weekly visits into the weird little closet where I talked to a priest through a grill, I dutifully made up appropriate sins to confess. I even said the assigned Hail Marys and Our Fathers, because you had to be seen doing what you should. No one -- not the nun, not the priest and certainly not my parents cared how confusing this all was. Truth be told, aspiration-wise, I emulated the values and habits of the Mexican-American kids in my class at school. They were unfailingly kind and polite to everyone. I was at some disadvantage, though, I did not have a Mexican-American mother or father who cherished me, as I think these kids were cherished. I was friends with a girl called Julia Obregon whose house I was sometimes invited to after school. I got to see up close what she got that I didn't. Who was I going to tell that to? The priest?

It seemed to me that babies were the most blameless of creatures and that maybe parents should be inspired by their inherent lovableness and goodness. I was obsessed with a book called The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell, though I didn't share the illustrator's embrace of a convention of very short robes that seemed always to threaten exposure of the angelic tushie. In the book, the littlest angel has humble gifts to offer the baby Jesus -- a bird's feather, a marble, etc. This idea -- along with Christopher Robin's love of Winnie the Pooh's confusions about the meaning of things, his love of togetherness and song and simple adventure and snacks -- spoke to me a good deal more than Sister Mary Agnes's teachings in catechism or the priest's admonitions to "do better next week" in response to my made up sins. I was also inspired by a book called The Family of Man on my father's shelf which I consulted often. It was a compilation of black and white photographs for an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art from before I was born. I particularly liked the depictions of a baby being born, the depression era photos of hard times and a photo of a soldier holding another soldier who was weeping.

So, I looked for meaning elsewhere. I didn't believe in hell, but Limbo spoke to me -- this keeping children out from a heavenly space on a technicality. Later, when I studied the civilizations of the ancient Mediterranean, I was particularly interested in Greek and Roman ideas of Hades where people kept repeating actions without successful completion. I did read Dante's Inferno in translation in a high school class. I swear to you that I focused only on the lostness in a dark wood in the middle of life's road at the beginning, the introduction of a poet guide for Dante to the underworld, and the re-emergence to see the stars again. The rest I blanked out.

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Trish, I enjoyed reading this, thank you. So interesting. My experience growing up was rather different from yours I think - I remember going to confession once or twice, but not in a closet, and we called it "reconciliation" (I was raised Episcopalian). I remember feeling true regret about fights with my siblings, and my priest was very compassionate and assured me that God loved me just the same. Similarly to you though, and perhaps because of the nature of my spiritual upbringing, I did not really believe in hell either. I still don't, really, though I think the observation that there are many hells on earth is quite true. I had a hard time assuming any guilt around Jesus' death for sure, and quietly insisted that I would never have killed someone like that. Btw, I had a laugh at the "angelic tushie"!

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Thank you for sharing this, Mona. You have such a gift with words. When you mentioned not wanting to be alone I was thinking of being with the wrong person is so much worse. Then you mentioned your divorce and your home and I am just a couple of steps behind you in this journey. I have often wondered where I will be when I am old, and if I will be alone. Of course to my daughters, I am old, lol. I love the idea of carrying a friend of words or stories. Truly beautiful.

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founding

Thank you for your kind words, Dawn! And, how true - to be with the wrong person, worse. Sending you much supportive qi as you navigate these steps. I found a deep connection with trees during the shock and initial grief phase of the rupture in my marriage. And all this space opened up from my shattered heart that was then able to connect in a deep way with others in ways that were so meaningful. That acute time has long passed, and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. And yet for me it came with some gifts too. Wish you much ease, and unexpected gifts too.

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Wishing you as much peace in the process as is possible.

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Oh, my. I can feel that "THUD." <3 Thanks for sharing these moving words. And "agrimony" - awesome. I've seen it around here, though more in rural fields, without knowing what it was. I love learning plant and tree names and the associations with them including medicinal knowledge.

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founding

Thank you, Chris. 🙏🏾 And agrimony. What a name! The indications I quoted are for the flower essence of agrimony. Herbally I haven’t used it but I believe it’s supposed to be a very good vulnerary and good for the eyes! I love to think of how it heals wounds and connects to vision. So many layers!

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Mona, this is beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

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founding

Oh thank you so much for taking time to read and share, Mary. ❤️

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Hi Mona, I wanted to share my writing with you. I love reading your comments each Sunday (I love the Poetry Unbound Substack so), and I find myself resonating with much of what you say. I wanted to offer my posts to you this morning as a gift. :) Cheers!

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Apr 9, 2023Liked by Poetry Unbound

I have never written this nor said it out loud, although I have thought it:

Go to hell.

There!

I’ve gone and said it!

Was not struck by lightning, was not frowned upon, was not cast out (I don’t think!)

Thank you everyone here!

Language did just take me to a place, and glad to be here with fellow journiers.

Best to you all who celebrate Easter, Ramadan, Passover, and/or spring.

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"I’m not looking for certitude in poetry, just a bit of the enough." This. Thank you. On the page, in spoken word, and beyond, I am wary and weary of easy answers. Roughly paraphrasing David Whyte here, but a conversation with the unknown often feels the only one worth having.

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Agreed. Reminds me of a phrase a friend of mine often uses - “looking for just a little bit of alright”.

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On I read Dante’s Inferno, I thought, for being a book about the complexities of Hell, it sure was focused on the lives of those who suffered there. It had a lot to say about life.

Can’t live without going to hell. Although I had never thought so before reading your poem, telling someone to “Go to Hell” is a lot like saying “Go to Life” and changes the way I see toasts that say the latter. It is an acknowledgement that you’re going to live.

In life we carry the “flowers” that are beauty as well as the knowledge that “devours.”

Someone I once knew, although pretty old and suffering from health problems that weren’t getting any better, still got up and showered every day. He dressed in casual but very presentable clothes and proceeded to “go to life” each day. His simple actions gave others hope--flowers. It was also easy to see how time was devouring him. He was also a poet but never satisfied with his work.

After reading your interesting poem, Padraig, I think I UNDERstand better the title of your podcast Poetry UNbound. You speak of poetry as centering on conflict, and it does, but with flowers.

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Apr 9, 2023Liked by Poetry Unbound

Your reflection reminds me that language accompanied by humanity can be Emily Dickinson’s little bird of winged hope appearing out of the blue singing out of silence, brightening the landscape, including the most barren and hellish, with a sign of beauty to carry us away. Far away may be next door. Far away may be a book.

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Apr 9, 2023Liked by Poetry Unbound

Wow—this is a really good one. O don’t have anything profound to say other than I appreciate the beauty of your use of language, the way you both challenge and affirm. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself with us.

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Apr 9, 2023Liked by Poetry Unbound

One of my cousins, during one of his famous barroom gospels, would joyfully misquote Mark Twain at full volume, “Go to heaven for the weather, but go to hell for the parties!” This was usually a sign that things were about to get rowdy.

I bring up this memory both as illustration of the absurdity of hell and of our desire to shout at the devil inside each of us. I will choose instead to consider the flowers and walk in wonder on this fine spring day.

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Hells bells

What the Hell ?

Hell of a day

Hell on wheels

It’s Hellish out there

Hell no

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Hell, yes!

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Hell if I know :)

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Who the hell cares?

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hell bent for leather...

going to hell in a handbasket??

sure as hell....

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Apr 9, 2023Liked by Poetry Unbound

The language of living hell gives me shivers only to arrive at the gates of a promised heavenly abode, temporal as both may be.

Bringing one’s heart (one of the things) for reassurance to the ragged people and flowers (the other thing) to lay at the alter of life’s mysteries is a bit of enough in poetry and in daily practice.

Perhaps the other two things might be the way we carry reverence and lamentation as we go about our ordinary lives without separating ourselves from others.

Joining with hands together 🙏🏼 in gratitude for friendship and poetry unbound (two things too!)

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For me, hell is an archetypal realm which can go by many names: the underworld, the shadows (psychologically speaking), etc. Each of us has a kind of inner hell which we have to enter at certain times in life - forged in the fire, as they say.

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Apr 9, 2023·edited Apr 9, 2023

I am my own hell when I harshly judge others. I can only crawl out of it when I start stabbing my way back from old hurting and toward language that will free my own heart, carry me out of self righteousness and back to humility and strength of Mystery. The Holidays, especially holidays excite my devil. The path I take to wend my way through is downright murky whether through writing or talking or space allowed in other ways. When the pain surfaces I am so tempted to take a deep dive into that hell which engulfs me in an internal and perpetual distorted music. The freedom from it arrives unexpected and so tender but it's the seeking that redeems me and to know that fragmented music is a messenger.... until I crawl back in again. Rise and Fall....Rise and Fall...themes of the day and week both rich and rife with myth.....whether unleavened bread or Christ! Ha!

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Reading this I am struck with the thought, and envy, of how well you know yourself. I am certainly guilty of such harshness and usually surprised when I take the time to find out the story behind that which I am judging. I have not taken that step to look so deeply inside though. Thank you Amy. Something to ponder...

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Apr 9, 2023·edited Apr 9, 2023

Ha! If part of knowing myself means understanding I will stray into unhelpful habits and thinking that will impair my heart, then I may know myself when I can remember what I know. For years I held a fierce anger at a family member which ate away at me while telling myself I'm not one to hold grudges. While I was right and am still right according to me haha about this family member I had to learn 2 things. That being right was not the point and that I needed to pay more attention to the anger. Only then did I realize I wasn't even THAT right, not altogether. I went through that same hell with myself this holiday with a member of this same family that causes me pain and I found I had to pay attention to my feeling, and in doing so an unexpected piece of info was uncovered in the process which softened me yet again. It didn't change what still hurts and cannot be redeemed. It still redeemed me. Redemption is something I think about a lot, what it means, and this holiday period definitely heightens my reflections. Thank you for your comment and attention❤ I love how Padraig's prompts give space for deep reflection among thoughtful people such as you.

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Thank you so much for your reply. I think knowledge in this instance means awareness that you are playing a role in your discomfort even if you don’t understand at the time what that role is. Anger is a powerful and easy weapon for me to use, and most times my only defense. it is my go-to, my boundary, in family, in work, in everything. How easily I forget the destruction! I like your self-reflection. What a wonderful journey you are on! You have given me a lot to think about. And yes, Pádraig’s prompts are fantastic!

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Anger go-to soul sister you are! It has truly worked for me when I look back at my childhood. It can be a good tool, galvanizing, but like any emotion as we get older these things tend to calcify, become reactive, hyper focused and it is easy to use it, as you say, for a weapon for bitterness. So it became really important for me to understand it if I truly want to keep living a vibrant life where I can still enable gentleness with myself and others. An absolute conscious choice not to stifle it, the opposite. But to embrace it, work with it, even if attempting to restrain it. And that isn't always pretty LOL...... Above all I come to expect to meet up with my old friend because after all we are human!

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It sounds like you are well on your way for living the life you want! I jump on and off the path. This has been a good reminder. Thank you Amy! Best wishes to you on your road!

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As Padraig would say "See you in the Comments!"

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As for hell, I love this: “If you have to go through hell, don’t come out empty handed” (Steve Leder), but no, the lessons were never, ever worth it

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I have identified with so many of these comments today. Thank you Pádraig and community for your weekly posts and incite. I always want to learn more after reading here.

My youngest teen is in hell now being in a relationship with the wrong person, and not being able to see any life without him. That hopelessness and faithlessness to me, were always hell.

Now helplessness is also my hell. The pain she is feeling, and the pain she is causing, her inability or unwillingness to see any other way forward, to accept any other comfort or distraction, his repeated return and inevitable departure are so difficult to watch and experience. I am at a loss at this time. How easily hope and faith can be lost in my pockets, or left behind and never carried at all.

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From one mom to another, big hugs as you navigate this one

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I watched and held my daughter through that journey. It did feel like hell. Being in hell witnessing hell.

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Exactly that. Thank you.

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Thank you Mary. Hugs always appreciated.

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Yes I feel that - “the hope and faith can be lost in my pockets, or left behind and never carried at all” can be truly a hell. I have experienced the tender relationship between love and loss on how they appear to be inter-knitted together that I see in the thread of your post. I appreciate the word “helplessness” you write as I have uncovered an undercurrent of helplessness in my mid-late 30s during the pandemic when everything seemed to be dissolving - I have witnessed in me that helplessness without hope was hell; however helplessness with hope was a lesson leaning into vulnerability and to receive help. Powerful differentiation with or without hope or faith you write in your comment. Thank you for sharing and blessings of hope to you and your youngest teen.

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Thank you! You are right, there is a big distinction there.

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Like many things about being raised Catholic, though I think of things quite differently now, i can remember what it felt like to believe in Hell. My earliest sense of Hell was bewilderment which, for a child, is perhaps common enough. But as a teenager, Hell formed the "mythic plane" (something Alan Garner describes 'living on' as a child during World War II), that helped me understand my world. For it felt a kind of hell spawned by hell's that i knew existed before me but which I knew only through the scars left on the people around me: "those who've lost their story." And this "loss" was the dark 'gift' of my childhood. For I was left without story even while i sensed an abundance of story that had been locked away, abandoned, forgotten, denied me, with even clues scrubbed into obscurity. The absence of story was, in my teen years, agony so severe I often did not know how i would survive it. But i did survive it. Though only by stepping onto the path of a quest for story. And which has been all kinds of agony (and sometimes joy) as i've gathered story riches to me, even while those stories denied me remain beyond my reach save for the most meagre clues. I have had to learn about "enough," which I never feel that I have found. I yearn and yearn for "enough" and it hurts that it is still beyond me. But, Pádraig, there is solace in your "just a bit of enough." For though the "enough" that I seek remains elusive, perhaps, i need better to appreciate the "bit" that I have found along my winding path.

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founding

Oh, Chris, how raw, and primal. “I have had to learn about "enough," which I never feel that I have found. I yearn and yearn for "enough" and it hurts that it is still beyond me.” Makes me think of the Portuguese word “saudade.” Do you know it? I don’t know if you are meaning that, but reading your post evoked that “saudade” feeling in me.

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Thank-you for the saudade connection. It means a lot to me that you should feel that reading my words. Though i hadn't thought for a second that i was trying to evoke such. It is a term i know well but had not thought of it while writing. And yet, it is such a condition of my life that it imbues much of my work and writing. I usually go to the term "bittersweet" which is something of a placeholder for a set of related terms including saudade and it's galician cousin morriña and duende and more. Last week I unwisely turned on the TV (when i meant to be writing) and stumbled onto the documentary Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song. I was hooked immediately. And found myself weeping through most of it and puzzled about my weeping. I grew up in Montreal and in the 80s, living on the Plateau, would sometimes see Leonard Cohen. Working a nightshift job I would sometimes stop at a restaurant called The Main because it was the only thing open that late and they had awesome fried pirogies with caramelized onions. On a couple of visits I looked up to see Leonard Cohen sitting at another table. But i lacked the courage (chutzpah? even sense of self?) to dare approaching him. But his poetry and song had been part of my life since I was a teen. Cohen has been a presence in my life for as long as i can remember. And something in the documentary squeezed my heart so hard that even now it brings up tears. I understood a bit of where the feeling was coming from but remained puzzled at the intensity of emotion. You've solved that puzzle now for me. Saudade. Definitely saudade.

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founding

Ohh, Chris. How moving. It sounds to me it was quite *wise* that you decided to turn on the television that day. Reading what you’ve shared, I’m reminded of the truth I “know” but only sometimes really feel and connect with in a very embodied way, and that is that we are so much more than these individual selves, than these individual lives... that Leonard Cohen may not be as separate from you as it might initially seem, to ordinary consciousness. That parts of us, parts of me, like pieces of a puzzle, may be found outside of conventional “me” and the finding of them, the recognition of them in “another” may evoke a deep longing, or profound attraction and connection, or this kind of feeling of saudade....

Thank you for sharing this story. (and for the morriña and duende references, and carmelized onions which I want right now!).

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Thanks again, Mona. Reminders of connection are always welcome. The connections of which you speak are always on my mind. And yet, i am constantly forgetting them and having to remember in 10,000 different contexts.

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