I want to believe in magic…

I want to believe in magic

“I wanted to find a magical portal. I wanted to fall into a magical world. When I opened a closet, I wanted to feel a chill and find snow falling behind the coats. When I opened my front door, I wanted to see a yellow brick road winding off towards the Emerald City…You can guess what happened: nothing. “

Bruce Handy, A Velocity of Being

I’ve always been practical, and pragmatic. I’ve always been realistic, even as a kid. But, there was one magical portal I believed in. One magical portal that I spent most of my life searching for, but never found: It was ‘someday’. It was “one-day’. It was the future.

Someday I was going to be somebody. One day I was going to make something of myself. My future was bright. My future was full of purpose. My future was inevitable. Someday it was all going to come together. One day it would all work out. You can guess what happened: nothing. One day never arrived. Someday never showed up. Time kept moving forward, but my future never followed suit.

We all believe in secret entrances, miracles, and magic portals. We just argue over semantics. “You could call it a trap door, a hidden compartment, or you could call it God,” says Chloe Benjamin. We’re all believers in one way or another. We all worship something, David Foster Wallace suggests. So, “Is it that reality is too much, “asks Benjamin, “too painful, too limited, too restrictive of joy, or opportunity?” Or, as Benjamin goes on to say, is it that “reality is not enough”? She suggests that it isn’t, and I’m inclined to agree. It isn’t enough. It isn’t “enough to explain what we don’t understand”, or “to account for the inconsistencies we see, hear, and feel.” It isn’t enough “on which to pin our hopes, our dreams, our faith.” Maybe that’s why we need faith, why we need hope, why we need love. Maybe that’s not only why we believe, but why we need to. Maybe that’s precisely why we need to believe in magic.

“Some magicians say that magic shatters your world view”, Benjamin points out.” But, “magic”, as she supposes, is what “holds the world together”. “It’s the glue of reality,” she surmises. “And, it takes magic”, she concludes, “to reveal how inadequate reality is.”

I believe in the profound inadequacies of reality as we know it. I have seen, and felt, and experienced how anemic reality can be. How insufficient it is at providing us with sustenance enough to do anything other than merely survive. We live on rations; caged with the lack, tied to the want, present to the absence, never sated, never full, always and at all times hungry. But, as much as I still want to stand behind it, magic, has proven to be just as unreliable, and its becoming harder and harder to maintain a faith in anything even remotely magical.

Maybe magic failed me one too many times. Maybe reality starved and suffocated my sense of wonder. Maybe its a muscle that’s atrophied and I’m just too stiff and too tired to bend or stretch. But I want to. I still want to believe in the magic of hidden passageways that lead to mystifying futures and unimaginable somedays. I want to believe in magic shoes that can take me anywhere. I want to believe that the long black veil of bereavement could be transformed into a dove, even if only by slight of hand or a trick of the light.

There’s a story in the Gospel of Mark. A desperate father begs Jesus to heal his son. Jesus tells him that “All things are possible for one who believes”. The father responds with urgency saying “I believe; help my unbelief.” This is the truest prayer I know, and the most honest one I can say. And so I pray it every day…I believe that one day, everything will be ok, maybe even better, but help my unbelief

Short thoughts on ‘A Long way Down’…

a long way down

I’ve been aware of Nick Hornby for awhile. I just never got around to reading him. About a year ago, in my favorite local used book store, I picked up two of his books: High Fidelity and A Long way Down. I tend to favor Umberto Eco’s thoughts on the ‘Antilibrary’, that is, the idea that the most important feature of one’s personal library are the unread books. For they, they are the source of unending possibility and potentiality. Lurking with their pages is the presence of ‘perhaps‘.

Needless to say both books sat on a shelf untouched until a few weeks ago. I was still coming down off the high of finishing Matt Haig‘s book, How to Stop Time (which I highly recommend), and I wanted something similar in tone and style. I thought Hornby might fit the bill. I wasn’t disappointed.

What you have here is a quirky tale written in shifting perspectives, points of view, and the individual voices of the four very different main characters. An unlikely quartet of people each depressed, despairing, and on the verge of suicide, band together to try find reasons to go or to at least delay their demises.

They have each, through their own varying traumas and circumstances, found out the hard way that “there are other ways of dying, without killing yourself” It happens when “You…let [the most important] parts of yourself die.” And yet, as Hornby writes “Sometimes it’s moments like that, real complicated moments, absorbing moments that make you realize that even hard times have things in them that make you feel alive.”

In the end what you find in A Long Way Down is not a shiny series of self-help tinged platitudes or unrealistically happy endings. But broken and battered people who discover the hope that comes from realizing a strange and unexpected truth; in some small and subtle way the warmth and solidity of belonging makes the ache of being alive hurt just a little less. And that in itself is reason enough to stay…

…everything after August…

everything after august

A few months back I overheard a woman say to her teenage daughter that the only explanation for why people still buy records is nostalgia, especially given that the “sound quality” of vinyl isn’t as good as more modern media. It’s a surreal experience to be so suddenly overcome by the inexplicable urge to punch a stranger in the throat. Perhaps, its what Nick Hornby describes as “music rage, which”, as Hornby explains, “is like road rage, only more righteous.” He says that “When you get road rage, a tiny part of you knows you’re being a jerk but when you get music rage, you’re carrying out the will of God, and God wants these people dead.”

But, I suppose the trick to living more mindfully is quietly observing the eccentricities of the human mind as they arise in the daily experience of consciousness rather than acting on them. I tried to watch as the fury came forward and I did my best to simply watch as it passed.

Maybe she has a point. Maybe there is an element of nostalgia involved. But, vinyl’s heyday was before my time, and its kind of hard to be nostalgic for an era I wasn’t even around for. For me, I think it is a matter of ‘sound quality’, that is, it’s about the qualities that are intrinsic to the sound of a record.

Perhaps the sound is neither more pure nor more pristine, but it has more personality, it is more personable. Perhaps, even more person-like. When I listen to a record I get a deeper sense of people holding space together to make music come to life.  Records are alive. Vinyl breathes. It whispers and hums. It sounds like the energy of the room the music was made in. And, in the midst of a record’s spin the music itself becomes a living entity with a presence and a pulse.

One of the best gifts I’ve ever received is a limited edition printing of “August and Everything After” by the Counting Crows, inarguably one of the best albums of all time by one of the best bands of all time. I mean…you can try to argue, but unless you’re prepared to witness and endure a nearly forty-year-old man stick his fingers in his ears and shout “I’m not listening!!”, I would advise against it.

I sat reveling in the record recently, listening to the warm crackle of comfort that can only come from a turntable’s needle riding along the groove of where music meets the merger of memory mingling with the present moment. I thought about how apt the title of the album is, especially as it pertains to the person and circumstances that made this moment possible.

21 days into the month of August, in one seemingly serendipitous moment, in the warm auburn glow of the otherly and the unexpected, two crooked paths crossed in a flash and everything after became something new.

It’s funny how such a fleeting aside can serve as the foundation for something so unfathomably and ineffably more, but that’s what happened. A conversation started that shows no signs of stopping. A connection formed that spilled out and spilled over everything.

Sometimes the miracle of miracles is the way one comment can set off a chain of events that alter our understanding of everything we thought we so clearly knew to be true. Somedays people suck and you’re trying your best to watch your breath instead of going into a blackout rage of self-righteous throat punching. But, other days, people surprise you in ways that can’t even be put into words. You meet someone who makes you feel more safe, more sound. Someone that puts you more in touch with the whispering hum of your own presence and pulse. Someone who changes your life in inalterable ways.

Of the many-splendored things that come with being human, one of the the most splendid moments of really fucking magical, top-shelf, good shit, is when you meet someone that makes you wonder how you were ever able to live so long without them.  I may not know what comes next but, I know that the rest of my days will be a record of that August and everything that came after…

It’s hard to trust the truth…

trust the truth
“Lachrymae” – Frederic, Lord Leighton (British, Scarborough 1830–1896 London) – https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/436869?searchField=All&sortBy=Relevance&showOnly=openAccess&ft=depression&offset=140&rpp=20&pos=155

“One of the key symptoms of depression is to see no hope. No future. Far from the tunnel having light at the end of it, it seems like it is blocked at both ends, and you are inside it.”

– Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive

This is how I know depression never leaves, that it is always there, always present. This feeling of utter hopelessness, of being completely trapped, of being inalterably stuck with no escape. It is a sound that never stops. A clamor that is never quiet. It’s like the steady, but constantly fluctuating sound of the ocean. Somedays the tide is low and the lack of hope is little more than the subtle murmuring of a slow moving sea humming in the background of an otherwise beautiful day.

But, then somedays the moon shifts, its darker side becomes visible, the pull of its gravity garners greater strength, the grows turbulent and gains momentum. The fury of each wave as they crest and crash is a riptide of noise so loud l that it drowns every sound that stands in its wake. The hopelessness waxes and wanes, but it always persists and pervades. At it’s worst it becomes apathy and indifference, when any sense of aliveness slips into a lethargy of simply getting along.

I’m being shown more hope than I’ve seen in a long time. An end of the tunnel is beginning to open that I thought might be forever closed. There is some light where once there had only been black. But, tunnel vision is a condition that takes a long time to recover from. I can see a chance at hope. I can see the possibility of a future, but it still hard to see passed the tunnel. Its hard to see beyond it. It’s hard to see to the end of it much less what’s on the other side of it.

Sometimes it hurts. The light can be painful to look at when your eyes have atrophied from only looking inside the lack. But the hurt that is so much worse is the fear of the light leaving all together, the terror of the tunnel closing in again. The thought of losing a future that started to feel so close. The loss of a hope that holds the promise of leading me out could be my ultimate undoing.

Matt Haig says “Depression makes you think things that are wrong”. It can be so hard to trust the truth, to trust that it is true, especially when you’ve begun to believe the lies. But you have to try… otherwise you just stay blind…

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discovering possibility

discovering possibility

Seth Godin says that “Discovering what’s possible is your job.” Perhaps, the most important one we’ll ever have. We live in a world of near endless possibility, but not everything always is. Somethings just aren’t, no matter how much we might want them to be. We have to constantly do the work of daily discovering what is possible. But, the bitter truth of the matter is that, in order to do that we have to submit ourselves to the long and heart breaking task of finding out what isn’t. That’s simply the only way to find out. We have to experiment, and iterate, and try, a lot. We have to get so much wrong. We have to be willing to keep getting things wrong, and we have to keep going. We have to keep trying. That’s the most pivotal piece actually; the moving forward, the continuing to try, the persistence, the resilience. After countless attempts to find just the right filament for the light bulb, Thomas Edison said that “I have not failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.” He also said that “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Perhaps this is the most vital discovery that one can possibly make in the examination of the possible: what makes it possible for one to continue to believe in the possible when one they have been so relentlessly inundated by all the things that aren’t? To sustain faith in the possibility of one more chance after a 9,999 attempts that didn’t work. What will it take to make that kind of tenacity and perseverance possible? This is what it is your job to discover, this is what it is all our jobs to discover, because if that isn’t possible than nothing is.

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human progress?…

human progress
Currier & Ives (American, active New York, 1857–1907) The Progress of the Century – The Lightning Steam Press. The Electric Telegraph. The Locomotive. The Steamboat., 1876 American, Lithograph; Image: 8 13/16 × 12 1/4 in. (22.4 × 31.1 cm) Sheet: 11 1/16 × 13 3/4 in. (28.1 × 35 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Adele S. Colgate, 1962 (63.550.377) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/659890

“The longer you live, the more you realize that nothing is fixed. Everyone will become a refugee if they live long enough. Everyone would realize their nationality means little in the long run. Everyone would see their worldviews challenged and disproved. Everyone would realize that the thing that defines a human being is being a human. Turtles don’t have nations. Or flags. Or strategic nuclear weapons. They don’t have terrorism or referendums or trade wars with China. They don’t have Spotify playlists for their workouts. They don’t have books on the decline and fall of turtle empires. They don’t have internet shopping or self-service checkouts. Other animals don’t have progress, they say. But the human mind itself doesn’t progress. We stay the same glorified chimpanzees, just with bigger weapons. We have the knowledge to realize we are just a mass of quanta and particles, like everything else is, and yet we keep trying to separate ourselves from the universe we live in, to give ourselves a meaning above that of a tree or a rock or a cat or a turtle.
So here I am, with my head full of human fears and pains, my chest tight with anxiety, thinking about how much future I have in front of me.”

Matt Haig, How to Stop Time

I think about how much time I spend on worry about mattering; about doing something that matters, about being someone who matters, about making things that matter. Perhaps it’s all just an unconscious, egocentric, delusional desire for separateness. A desire to not only be separate from the universe but to be separate from my own kind; to be different, better, and more meaningful than not only every species but to even my own species.

We think it’s possible because we believe in ‘human progress’. Because we still talk about Socrates, and the Buddha, and Jesus, and Marcus Aurelius, and Shakespeare, and Thomas Edison, and on and on. But even the level of “mattering” we give to these figures is illusory. They only matter to us. To our species. To our closed off, claustrophobic, infinitesimal corner of the cosmos. But, we’ve only been around for 300,000 years and I’m not convinced that our species is likely to go for much longer.

Sharks have existed for 450 million years. Trees appeared over 370 million years go. Turtles have been around for 230 million years. And somehow we have the arrogance and audacity to think we are more meaningful than they are. That our lightbulbs, and buildings, and steam engines, and microchips, and nuclear bombs actually matter.

John Green says that “there’s no level of fame or genius that allows you to transcend oblivion. The infinite future makes that kind of mattering impossible.”

Sharks have perfected being their best selves. Trees don’t even have to try hard to be trees. Turtles are amazing at being turtles. And yet, we, most haughty and conceited of chimpanzees, don’t even know how to be human, much less how to be in the world.

Human progress?…We have so much to learn and so little time…

Books I Read 2021

Maybe posting a list of the books I read is a case of self-indulgent pride, or simply a desperate attempt to break the blog seal for the new year, or perhaps some combination of the two. Matt Haig says “We are mysteries to ourselves”, so even I can’t be sure of my own motivations.

Reading is the equalizer of my days. Reading can make the pettiness of some passing days more palatable. Over the years I feel I’ve had less of a say in who or what I am. I’ve had to become someone different to keep the peace, and to keep relationships in tact. I’ve had to be something different to keep the bills paid and to keep the lights on. But, the more I read the more I get to be myself, the more I get to be what I want to be, or at least something like what I want to be. If nothing else I get to escape the masquerade for a while and blissfully forget the farce I feigned participation in living.

I’m one half of a two-person book club. In the mornings before work I read and speak to the better half of the duo. In evening, after work, dinner, and adulting, I read and write more. I speak to my partner again. And, in those spaces I feel like my life is more mine, that I have a voice and choice in some small part of what I am and what I do. And everything else is tolerable because of it.

With that being said, every year I set a loose reading goal. I keep a list of the books I read. Here’s my “Books Read” list for 2021. In the coming weeks I may write a few short ‘reviews‘ of my favorites from the list.

  1. Consider This by Chuck Palahniuk
  2. A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle
  3. Until the End of Time by Brian Greene
  4. The Buddha and the Badass by Vishen Lakhiana
  5. Everything is Spiritual by Rob Bell
  6. When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
  7. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
  8. Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
  9. The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman
  10. It’s Great to Suck at Something by Karen Rinaldi
  11. Notes from an Apocalypse by Mark O’Connell
  12. Linchpin by Seth Godin
  13. Almost Everything by Anne Lamott
  14. Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris
  15. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
  16. Little Weirds by Jenny Slate
  17. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
  18. Learning to Be by Juanita Campbell Rasmus
  19. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson
  20. Everything Happens for a Reason by Kate Bowler
  21. The Second Mountain by David Brooks
  22. I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown
  23. Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown
  24. Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk
  25. Skin in the Game by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
  26. A Monk’s Guide to Happiness by Gelong Thubten
  27. Yes Please by Amy Poehler
  28. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
  29. Letters to a Young Poet by Nonfiction
  30. The Dharma of Poetry by John Brehm
  31. The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer
  32. Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
  33. Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Bess Kalb
  34. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  35. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  36. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
  37. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
  38. The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer
  39. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
  40. The Alienist by Caleb Carr
  41. Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
  42. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
  43. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
  44. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett
  45. Broken (In the Best Possible way) by Jenny Lawson
  46. The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli
  47. The Trouble With Being Born by E.M. Cioran
  48. Dan Gets a Mini Van by Dan Zevin
  49. The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green
  50. The Upside of Being Down by Jen Gotch
  51. Small Victories by Anne Lamott
  52. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
  53. Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
  54. Do you Mind if I Cancel by Gary Janetti
  55. Radical Compassion by Tara Brach
  56. The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
  57. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
  58. Love Kurt by Kurt Vonnegut
  59. Grit by Angela Duckworth
  60. A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

the paradox of love and belonging…

the paradox of love

Don’t attach yourself to people, and try to feel as little as you possibly can for those you do meet. Because otherwise you will slowly lose your mind…

– Matt Haig, How to Stop Time

I’ve always kept people at a distance. The closest I’ve ever let anyone come is an arm’s length. Even then I’ve learned to inwardly isolate myself miles beyond the span in which a shoulder stretches towards the ends of finger tips. I suppose I’ve always been troubled by the paradox of love and belonging.

Maybe I came into the world congenitally ill-equipped for connection; an inherited incapacity weaved into the strands of my DNA; an ontological precondition that comes from being an only child.

But that seems overly cynical…even for me.

I have become so accustomed to the avoidance of closeness that’s it’s almost impossible to pinpoint the cause or catalyst. I could give you a series of self diagnosed analyses intended to explain my unconscious leaning towards aloneness. But, each seems half-heartedly fallacious and anachronistic; an eisegesis read into the story of who I am rather than interpreted from it. But perhaps every life lives in the tension between extrapolation and misconstrual.

In the brevity of my first few years alive I experienced an inextricable kinship with my grandfather that many never get to have in an entire lifetime. And, in the same breath, when he died unexpectedly, I came to understand the fragile temporality of all things through the catastrophe of loss. Perhaps the person that I am is simply what formed in the wake of his passage.

I learned, early on, that no matter how sure or how certain something seems, nothing is impenetrably stable. Nothing stays. Everything that stands is only ever one small step away from falling apart.

There have been a near countless collection of possible causes for my self-inflicted solitude. A rapid succession of childhood moves: changing countries, states, addresses, and streets; always an outsider, never belonging, never home. An array of unrequited affections. An assortment of relationships that ran their course and came to bitter ends either with or without closure. I began to believe that being detached from as many people and things as possible was a defense against the dangers of being open, intimate, and vulnerable; an unspoken spell to ward against harm.

It’s a strange truth then that the isolating measures we take aimed at protection and self-preservation are the most insidious forms of self-destruction. We are, perhaps, never more in danger of delirium and instability than when we are closed and cloistered within the citadel of our own inturnedness.

Perhaps there in lies a veracity that resounds regardless of all our reasoning. The more we attempt to withstand the temptation of close connection, the more we are torn apart by our unyielding need for it. We crave what we are most incapable of grasping.

What I understand even less than why we close ourselves off from the warmth of community and care, is how one person can so easily tear down the walled city we have spent years erecting in a single meeting. How one encounter can crack us open so blissfully that it becomes more painful to keep ourselves shut.

It’s inexplicable, but somewhere, in the midst of all the tired loneliness and restless searching, something unforeseeable happens. We find ourselves wholly enveloped by an unprecedented presence that awakens us in ways we never knew possible. We stare baffled and awestruck into the face of perfection personified, witnessing a miracle made flesh

Caught off guard by the most kindred of any and all spirits. Every inhalation is overtaken by the uncanny atmosphere of love and belonging. We are overwhelmed by a fullness, an excess, an abundance. “[The] two most fundamental aspects of life”, as John O’Donohue explains, “Being and Longing” are brought together;  “the longing of our Being and the being of our Longing.” All at once we recognize that we have been holding our breath for an innumerable measure of days  and in an instant we feel the incredible expansion our lungs being brought back to life. Everything is different afterwards and nothing can ever really be the same again.

It’s true that both love and belonging can be complicated. But, it’s beauty is intricate and elegant not in spite of the fact but because of it. The isolated seclusion of being unattached may be a simpler and less complex way of life, but it is neither safe nor sane.

Love is dangerous and it is not without it’s pangs and pitfalls. But, it pales in comparison to the suffocating small-heartedness of unfeeling.

Love can make you crazy. But, the greater madness is the slow and agonizing disillusionment that comes from not only losing your mind but losing your heart.

The inexplicable paradox of love and belonging is that it kicks down your door in the softest and subtlest of ways. It caresses you compassionately with niceties screamed from a megaphone.

And, perhaps the point is not to question it at all. Maybe it’s simply best to let yourself learn to believe that it’s true.

‘the people on the other side’…

the people on the other side

“The myth of the all-powerful individual who succeeds on sheer will alone is so prevalent here that the idea that people you’ve never seen could be responsible for your good fortune would seem ridiculous. But in some places…it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine that those long gone people on the other side might be rooting for you to succeed here on this side.”

– Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie, A Velocity of Being

Maybe this is precisely why we need artists, authors, and poets. The giant grip of our ancestral upholding is a sacred vestige that all makers seem to have a sense of. Every honest artist knows that the myth of the lone genius who is entirely original and wholly unparalleled is more trope than truth. “All creative work builds on what came before,” Austin Kleon says, and “Nothing is completely original”. We are each iterative placeholders amongst what Kleon describes as an unfolding “genealogy of ideas”. Every creator is carried by the weight of every word, brush stroke, and note that formed the catechism of our souls; cradled by a debt of wonder that we can never fully repay and that we are nothing without.

John O’Donohue says that “Artists are the priestesses and priests of culture”. And thus, “No artist stands alone in a clear space”. Instead, “Every artists works from the huge belonging to the tradition”. The artist “inhabits the tradition to such depth that he can feel it beat in his heart”. He knows that he is not a singularity. The village of voices that has raised and nurtured our being never leaves us. They are so intrinsically tied to us, so deeply internalized, that they become the many selves that make us who we are.

We are the product of all the people on the other side of the painting. The other side of the poem. The other side of the page; the progeny of everyone who preceded us. As Matt Haig says, “everything [we] say and do and see is only what [we] say and do and see because of what has gone before…Because of every human who ever lived.”

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we keep going…

we keep going

Keep going.

Rumi said that “the wound is the place where the light gets in”. If that’s true, then it is only we the battered and tattered, the shattered and scattered who truly live in the warmth and persistent glow of all the light still left in this world.

Our brokenness makes us open and unencumbered to the dazzling gleam of the sun and the shimmering luster of the stars.

We are damaged in the most radiant of ways. May we be forever blessed with gift of being blissfully un-mended. May we always bask in the splendor and magnificence of our fucked-up-ness. We are the places where the light enters existence…

What if wholeness never arrives fully formed?

Maybe we might still be made well. Perhaps, we already have been. Maybe we were never anything other. Perhaps, we always have been. Maybe there is no hope for wholeness, but then again maybe hope is precisely what makes us so

You are not the name of your faults and failings. You are the name given to your strength and your striving. You are the word used to describe the wrestling…

Keep going.

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