Sleep Walk

And when we sleep,Sleepwalk
Let us loose ourselves fully from the waking world–
Unbound from its mortal constraints,
Disentangled from conscious fears and notions.
Let the light not meet our shuttered brains,
That we may escape,
For as brief a spell as may be,
The illumination of our darker reaches,
Awakening within that shadowed space
To find it glow at light’s surrender.
Let our wanderings there be pure and unencumbered,
Unlike in those gossamer dreams,
So thin as to be transparent,
The kind that bend around us
As if to stand in for reality,
But in a way that is ineffectual and transient.
They recede almost as quickly as they appear,
And although they pretend at being
Specters of the imagination,
They contain much of the waking world in them.
They do not have the power to create,
Only to enhance,
Interpret for their own ends:
The room becomes a hall,
Thoughts of loved ones become people,
And traffic from the street outside
Adds color to the otherwise faded and fading quality
Of the realm that fights so halfheartedly to exist,
If only for the smallest and most insignificant of moments.
Instead,
Let us drink deeply of that nether world,
That place of power lost and forgotten.
Let us linger there with hearts of wonder,
Seeking neither knowledge nor understanding,
But healing and acceptance.
Let us think little and feel much,
Interact with what is real within us
Rather than with the shadows of what we have experienced without.
And let us approach with awe
That subtle hum that lies at the core–
Become lost in its presence,
Become found.

But on waking,
On waking let us journey slowly,
Release the world we have traveled in sleep
With the calm awareness that we need not cling to its memory,
For it is a part of us that can never be lost,
Only forgotten,
And even then not forever.
Let us carry with us that acceptance,
That healing,
Into the world of the light.
Let them illuminate our waking lives
And stream out with a brilliance all their own.
Let us greet the day with passion,
Not longing for the place we left inside.
Let that boundary between those worlds,
So thick and strong while we were away,
Be permeated from beyond at the time of our return,
That the sensory realm,
So blinding and seductive,
Might be tempered in its perceived importance
By the hallowed presence with which we are filled.

Let us walk the world not as sleepers, though,
But as those who have truly slept.
Let us embrace our wakefulness
Not with reluctance,
As we might a hollow alternative to what lies within,
But with an outpouring of enthusiasm,
As a celebration of a world that is filled with other beings,
Each possessed of inner fire.
And let us hope,
Dear friends,
That they, too, have known true sleep,
That they have escaped this place and returned
To share what they have dreamt,
To bring back some of that light
That thrives only in the inner blackness.
Let us return fulfilled and awakened,
That those who sleep with open eyes
Might see and close them,
Release the fear and fall into the dark,
To return once more themselves,
Perhaps one day to remind us
When we ourselves have forgotten how to sleep.

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Floored

You find yourself on the floor. Although you’ve been there for a while, you’re not quite sure how you got there. Did you wake up there? Have you even been asleep? Did you fall? At some point these questions are less important than the more immediate one: why are you still on the floor? And then you remember what you were doing just a few minutes ago. You were trying to stand. It’s easy to do, so just do it already. What are you waiting for? Up! Off of the floor! But you’re still there. You haven’t moved. You know that you can move; you just shook your head, shrugged your shoulders, put your palm to your face, wiggled your toes. So what’s the problem? How to begin is the problem. You’ve forgotten how it starts. But how could you possiblyimage courtesy of ev2bk.com have forgotten? It seems like such a simple thing, standing up, but you just don’t remember how to get going. Every time you muster up the nerve to try, you either get distracted or you’re too busy trying to figure out how to begin. So. Now it’s time to just do it. You analyze it logically. For the first time? You’re not sure, but that doesn’t matter. You’re going to figure this out. The beginning is the hard part. After that it should be a breeze. You remember it being easy once you get past that first step. But where does it start? It’s got to start with the legs. You feel like that’s a given. The legs and the feet. You really don’t know how else it could start. But how could you possibly be sure? Maybe it’s one of those things that seem so obvious but are really much more complex. Like walking, for example. But you should focus on standing first. Perhaps the legs really aren’t the way to go. So you try starting with the arms, but as soon as the thought crosses your mind you’re overcome with how silly it seems. How could it go arms first? You remember what the end result looks like, at least you think you do, and the arms don’t seem to be involved at all. Or are they? Do the arms come into it? You try it with the arms, lifting them the slightest bit from the floor, but you’re no closer to being upright. It can’t be the arms, then. How is this supposed to go? Surely it’s not the elbows, or the knees! It has to be the legs. There’s just no other way that makes sense. It’s decided. Start with the legs. Legs then feet. Or knees? No, not the knees. The knees come…they must come later. But what do you do with your hands? Hands seem so important, don’t they? Shouldn’t they be doing something? And what about your head? That’s the most important thing. It should start with the head. Yes. It definitely must start with the head. You move your head, but you’re still on the floor. You think about standing, but you’re still on the floor. You try not to think about standing, to fool yourself into remembering by accident, but you’re still on the floor. Seconds stand up and walk away, joined by minutes, and yet you lie there. Why don’t you get up and follow them? They are leaving without you! But how? Where to even begin? Seconds and minutes have it easy, but you have an entire body to contend with. But it’s been so long already. So much time has passed. You need to get up before you waste more. How long has it even been? And how did this even happen? How did you get on the floor in the first place? Did you wake up there? Have you been asleep? Did you fall? That doesn’t really matter right now, though. You can figure that out later. After you get up.

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Faces

image courtesy of designsmag.comThere is a stranger at the bottom of my mug. He waits there for me every morning, to stare up at me with tea-stained eyes peering out from a liquid face. It emerges, slowly, with each sip. Cautiously at first, reluctant to leave the comfort of the heat, but as the rich concoction begins to cool, more and more of that blanket pulled away and down my throat, the man begins to reveal himself. The brow slips into view, the quivering surface of the drink like an uncertain blade, deciding where to cut the image, what to strip away. But the man fights the blade, and as the line sinks lower, he raises his eyes to mine, silently announcing his presence, mocking my inability to look away, to pretend that I have not noticed. He is there, pressing his face higher and higher above the shrinking pool. Earl Grey cheeks gleam from below the brow; a Darjeeling nose pokes unavoidably in my direction; Jasmine eyes fix themselves upon me. Always, always he is there.

But the face is not the same. How can one man have so many faces? One man, doubtless the same in every way, but with faces as varied as tea itself. There is the Smiling Man. The creases in his forehead are enough to give him away, long before I meet the laughter in his eyes and the wrinkles in his bulging cheeks. He makes me smile as well, and it is this face that I like best on the stranger who occupies my mug. There is a kindness, a mirth, a joyful outpouring of love and acceptance that radiates from it with the steam that wafts up from the bottom to meet me. This face knows no pain, it knows no heartache. It longs to share, and I hope that it understands how much I long to share my happiness in return.

The Smiling Man, however, is not always the one that I see. There is also the Sad Man. His face sags and droops, waterlogged and soggy, and his eyes are full of bitter tears. The tea-line rises and hides his grief, then falls to send another stream of hot liquid running down his cheeks. It calls to me, the landscape of this face. It is a face that aches to be known, to escape the confines of this mug, to be embraced and kissed and loved. There is longing there, and when I meet this face I can feel this longing in myself. His pain becomes my own and lingers after he has withdrawn. If only I could lend him the peace that the Smiling Man always lends me.

And there are more still that lie in wait. The Weary Man and the Hopeful Man. The Confident Man and the Lost Man. The Frightened Man and the Healthy Man. They come unbidden, they come as they will, and I love and fear them according to their nature. But there is one that I dread the most, one that comes when I most need a friendlier face, and this is the Ugly Man. The Ugly Man is not sad, but dejected. His features are set and cruelly turned. There is no anger, but there is hatred, and he locks me in his loathing eyes, drawing me into that miserable visage as if to swallow me whole. Not depressed, but wretched, resigned, abandoned by his very self. He is blight and pestilence, and in this he revels. There is no end other than what he has already become, and the face has atrophied into stone. Unmoving, unyielding. He is terrifying, and if he could possibly twist his lips into a smile, the knowledge of this terror that he inspires would surely surely move him to do so.

Would that I could choose, would that I could decide for myself each morning whom I would find there, down below, staring up at me. I would choose the Happy Man, the Fulfilled Man, the Joyful Man, the Carefree Man. The Nervous, Worried, Desperate Man would never darken my mug again. The Spiteful Man and the Sick Man would stay far away, and the Angry Man would let go and allow another face to greet me. I would see the Smiling Man, his eyes wet with laughter, and never more fear that the Ugly Man might creep up from the dregs to torture me. That face would be gone, with the rest of his kind, and leave only warm, inspiring faces behind to lift me up and give me cheer. If only it were my choice, which face I would see there. I would choose a happy one. Always a happy one.

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Our World

Image courtesy of severinghaus.org

We live in a world
Where every leaf cries out
To be touched
To be caressed
To be fondled.
Where every twig and branch
Every twist and braid
Of a wrought iron fence
Every concrete frond
Of an ornamental fern
Longs to be traced,
That we may know its face
That it may impart a bit of its wisdom,
A bit of its soul,
In that moment of contact.
That we might recognize inside of it,
And inside of this moment,
And inside of this space,
A bit of the secret contained within.
That we might learn
That it carries life within it
That it is a being all its own
That it does not need us to exist,
But that it wishes to be known
To have its face remembered,
If only in that moment
When the fingers,
Casually or causally,
Meet its cool and welcoming surface.
To be touched.
To be known.

We live in a world
Where pens and pencils call
With silent voices
To be held
Stroked
Cradled.
They wish to be touched,
Not only to be known,
But that they might pass on their gift
Of eternal life.
The sharpest point is dull,
And the pen that remains full
Is soon dried out.
They mire in solitude
Half alive
Unfulfilled
Leading neglected lives.
But to be blunted,
Oh, to be blunted!
To be emptied,
Oh, to be emptied!
Such reward,
To be of use,
To know purpose at last.
Blunted
Sharpened
Blunted.
Emptied
Filled
Emptied.
Used and used and used up,
But for a purpose.
But with intent.
But in good faith.
So much wisdom to capture
So much history to record
So much laughter to inspire
So much sadness to reveal
And happiness to share.
For ink and lead both know
That within them lies the key
To immortality.
They alone possess that gift.
It is theirs to bestow,
If only one would claim it
Pick them up
Touch them
Caress them
Fondle them
Empty and blunt them
Fill and sharpen them
Put them to use.

We live in a world
Where the people we love
Love people.
Where the people we know
Know people.
Where the people we think about
Think about people.
The reflections in our eyes
Reflect the eyes of others,
Others unseen by our own.
The people we care about
Care about people.
The impressions they give us
Are given to them,
By us
By others
By themselves.
When we close our eyes to them
Close our minds to them
They live on.
When they are gone from us
They are not gone.
They live and laugh and love and linger
In the thoughts and minds and eyes
Of others.
Others known and unknown to us.
The people we long for
Long for people
Long for memories
Long for the future
Long for the lost moments,
Uncaptured, not forgotten,
Long for the real and the unreal
Blur reality and fiction
Choose what to keep
Choose what to discard
Choose where to be within themselves.
And these people
Long to be touched,
As we do.
They long to be held
To be caressed
To be fondled,
As we do.
They long to be blunted,
Oh, to be blunted!
They long to be emptied,
Oh, to be emptied!
And sharpened
And filled
And blunted
And emptied
Used and used and used up,
But for a purpose.
But with intent.
But in good faith.
As we do.

So touch them,
These leaves and branches.
Pick them up,
These tools,
And use them.
Fondle and caress these people you love,
These people in your life.
Do not let them go.
Empty and fill them,
Blunt and sharpen them,
And they will fill you,
And they will blunt you,
And they will empty you,
And they will sharpen you.
They will caress and fondle you.
They will use you and use you and use you up,
But for a purpose.
But with intent.
But in good faith.

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An Unexpected Gift, An Unexpected Adventure

Today I missed the sun for the first time in a while. A greying Vienna was letting me go, nodding me onward as I boarded my train and prepared myself mentally for the journey south and another chunk of time without this place that has captured my heart. The mists were heavy today, though. Palpable. The city seemed to strain under the weight, and even the dancing Viennese were uncharacteristically out of step. Tree branches and distant eaves wept a mixture of condensation and melting snow, roof avalanches bombarded less fortunate pedestrians than myself, and the denser air provided no release for tailpipe smoke and cigarette exhaust. It was not a pretty morning in Vienna.

So when I left I did not look back for long. I found something bright and colourful, a beautiful image to hold on to, and I let that be enough as I shuffled off to find my train. The cold was invasive, the wet air oppressive. Vienna was kicking me out. She needn’t have done. I was on my way just the same. But she was telling me that I had spent enough time there for now, that I should embrace my southbound travels. And so I sat on my train, finally warm, and let myself depart from the grey, wishing for blue skies and a bright, yellow sun. This was not to be, but Vienna had a surprise for me yet.

Safe inside my capsule of glass and steel, Vienna sent me hurtling from the drab and the drear and into a world of fairy tales. No sooner had we left the outskirts of that city fair than we were plunged into a tunnel of falling snow. Engulfed in the white bands that streaked past, I began to perceive the most curious sensation: one of buoyancy, one of lift. With careful hands, the winter winds took us aloft. Chugging wheels, grinding at the air below, found no purchase and quickly contented themselves to enjoy the respite, however brief it might be.

And brief it was, for no more than a quarter hour passed before we touched down again, the wind releasing us after a last embrace, and the lines of snow slowing to hyphens, then to commas, then to periods. The sight before us now was quite different than the tortured city we had left behind. I could find no trace of human civilization among the hills and trees‒no houses dotted the landscape, no roads cut through the forest, no electric poles poked their sharp noses at the sky. All was calm, cast in a silvery hue that lingered impossibly between blue and white, nothing moving but the falling snow. And were it not for those delicate bundles that floated to the ground, I would have thought that all of it‒the frost-gilded trees, the blanketed fields, the bushes laden with sparkling crystals, the frozen waves of the hills, the snow-blurred faces of the mountains beyond‒was an elaborate tapestry stretched out alongside us.

But even as I watched, the beads of white began to slow again until they hung suspended against the rest, a winter portrait holding at perfection, offering us despondent travelers a glimpse at a reality image courtesy of lifeinthefastlane.cabeyond our grasp, a song composed for the eyes and for the soul. We were moving past very quickly, and yet the image was steady and there was nothing to interrupt the stillness of the moment. There was no track below us, there were no wheels toiling, there was no engine blaring and soon there was nothing at all. The tube around me lost its definition, then its shape, then its entire structure, melting into lines that faded into the picture around me where the snow refused its descent.

The cold and the wind stood aside as I angled my body and dove into the trees, careful not to disturb them or topple their weighty crowns. I simply flew. I did not search, I did not long. I had found a place I had not even sought, and the place seemed to know that I would only observe. The deer did not kick up and run, no snow dwarves dove for cover, a spritely hare was content to remain at ease and watch me pass. And I flew on.

I flew until the woods retreated. I flew until I spied a bridge, a lone intruder from a world that I had left behind. But the bridge did not inspire fear. It did not cause me to turn away and wander further. To my surprise it spurred me on, though it grew no closer, and soon the lines formed around me once more, resolving themselves into sturdy planes and surfaces until I was again inside the train, watching the snow streak past like shooting stars. A rumble below told me that we had rejoined our track, though the world outside was yet transformed, encased in silent, lingering white.

The roads have returned and with them the houses and the electric poles. Cellular phone conversations abound, and I clack away on my little machine, but my eyes are drawn outside over and over to witness the visitor that entered our world from that place beyond. Though we may have left it behind, the other realm bestowed a kindness upon us, a gift of white magic to remind us of what we had seen, so that we would know that it was real and never forget. So I smile back toward the north, toward Vienna and her shrouds, and I am thankful for her gift as well. She spirited me away through this winter picture and into another land, if only for a little while.

And for the first time, returning from a distant realm did not hurt so badly. Perhaps it is because this time I understand what I was meant to see. It was the world of a moment, a world frozen in time that waited for me, held itself fast for me, so that I could see it and believe. How fitting, then, that it should be Vienna that guided me there, for she knows that a parting is not forever. She reminds me, in the wise words of Richard Bach, that ‘…a farewell is necessary before you can meet again…’

So it is with this winter world, and so it may be with others. Until I find the key that unlocks those spaces, I will continue to search. Until I can find my way back to the places of my dreams, my soul will always wander. Today, however, I found some peace in saying goodbye that, with luck, will last until my return.

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Letting Go the Sun

Beyond the mountains a fire is dying.  The remnants of a light that illuminated our world and is nothing more now than cooling embers, glowing red and casting their devilish, crimson shadows against snowy peaks and smoking chimneys.  I look around for signs of panic but find none.  image courtesy of www.slowbuddy.comThe faces of my fellow men and women are taken up in laughter or shrouded in silent contemplation.  None of them scan the horizon or seem frightened at the coming darkness.  Their yellow goddess lies beaten, bleeding, gasping for breath and clinging to the throne of day, but soon her light too will fade, eclipsed by the black cold of night.  Her reign of hours nearly complete, the passing of the scepter is nonetheless unremarkable.  All of them, my Earth-bound kin, they all know that she will rise again tomorrow, none the dimmer for her time beyond our world.  But will she be the same?  Will her appearance match the soul within, or will that golden orb embody the spirit of another?  What happens to our goddess when she dies?  Whose life is breathed into her anew at the coming of dawn?

But these questions are as juvenile as the phrase we use to describe her fate.  Why should I, an educated man, use such a philistine description as ‘sunset’ to imply what I know to be nothing of the sort?  Am I not aware that the sun is not setting, but that the Earth itself is spinning at over one thousand miles per hour to drive our vision of the sun ever westward?  Why then should I countenance such an out-dated notion, a sun set, by admitting it into my vocabulary, letting it take up residence there and spew out with its own issuance the kind of backward thinking that reins in logic and reason and human progress?

Yes, an educated man I am.  I am that.  I am a man who is quite capable of viewing the world and its clockwork of inhabitants with the kind of cold detachment that puts the sun goddess forever in her grave, never again to rise, not even in the eyes of those who once believed.  I am a lover of science.  I celebrate discovery and push my own boundaries in a quest for knowledge and enlightenment.  I question the wisdom of convention for its own sake, and I believe that a revolution of the mind is born with every child that takes its first breath.  I am a champion of all pursuits of intellectual inquiry, and I am convinced that an unbridled search is essential to finding the answers that we seek.  I am a citizen of the world, and I tear down the walls my ancestors built, with fear as their stones and lies as their mortar, in hopes that when we see one another clearly we will embrace and rejoice.  This is the man that I am.  The man that knows that the sun does not set, that the goddess does not die because she never lived.

But for all of my logic and all of my reason, that man that I am is not alone.  He is not alone because there is another man.  One of many other men.  These other men are also who I am.  And this one other man in particular, this other man is a dreamer.  He watches the sun set with a catch in his heart, and he asks the moon, who knows her best, if her soul returns as well as her body, or if it is swallowed by the void of night.  And when his only reply is that handsome, winking face, he consoles himself with this and stumbles home, eternally hopeful.  He falls asleep and enters new worlds.  He has no doubt that he travels to them, lives in them, dies in them.  And although he fears the dying, although it hurts him and leaves an erasable mark, he does not fear the dreaming, for to forgo the dreaming would be a far crueler death.  He wakes exhausted, not even rested from his rest, but he would not trade his nights spent toiling, dueling, flying and laughing.  And he opens the door onto a bright world, one that only he sees, and he smiles, for to live as he does is to love to live.

This man, this man who I am, is not at odds with the other, although they do at times quarrel.  They know that they need one another, that they are parts of a whole, a whole that includes still others besides themselves.  They know this.  I know this.  I know that water boils at 100 degrees Celsius and freezes again at zero.  I even know that this is a more sensible way to approach it.  I know that hearts are not cut into pretty, symmetrical shapes before they are placed into our bodies, and I know that dust contains dead skin, feces and tiny little bugs.  But I still believe in fairy tales.  I still believe in love and Hollywood romance.  I still believe in magic and spaces between spaces.  I still believe in destiny, though I believe wholeheartedly that we are the authors.  I still believe in free will, though I believe that there is a plan at work.  I still believe in dreams come true, in secret wishes made on the knee, in an enduring hope that binds us and pushes us forward.  I still believe in God.  I still believe in humanity.  I still believe that sunsets are beautiful.

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Living Winter

I realize that I am far from the first person to say this, but there is something so magical about walking in the falling snow.  No, there is nothing novel about this sentiment, and yet I still feel that it bears repeating.  The magic of it is simply overwhelming, and I have no choice but to point it out, just as so many have done before me.  Winter compels me, and who am I to resist?

There is something about the cold and the grey that speaks to me.  It fills a need in me that often goes unexpressed, but in winter’s absence,image courtesy of www.stockhdwallpapers.com in those California months when the snow refuses to come and the mercury hovers in the fifties, it cries out and begs me to go.  To wander north or away from the ocean towns, to scale mountains if need be, all in hopes of feeling that chill, that bite of frosty wind that quickens the blood and sharpens the senses.  To smell the smoke of houses ablaze with warmth, fending off the cold that would creep inside and steal their comfort and even their lives.  Yes, to witness this dance between life and death.

It is this dance that I find inspiring, this passionate embrace spawned by the changing of the years that sets fire against ice.  Two unlikely partners, swaying to the music of the wind as it clambers through creaking, naked branches to carry its sweet tune far and wide.  The fire and the ice, they cannot coexist.  The flame that melts those winter diamonds is extinguished by that very act, and thus both must know death.  And yet, the fire rages on, throws its life force into the air around it and pushes back the cold, even as it spreads too far and must occasionally retreat.  Two steps forward, one step back.  The dance continues.

I have often wondered why it is that I love the bleak winter sky.  The summer sun upon my face, days spent in the ocean or walking the beach, these have my heart as well.  Spring, with her rebirth and symphony of waking creatures and delicate aromas is certainly no stranger to my musings, and autumn, dear autumn, nothing can compare to your crisp and glorious afternoons, your painted skylines of fiery trees, your electric whisper of things to come.  But winter holds a mysterious power over me, transforming the world from a brimming menagerie into a stark and desolate place where death seems to come for all.  It is in this underworld, when the blanket of cold is drawn around us, that life seems all the more precious, that one must search the widowed landscape for signs that there is yet a living world, that though struggling, it has not abandoned hope.  This, too, is a dance.  The push and pull of it is necessary for survival, for if the living stop dancing, put up their feet and call it a night, that fire will die and so will they.  And so the dance continues.

An icy sheath imprisons the canal in front of my apartment building, but a closer look reveals that it is still teeming with fish, swimming on, living on, struggling and surviving.  And peering over from both banks are snow dolloped branches, looking for all the world like cotton plants that dreamt themselves big, ignoring all that they had heard and stretching out into trees bursting with daubs of white.  Thus these trees, though barren, are clothed, wrapped in blankets of their own, shrouded in wintery delight.

Quiet cascades erupt from these cotton bolls, glistening shimmers that decorate the heads and shoulders of passersby.  Winter is playful now.  Soon the trees will have shed their coats, but the sky will be dull for a bit longer.  No buds will emerge on branch or twig for a good while yet, and death will remain at our door.  But this is a time of healing for me, as it is for much of the world.  Life, too, needs rest, needs death.  Browns and greys and whites must have their day, just as moods must occasionally darken.  My spirit is bright.  My spirit is happy.  I feel the call of Life strongly, and I laugh with it.  Without winter and its inescapable reminder of death, however, I grow restless in Life.  I need the grey.  I need the chill.  I need the world to sleep.

But even here there is living reward, for it is the season of the evergreen, a time when steely blue can cut through a dreary winterscape and be intense and electric just for drawing a contrast with the world around it.  What colours emerge are brighter, enhanced, and they remind us that it is not over.  The dance continues after all.

And it is this dance that I love.  It is this struggle that reminds me that I am alive.  I face the cold that I might earn my warmth.  I face death that I might earn my life.  In my walks these days I revel in the snow, in the bare birch trees against a stark winter sky, in moments shared with beautiful people, in a world that sleeps, but wonderfully.

The wind picks up, and I pull my jacket closer and appreciate my father who gave it to me, who has fought his own winter battles and managed to thrive.  I am thankful for the sweater underneath, which I received from my mother, whose own struggles with death have made her life the brighter.  I think of all that has been done for me, all that has been shared, everything that has made my life what it is so that I can be in awe of the simple joy of falling snow.  Much have I been given, greatly have I been blessed, so that I might be prepared when winter came and able to welcome it with a smile when it did.

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