Is True Friendship Magic?

Aristotle said that true friends are a single soul living in two bodies. That might be a bit dramatic, but I do believe that the word “friend” gets tossed around rather lightly these days—like many other concepts in the hyper-mobile, disposable society we live in today. I’ve found myself  having conversations with several individuals recently on this topic, so I am choosing to take that as a suggestion from the Universe to “ponder out loud.”

Full disclosure first: I come from a long line of colorful oddballs and outsiders, people who do not make friends easily or quickly, and who are not typically (um, ever) the popular one in a circle of friends. In other words—I’m more Emily Dickinson than Carrie Bradshaw when it comes to friendship.

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In attempting to clarify what a friend is, it is helpful to stipulate what is not necessarily friendship. Our world has become smaller and more “global” as technology has taken center stage, so for many the word “Friend” conjures up images of their Facebook page. So let’s start there: sending or confirming a Friend Request does not mean we have just “made a friend.” Several years ago, when I was a Facebook newbie, I actually did naively think that’s what it meant (remember—Emily Dickinson here). I assumed that someone would only “request friendship” with me if they found me interesting, witty, kind—the same qualities we generally look for in real-world friends—and that they wanted to get to know me better. And, to be honest, I have indeed developed a handful of actual relationships; I have five or six Facebook friends, whom I have never met in person, with whom I have exchanged important life circumstances and events and shared life milestones. We have come to know and care about each other’s families and lives. With others on social media I share a particular interest or a group experience. Others have added me to their list in the hope of garnering a potential business contact or client. Bottom line here—Facebook friends, by and large, are not truly life friends.

Some might disagree with this next assertion, but family members are not automatically friends. I am fortunate enough to be able to say that I actually like my parents. Still, I’m old-fashioned enough to have always thought of them as my parents rather than “equals” or friends. I have also been lucky enough to have experienced playmate and adult friendships with two out of three siblings (though, possibly naturally, we fought more growing up than I did with other playmates). For many, though, family relationships are fraught with too much baggage to settle easily into the category of friendship.

I have learned—through observation—that many people share themselves more easily than I and/or have looser requirements for what constitutes friendship. I remember chatting with a woman not long ago about an event to which she had gotten a last-minute invitation. She had no appropriate dress to wear, apparently, so she had just sent out text messages to 10 of her friends asking for emergency help. Oh. Long pause. I’m pondering that parallel reality where someone knows 10 people well enough to want to wear their dress; and I’m thinking that in my case that would have been text-singular to one friend, and she’s about six inches taller than me, so really I wouldn’t even have bothered with that. (Which caused me to wonder if some women choose their friends by size for clothes sharing purposes…?)

Certainly, as my kids have gone through school, I’ve observed other “Moms” form friendship groups of four or five to socialize together, with and without their children. I have never been part of these groups. Of course, when my sons were toddler and preschool age, I did have casual “friends of convenience,” with whom I hung out purely for the sake of a playmate for my child. They were nice women, and we had pleasant conversations, but I never felt moved to take it beyond the biweekly coffee chats. Which brings us to my feelings about what makes a friend.

I make a distinction between “friendly acquaintances”—women I chat with at the gym or groups I participate in casually—and friends. And to be honest, I have had two or three friends in my life. These are girls/women with whom I feel a deep and intimate connection. I believe we make each other better, stronger people; we meet emotional needs spoken and subconscious; we can be silly and laugh till we snort, and we can share deep pain and shed tears together. One friend in my life has been my friend for nearly 36 years, since we became best friends our first year of high school. Distance and even stretches of time out of contact have not lessened the depth formed all those decades ago.

That is a friend, to me. We have been there for each other through college, marriages, divorces, children, the death of parents, joys and sorrows. I know that if I were ever to find myself on the street with nothing to my name, nothing but my Self, she would be there for me and would see me for all that I have been and still could be. This is friendship. When I think about friendship, to use popular reference points, I think Butch and Sundance, Sam and Frodo, Ron and Harry and Hermione, bonds that hold not just for good times and fun but also through trial and ordeal.

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Perhaps being an outsider by nature and somewhat solitary, someone not often invited “inside,” I have innately grown to place heavy meaning and value on those few genuine connections I have made. I would love to hear from others about how you define friendship and the role it plays in your life. Feel free to share–

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Searching for Answers: Airliners and God

I don’t feel bad for wondering. Some denounce this interest as “prurient” or “mere speculation,” but I think wondering is a very basic component in being human. I’m referring most directly here to wondering about the Malaysian airliner that seemingly disappeared more than a week ago. Of course it’s been all over the news all around the world, and a massive search involving many countries has been underway since shortly after last contact with the plane, so clearly I’m not alone in my curiosity. And this need to know is the foundation underlying the general concern that propels the search.

Rather than being some sort of titillating aside, my ponderings actually center around the painful predicament of those nearest and dearest to the flight’s passengers. I can only feel the edges, I’m sure, of their sense of surreal “adrift-ness.” Without a definable event, without a body, without a story to be told and retold, they may not even know how to feel from moment to moment. They likely endure harrowing vacillations between fear and grief and hope. And maybe some of them find moments of respite in Faith.

But faith in what, exactly? Faith and the Unknowable—they travel ever in tandem. These tangible incidents—actings-out, if you will—of unknowable events can be the truest test for some of their faith in eternal unknowables.

Let’s start with the most ascertainable: Perhaps those most in need of comfort can have faith in their fellow humans. Certainly this type of event draws out the more admirable common qualities of people. Military and government officials representing many countries, some of whom don’t even “like” each other, have been sharing information and coordinating search efforts. People of different religions and political allegiances have come together to send well wishes and hold prayer vigils. And because the airline is picking up the hotel tab in Beijing, all of those in limbo can be in the company of the only others who can explicitly understand their plight, whether they can converse in a common language or not.

But even this faith has its uncertainties. While there is much sharing and joint effort, there is simultaneously some sniping and complaining about who isn’t sharing everything they could, and who isn’t performing up to generally-held standards. Hmmm… Maybe, then, they’re better off having faith that the Truth, ultimately, will come to light in spite of men’s motives and efforts? Many, including the Buddha, put great stock in that hope. But recent decades have illustrated for contemporary folk that “that word doesn’t mean what we think it means,” to paraphrase The Princess Bride. The “truth” seems to be a somewhat subjective and elusive prize. And in situations like this, even if we piece together enough information to form a skeleton explanation, we will never be able to be in that cockpit and know exactly the events that transpired. If wildest hopes are met, and the plane is found intact somewhere with survivors, we may then come as close as is possible to the Truth.

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So then we come to Faith in those ultimate, mystical Unknowables: for some this is the belief that at a spiritual level we are all cooperating to cause and play out global and personal events that will enable the greatest collective growth and evolution; for some it is the trust that ultimately we are all One, and that what happens on this transient physical plane matters less than the knowing that we all return to a place of shared Origin; for many it is faith in a Divine Creator—God, Yahweh, Allah, the Almighty. This is a faith that said Deity holds all Souls in loving protection throughout all Earthly experiences.

Even secular Science, on a different trajectory, places a kind of faith in the unknowable—or, perhaps more accurately, their faith is in the ability of humans to know the unknowable. Science shares with religion the need to look beyond the limits of current “fact” and stretch individual experience of the Universe. The scientific quest is to “discover new facts” just as the Christian yearns to “know God.”

In situations like this missing airliner and its passengers, current whereabouts and circumstances unknown, we are drawn together in that shared yearning. We crave answers, not just to “where,” but also Who, How and Why? Probably uppermost is the Why? All of the above faiths are impacted by the Why. Did our fellow man betray us in some act of treachery? Did the plane literally disappear in some way to some place we can’t know, thereby stretching all our boundaries around Truth? Was it random accident with no purpose or reason? Or is there some Divine story at play here, the parable of which we need to understand?

I wish I could say. Or even hazard a universally acceptable guess. But I can and do send my loving prayers for Peace of Soul to the families directly impacted, my loving hopes for wise guidance to all of the searchers and authorities, and my own sincere invocation for illumination of the motives and actions of those who caused or took part in this human mystery. Perhaps then, and in the meantime, we can all work to cultivate an inner peace that expands to embrace us all on our different quests to know the unknowable.

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“Fairy Dust” or “How Tinkerbell Got Smashed by Brunhilda”

Whoa—Don’t panic. Reassure the kids. The real Tinkerbell is alive and well, I presume, hanging with Peter and the gang on Neverland. I’m merely borrowing the moniker to refer to my own Inner Fairy. I’m not even sure I’d liken her to Tink, who is a little too coy and impulsive to fit nicely with my other Selves. I see my inner wing-bearer as more of a dreamy, seductive Winter sprite (hey—she’s my creation; I don’t have to be modest here), sporting a sort of gypsy/boho flair, cloaked in soft, smudgy, saturated hues. Nice, huh? Yeah, I’m giving her some extra sparkle to make up for the fact that she’s spent most of my life in deep hibernation. She’s only recently been able to spread her gossamer wings and feel fabulous.

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You see, Fairy Girl is, in shamanic terms, a Soul Fragment. She is a vital, vibrant aspect of my Authentic Self who felt a little too delicate and vulnerable to stand up to some of my perceived early life challenges; so she retreated deep inside to her Crystal Palace, where she has remained mostly protected while Irma Intellect, Carol the Comedienne, Alice Athlete and William Wallace Warrior took turns running the show. Oh, and let’s not forget Wilma Wife and Molly Mom, players who will be familiar to many women. And, probably unique to me (but do let me know if you’ve heard her, too), it has been Brunhilda the Nazi Prison Guard who has run herd over all of these facets of me for most of the last 40 years.

Ah, Brunhilda… And please forgive me for any racial, ethnic or historic offense some might feel at B’s descriptors. Honestly I intend none. It’s simply the most apt way I am able to characterize her since identifying her many years ago. Brunhilda has served as my loudest inner voice. She is the force behind what others have termed my “amazing willpower.” She is also, along with Warrior-Dude, the drive behind every time I have tried again after failing, stood up and dusted off after falling down, reached out again after the sting of rejection, or—quite literally—gotten right back on the horse after falling off.

So, as anyone can see, Brunhilda served a positive purpose in my past in terms of fostering courage, resilience and follow-through. What she has not done well—or even at all—is offer any accepting, nurturing, gentle self-love. When she drove self-discipline, it most often sounded like, “Roll over and get your lazy ass out of bed and do your workout. You know you’ll feel like a slug if you don’t.” or “Really? Is eating that donut going to make you feel better? Or is it going to add “fat self-loathing” to the burden you’re already carrying?” And then there was, “Go ahead and ask, for Pete’s sake. What are you? A weenie? Lord knows you’ve got plenty of practice being turned down.” You get the picture. And now you understand why Snowflake the Boho Fairy stayed in her fortress with a good book.

But several years ago I set out on a quest (just my most recent of many) to “change my life, excavate my creative inspiration, and reconnect with my intuitive heritage.” And that was when my Inner Fairy spoke up, timidly at first and then more forcefully, throwing an elegantly-tapered hand over Brunhilda’s mouth. She is tired of hiding away while Bruney marches us stoically through life to the tune of “You Should and You Ought.”

Coaxing my winged Gypsy out and nurturing her unfolding has been a process of steps taken over time. I started with a quick review of my life to try to pinpoint when and why she retreated. She had definitely begun her self-imposed exile by my 10th birthday. She was still barely visible through the storytelling I employed to try and win friends, but by then I had figured out that when life hurt, it really hurt. So, obviously, my child Self determined, it was best to gird my loins and preemptively redirect ego- and heart-missiles with savvy observation and witty verbal barbs. Then I realized that my body is strong and agile, and the neighborhood I lived in valued sporty girls, so the ballerina went on hiatus and the athlete stepped forward. As a young adult I relied on my self-sufficient bravery for fun and adventure when an ocean lay between me and everything familiar; and then, still with many miles separating me from family and best friend, I navigated new-motherhood by my own wits and resilience. Yes, through all that I didn’t perceive space or place for a sparkling fairy. I was wrong. How much easier she might have made it all!

But finally, in the downhill side of my life, I am reconnecting with this colorful, effervescent, whimsical part of my Self. It’s still a challenge sometimes, projecting through decades of ingrained survival habits, but she wants to come out now and have her turn in the light. And I find that creativity and play are the most effective outlets for freeing the fairy.

I’ll never be the painter I would love to be, but I am playing with artistic outlets that I can master, like Zentangles and learning to crochet. I dance, for exercise and just because. I indulge in my love for animals, talking with them and for them frequently. I write, every day. I’ve developed a “creative fairy” mantra that I chant to myself throughout the day to keep that essence close. I meditate and am fostering a kinder, gentler regard for myself. And on the first day it is warm and dry enough, I will run gracefully through a green field scattering rose petals in my wake while my imaginary wings glint in the sunlight. Oh—and I retired Brunhilda and sent her on a silent monastic retreat.

 

*Fairy art by katmary on deviantART

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The knight called–His steed is out to pasture

You secretly knew it anyway. That unidentified someone that you’re secretly hoping will sweep in and swoop you up and away to your perfectly envisioned “new life”—the life without the messy problems and unresolved issues—isn’t coming. I know. I’m with you. Most of us—even boys and men—experience, at least once in a lifetime, the wish to be “rescued.” And in that moment, reality sucks. No knight on a steed of any color, no fairy godmother, not even a 21st Century life coach with all the answers is on the way. No one is coming.

I hit that phrase like a brick wall during a “Rescue Me” moment a little more than a year ago. I was in a desperate place. It felt like a shrinking island at the center of a crumbling world. It was the low-point of several years of ego-bruising career non-starts and dead-ends, of painful personal rejections, of life-shifting family illnesses, crises and break-aparts; and I, with a propensity for melancholia (the Victorians were so much more poetic) anyway, was truly down and out. I was tired. I was 50 years old on an unbalanced teeter-totter, feeling that the baggage behind me far outweighed the hope in front. Looking for a jumpstart one day, I turned to one of the blogs I frequent for inspiration and guidance, and the title that answered my quest was, literally: No One is Coming. You can imagine my Happy Dance (not).

Yes, hoping as I was for an answer both gentler and more magical, I was wounded again. But only for a few minutes, while I sat still and absorbed the message, felt my way through it, and finally recognized the undeniable wisdom and Truth in it. No one was coming to solve my problems and make me feel better. No one could. No one else had created them, and no one else’s magic wand could wave them away. Certainly some of the situations in that moment were no one’s “fault,” anyway. They were just life events, the sort of thing we all face in some guise at some point. But much of the “baggage” that accompanied me at that point was mine: I had packed it full of my own choices and non-choices, and I had handcuffed myself to it. I had to own it.

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On first glance, that moment of awareness just made my shoulders slump further. On second glance (Note to self: always look again.), I recognized the empowerment in it. I had made my own way into that crappy place; now I got to choose the window out. Think about it: What if, for instance, Cinderella didn’t really want tiny glass slippers? What if, deep down inside, she longed for hot pink Jimmy Choos or clunky Doc Martens? Either one of those, and you’ve got yourself a very different tale. But she didn’t choose for herself; she took what came with the wand wave.

I don’t know about you, but choosing for myself, though powerful, is hard. It takes time, lots of introspection, and probably some trial and error. I had gotten trapped in the first place by choosing what I thought was best for others, because that was easier for me.  But it had left my self-esteem so shaky that I quailed in the face of the necessary transmutation ahead of me. While for some go-getters rushing in to tackle the big wave is invigorating, for me it feels like getting washed away and taken under by a tsunami. I am a “swim steadily out to the buoy in stages” kind of gal. Brave, yes; unquestioningly optimistic, no. So here are the key small steps that I fell back on to jumpstart a New Start:

First: Break it Down:   Instead of trying to figure out how to devour the entire “Oh my God, I’m miserable” pie, I break it down into circumstance/relationship slices. This also helps to uncover hidden issues—and solutions—that aren’t apparent in the big picture.

Second: Accept that it will take time:   I will NOT be all better/all happy by tomorrow. It find it helpful to set an overall timeline goal, which can be reached via shorter-term goals applied to each “slice” of the scenario. Bonus: It is also a good time to revisit daily meditation and mindfulness. If I’m consciously living each moment, each hour, I cannot be suffering “OMG Life Sucks” misery.

Three: Ask for help:   Yes, I have to own it, and ultimately the resolution is in my hands; however, none of us is on this journey alone. If I know someone who has a resource or skill that I don’t—or even just good listening skills—I am kind to myself by reaching out. Also, if relationships are among the slices, the other person(s) in the relationship has key input and an inherent investment in any solution decided on or action taken.

Along with these steps, the big-picture journey can call into play many valuable daily life skills that will not only aid in any transformation but serve me well lifelong. I remind myself to make time to be outdoors, listening to Nature and my own inner Guides while I’m soaking up sunshine; to journal in whatever way suits me, asking myself questions to illuminate how I got to where I don’t want to be and, more crucially, what makes me happy—in other words, how do I want my new destination to look different? (For one who has previously placed more emphasis on making others happy, this is the big-money question.)

I also continually remind myself that if I stay mindful, with the hands of my Soul actively on the rudder of my Life, I am less likely to end up adrift on the rocks of broken unhappiness. And I am more likely to know that I—and only I—can effectively redirect my course if I temporarily veer from center. I can learn to rest easy in the knowledge that no one truly has the power to navigate my journey but me.

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Are you really where you need to be?

“You are where you need to be.” I see that sentiment, expressed with varying syntax and illustrated by various personalities, float through my Facebook News Feed and in through my inbox usually once a day. It strikes dissonant chords in me, to be quite honest. Because of my personal lens on life and on how Spirit works, while I find it reassuring on one level, I’m not sure I fully believe it. Maybe that’s just the misfit in me, or the seeker always drawn to question the commonly-held. Let’s see…

Are you where you need to be? Really, you’re quite sure? Yes, I realize that “need” is different from “want.” Many of us, at any given hour of any given day, could quite easily own that we’re not exactly where we would like to be (and there’s probably a Key to the Kingdom in that thought). But are we exactly—or in some cases maybe even remotely—where we would best be served, spiritually speaking? Are we in the place Spirit wants us to be? Are we staying stuck in a place that makes it hard for Spirit to be heard?

Certainly Spirit can work for you and through you wherever you are. And, as Stephenie Zamora points out in her piece in the Huffington Post, the phrase itself is not meant to provide a copout or an escape from personal accountability. But, think about it, how often is something we say with one intention, heard by the listener through a completely different understanding? And, from many possible perspectives, “You are where you need to be” rings with a pretty comforting vibe of “sigh and relax.”

I feel more comfortable, personally, getting wholeheartedly behind Jon Kabat Zinn’s, “Wherever You Go, There You Are.” I read that as a reminder to look around, take stock and be mindfully present in this moment. One aspect of that presence is a concurrent assessment of how “right,” or beneficial, various aspects of our Now feel to us. Admittedly, in some this evaluation could breed dissatisfaction. But genuine mindfulness usually travels with its sister skill, Radical Acceptance. We are aware, and we accept—and optimally are grateful for—what we have to work with in this moment. And that awareness has room for acknowledgement of the next active step(s) in our personal growth and development.

I would assert that, perhaps more helpful than “You are where you need to be,” could be something like, “Wherever you are, Spirit works with you.” This, to me, sounds less like you’ve reached a destination and more like, while you still have places to go, you’re not alone and need only invite guidance and assistance in manifesting the next stretch of trail.

Okay, I admit to being a “word nerd” and actually finding enjoyment in pondering and debating how words sound and, much more importantly, how they are heard and understood. I also acknowledge—with a smile—that this may be an effect of a lifetime of being told that I’m blunt and yet still managing to be misunderstood. Hm. Oh well…

The essential and central point of all the catch-phrases noted above is that this ride called Life doesn’t end until it comes to a complete stop with the body’s last breath, and NOW is the only moment we’ve truly got and is always the perfect place to begin. Don’t wait for more money, for the approval or good wishes of others, for ideal or stress-free circumstances; don’t even wait for inspiration. (Ding, Ding—another Magic Key there) To very loosely paraphrase Eckhart Tolle, The power is in the Now to create what you need.

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Superhero, Savior, Mom

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This is one of my favorite greeting card designs, by Curly Girl. (I also have it in magnet and mug form.) It speaks of a lighthearted confidence, the ability to meet life head-on and Carpe the Heck out of Every Diem. Who doesn’t want to rock with that? I have always known, though, that for me it resonates with something deeper in my psyche and story.

Very early on in this life I found myself overwhelmed and mildly terrified by the swirls of anger, dissatisfaction, ineffective communication, and heavy overlay of unspoken that wound through my family and daily life. My first reaction—the one that is still my first instinctual go-to after 50 years—was to want to Run! Get the Hell out and save myself!  Instinctively, the first time I felt this, I knew it was not an option as I was not yet potty-trained. So instead I learned to be very direct and frequently loud in voicing my own needs (thus hopefully avoiding those “ineffective” and “unspoken” pitfalls); I crafted and honed an ability to see humor in darn-near every situation; and I psychically called on the karmic Warrior/Superhero in my Soul to protect myself and, eventually, those around me.

Yep—I’m a Protector, a Fixer, a Saver. I realize that to the outer eye I look more like an aging cheerleader or a Conservative Suburban Soccer Mom.  (Here insert loud guffaws from everyone who really knows me.) Yeah, that’s a load of fun stories for another time.

What I should look is tired, as I have exerted ginormous amounts of physical and emotional energy over the decades protecting, saving, and attempting futilely to solve the problems of not just myself, but also my husband, my parents as they age, and—most heartrendingly—my children. In direct contradiction, over those same decades, I was coming to believe, to KNOW, that we all have contracts, purposes, destinies; that we all think and believe our own realities for our own reasons. I know that my children are not mine. I not only do not have the power, but I do not have the right, to “protect” them from their Path.

Snort. Chuckle. Gulp. Sob. Here is where Mother Nature/Father Creator jerks us around. Or, from a more enlightened vantage point, expects us to bridge realities. Yes, we are designed and meant to conceive, nourish and grow their mortal body within our own, allowing the budding presence of their Soul to mingle with ours for 40 weeks. We are meant to endure the discomforts and inconveniences of pregnancy with cheerful faith and to push these new Earth Citizens into life painfully and bravely with Maternal Love as the only recompense. We are gifted the deeply primal and primitive protective instinct in order to oversee the safe transitions from infant to child to adolescent to adult. And at each staging area along the way we are asked—expected and commanded—to Let Go, finger by finger, until the child’s hand breaks completely away and we are finally, ultimately reduced and restored to Spectator. Fellow Being.

Well. Whose f’ing brilliant idea was that? Really? Fire the spark of a love that elemental and consuming and expect a woman to allow it to fade down to a glowing but scorching ember in the belly of her being…? Seems a cruel dichotomy to me. But here we are asked to fall back on that “doesn’t make mistakes” concept of Divinity. Or to at least grudgingly acknowledge that it’s a necessarily evil part of The Plan. We signed on for it, and now we must fulfill the contract.

We revel in our glory when we can pick our little one up after a tumble and kiss and bandage the boo-boos away. And that glorious memory must sustain us as we later hold them close while knowing we are not assuaging the bruised feelings and hearts of schoolyard rejections and friendship betrayals; that we are an often-unwanted spectator to the ego-shattering bullying and the heart-ripping first loves and break-aparts; and ultimately that we are an ineffectual and less-than-gloriously mortal tour guide through the minefields of Life Lessons and Natural Consequences. We cannot answer the cries of “Why does it have to be so hard? Why does it have to hurt so much?” We move our hands helplessly while our heart  strains against our ribs just as their tiny feet once did. Surely our own struggles didn’t hurt so much. How did our own mothers survive this?

And thus is born…a new empathy for those who walked before and in front of us, a new understanding of allowing and being present, the stirrings of both resignation and hope. Because, while we cannot save, we continue to hope. We hope because we must that eventually will be born the person and the purpose our child came here to be. We hope that our once untroubled and joyful babe will hold on and keep striving for joy. They are in control, and we can only watch and love. And still occasionally—because we can—rock a hot cape and a fabulous tiara.

Feel deep and speak true–

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