Monday, October 19, 2009

The Legacy of War: Wisdom for My Loved Ones (Revisited)

About 2 1/2 years ago, I posted a story I called "The Legacy of War: Wisdom for My Loved Ones." Our then president (in lockstep with his vocal VP) and military leaders were calling for a "surge" strategy in Iraq. Today, our generals in Afghanistan, right-wing commentators, and conservative politicians are saber-rattling about the need for a new "surge" of troops, putting pressure on our new president to send 40,000 or more troops to war (which President Obama called "the right war" during his presidential campaign). At least this time around , our new VP is calling for different strategy.

The issue got my full attention after viewing a debate on PBS about the Afghan "surge" strategy between retired Army General Jack Keane and retired Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich, an international relations professor at Boston University who spent twenty-three years serving in the US Army (then recently reading an article titled "The Generals' Revolt: The Military Revolt Over Afghanistan" by Robert Dreyfuss in Rolling Stone).

So what does this have to do with life legacies (and my own life legacy in particular)? While the Afghan war likely will not have a direct effect on my two sons (in their 30's), my young grandchildren could eventually be impacted by the eight-year and "no end in sight" war in Afghanistan. That would make it all too personal whether or not I'm still alive when that war or some other new war ends.

Having lived through the Vietnam era as an Army Reservist (see my previous blog post on war), the Afghan war is certainly echoing (if not repeating) our experience in Vietnam. The word "quagmire" (the word most often used about the Vietnam war) has even reappeared in the news, spoken by no less than President Obama in a recent interview.

As I noted in "The Legacy of War," the most powerful words of wisdom I've ever heard about war were delivered by Chris Hedges, author of the 2002 book, "War Is A Force That Gives Life Meaning," in a speech he gave:

"War in the end is always about betrayal: betrayal of the young by the old, soldiers by politicians, and idealists by cynics."

I would add "betrayal of presidents by military leaders (and retired generals)" -- as it appeared to me during the Vietnam War and certainly does now.

I was born at the end of World War II in which my father served and was wounded in France. He survived but never spoke to me about his wartime experience. By my count, the U.S. has been at war in some country for more than half the years of my life. What does that say about America and the human psyche? I don't have an answer but it's clear to me that there's truth in the statement that "you don't make peace by making war."

What I do know for sure is that far too many young men and women will be killed and wounded in Afghanistan (as they were/are in Iraq) in a "surge" or any military strategy of escalation. And that will be a terrible waste of life to protect a country from being a "safe haven for terrorists." Plus, I wonder about the extraordinary level of arrogance it takes to expect our military to change a tribal culture, much less "win" any war against insurgencies and gangsters intent on terrorizing the "free world."

How do you view the legacy of war in your lifetime? What are your personal stories about war and its impact on you and your family members? Have you changed your views during your lifetime on the necessity (or lack of) for war ... in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and/or any terrorist organizations?

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Reflections of a Life Legacy Blogger

When I began writing this blog in early April of 2006, I wasn't sure where it would lead me. It was my first blog and I had just begun helping people create their own ethical wills. As I look back over the past 3 1/2 years, I've posted 142 times -- most of which were written in the first two years. Other work projects, including writing blogs for the Emerald Art Center, the Springfield Beacon, and Wellsprings Friends School, have reduced the time I've been able to devote to this blog.

It's a bit amazing to look at the data on who has read the life legacy blog since July 2006 when I started keeping track. As of today, there have been 4,499 visitors from 82 countries and all 50 states in the U.S. (a little less than half of the total visitors were from the U.S.). Just a little over 25% of visitors returned to the site. There have been 6007 visits and 11,315 page views. Visitors have looked at an average of 2.20 pages per visit and spent an average of 2.04 minutes on the site (the longest visit was 26.10 minutes).

The state of Oregon accounted for 1338 visitors who spent an average of 4.07 minutes on the site. They came from 36 cities throughout the state, most from the Eugene and Portland areas.

Among the 10 most popular posts are:

1. Writing A Personal Legacy Letter (accounted for 12% of total visits)
2. Examples of Ethical Wills
3. Life Lessons: The Power of Empathy
4. "Just a Mom, Writing About Life"
5. Pema Chodron's Commentary on the Four Reminders
6. Topic Outlines for An Ethical Will
7. Seven Questions to Explore in Your Ethical Will: "Who Am I?"
8. Spiritual Will & Ethical Will: Are They Different?
9. Life Lessons: A Quote to Remember
10.Writing a "Dying Letter": Elizabeth Edwards Story

Not long after starting the blog, I created a website describing my services for people interested in life legacies. For individuals who wanted to create their own ethical-spiritual will, I added a Wiki to my website with starter questions to consider.

Looking ahead, I intend to continue posting about personal life legacies, ethical-spiritual wills, and other related subjects including brief reviews of books I read during the year.

As always, your feedback and comments are welcomed.

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Monday, September 07, 2009

Life Lessons: Solitude and Silence

This week I read Anne LeClaire's new book, Listening Below the Noise: A Meditation on the Practice of Silence. The book describes her experience of practicing total silence on two Mondays each month for over seventeen years.

In LeClaire's chapter on "Nourishing the Creative Self," I appreciated what she says about the power of imagination:

"Today our imaginations are under siege by a constant barrage of noise and busyness. Our culture regards solitude and silence as something to be avoided. We would rather scrub grout than spend expended time alone.

A high cost comes from this. We have lost the path by which we journey to the place deep within where dreams and stories and visions appear. As Picasso noted, solitude is necessary for this work. In silence's calm surrounds, we discover the power of imagination and throw open the gates to creativity. In the opulent luxury of solitude, time becomes elastic and creative impulses surface and are allowed room to breathe. Sitting quietly, we gently enter our own inner worlds. Daydreaming, Woolgathering. Lost in space. These are rich and fertile activities. The playgrounds of imagination."

Thankfully, at this stage of my life I have many hours of solitude each week -- some of the time in silence (but never full days like the Ms. LeClaire). Knowing how important solitude is for nourishing my creativity and inner life, I may well give the author's practice of silence a try. I definitely want to reduce the noise and distractions in my life and would welcome an upsurge in creativity. Her experience transformed her life, igniting her creativity and fostering new connections with others, with herself, and with nature.

I enjoyed reading about Anne LeClaire's discoveries from answering an unexpected call to "Sit in silence." Now the question for me is "When will you start?"

If you decide to read the book, please send along your comments. Or share your experiences of silence and solitude.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Life Lessons: A Quote to Remember

I've been away from the blog for quite awhile devoting much of my time over the past 10 months to outreach work for an alternative high school (where I've been blogging!). When I came across this quote from Eckhart Tolle in the "Sunbeams" section of The Sun (Aug. 2009), I decided to add it to my postings on life lessons:

"Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at this moment."

I've recognized the wisdom in this quote much later in my life than I would have liked to have "gotten it." At least now I'm getting closer to "at this moment" in knowing why I'm having an experience in my life ... whether I like or not!

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Friday, June 05, 2009

Lessons from the Worst Buddhist in the World

This week I finished reading Mary Pipher's new book, Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World. The book is a memoir that explores the lessons of her life, including her "meltdown" after the huge success of her book, Reviving Ophelia.

Near the end of "Seeking Peace," Pipher offers an instructive view of her life questions:

"My questions about my life are all of our eternal questions: How can we best develop our gifts and use them to help others? How can we keep growing until we stop breathing? How can we stay present? How can we be happy? The answers are universal answers: Pay attention, tell the truth, be kind, and find things to appreciate and enjoy every day. Try to learn something from everyone. Be open to wonder."

If you are a "fan" of Mary Pipher's writing and have read any of her books (Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of Our Elders, The Shelter of Each Other: Rebuilding Our Families, Writing to Change the World, and others), you'll find her candid and moving account of her life so far (at age 60) a worthwhile book to put on your summer reading list.

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Monday, June 01, 2009

Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die

I came across this video that features "five secrets" for living from a book by John Izzo. The book is based on the successful Biography Channel television series "The Five Things You Must Discover Before You Die." While I haven't read the book yet, the video shares the essence of the author's findings with beautiful visuals.

I plan to read the book and will write a review of it in a future posting. If you saw the television series or have read the book, I'd appreciate your comments.

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tribute to a Mentor: John Woodrow

Yesterday, I learned about the sudden death at age 59 of a man who hired me 10 years ago to work with him to help provide employment for adults with developmental disabilities. At the time, I had been self-employed for a dozen years and felt ready for a change as I approached my mid-50s. John Woodrow took the risk of hiring this "older guy" to join him at the non-profit organization.

A front page story about John in the Register Guard told much about the public side of his life. He was truly a public servant, devoted to his adopted community. The story on the Springfield Times website offered a more personal look at his life from people who were his friends.

I had the privilege of working with John for nearly three years. Over the years since then, we saw each other at community business meetings and spoke on the phone several times (usually when I was asking him to be a reference for me, which he always graciously agreed to do).

During our years of working together, what I remember most about John was his fairness, inventiveness, and clear communications style. Once, when the executive director at the time was attempting to place blame on me for a sales slump during a difficult time for the non-profit, John backed me up and saved my job -- at least for a little while. John's proposals for making changes to the production operations (which would have opened the door to significant sales opportunities) were met with deaf ears by the executive director. And John ended up getting "cut loose" from the organization a few months before I was. All turned out for the better for both of us (and for the organization when their Board hired a new executive director).

I loved John's inventiveness in creating ways for developmentally disabled people to produce and package products for our business clients. He would play around with various "jigs" and other contraptions that made it possible for the jobs to get done. John was also a "grand master" of spreadsheets. Yes, spreadsheets. He designed ways to capture and analyze production and cost data that must have taken many hours to create on his computer. His understanding of production operations and business management was exceptional.

John was a "no B.S." kind of guy from Wisconsin. You always knew what he stood for and where he stood on issues. While he and I were far apart politically, I always supported his election and reelection to public office because I knew he was a "straight shooter" with a heart of gold. His contributions to his community (and the accolades he received and richly deserved) over just 12 years in Springfield were "awesome" in the truest sense of the word.

As I reflect on my time with John, I think the most significant thing he showed me through the way he lived and worked was the importance of "showing up fully-prepared and ready to make a meaningful contribution" to whatever you've chosen to do in your life. While not a new life learning for me, it is one that John demonstrated so well and so completely that I won't ever forget it.

May all the many friends and colleagues of John Woodrow celebrate him for the contributions he made to our lives and our community. I'll miss him.

PHOTO CREDIT: Craig Murphy/Springfield Times



I attended the Celebration of Life for John on May 1oth, along with hundreds of other people. Speakers included several public officials who celebrated John's service to our community, his faith, his love of family, friends, and his dogs, and his gentlemanly way of being in the world.

Among his many forms of service, John was a champion for the K-9 dogs employed by our police department. It touched me to see three of their dogs sitting next to a standing policeman throughout the celebration.
And what looked like our whole police force was sitting in two rows ahead of me along the the Chief who spoke about John's support of policing in Springfield.

While I could say much more about the service, I prefer to post a couple of the photos of John from the program. Thanks also to John Rodney Woodrow, III -- his son -- who posted a comment about our blog posting.
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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Living in Oregon: A Legacy of Beauty (Spring)

Over 20 years ago, my dear partner and I moved to Oregon. She has taught me more about beauty than anyone in my life and, especially, about the beauty in nature.

In springtime, it's dangerous to have a digital camera in your hands. So much beauty, so many choices, too few megabytes.

Here a just a few of the many photos I've taken walking in the neighborhood.

I better stop ... before you decide to move to Oregon. You're welcome to come, but as they told us 20 years ago, be sure to bring a job with you!

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The Wisdom of "Pickles": Journal Writing

It's a good thing that Grandma is still writing in a journal and hasn't started a blog:

Pickles Comics - April 29, 2009

Maybe it's time for her favorite guy to start his own blog to share his wisdom (and experience in a long-lasting relationship) with the world. On the other hand, maybe not.

Pickles Comics - April 28, 2009

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The Gates Legacy: Interview with William & Bill

I just watched a father-son interview with William and Bill Gates. On a wide-range of topics (with a focus around William's new book "Showing Up for Life: Thoughts on the Gifts of a Lifetime"), both men shared insights on their life and work together.

As someone who had a troubled relationship with his father, I was touched by what the Gates' men had to say about one another and the way in which they said it. And I'm pleased that this 83 year old and 59 year old "duo" have taken on such huge projects with the Gates Foundation -- ending malaria and AIDS -- and the U.S. education system. While I'll be long gone from this life before their goals are achieved, I'm more hopeful than ever knowing that these guys are focusing their lives (and billions) on the problems.

I'm going to order the new book and expect I'll enjoy reading the life lessons of Bill gates, Sr.
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Friday, April 17, 2009

Wisdom on Living & Dying - Frank Langella Interview

For some reason, my mind keeps recalling statements that actor Frank Langella made during an interview Charlie Rose did with him in January:

"You must not attack anyones defense for living."

"It's not right to invade someones defenses."

He made the remarks near the end of the amazing 28 minute interview (start at minute 20) -- and also discussed issues of dying in the video. Charlie Rose did a masterful (and sometimes humorous) job of interviewing the brilliant actor.

Having worked as a counselor (mostly with men and couples) during the 1990's, Langella's statements and my life experience since then seem to have "landed" in a place within that I can only call "wisdom."

Perhaps, with more self-acceptance as I've aged -- coupled with being more able to accept the "defenses for living" of people close to me -- Langella's statements had a deeper meaning for me.

Thank you, Frank Langella and Charlie Rose, for the heartfelt interview. I encourage readers to watch the video. Your feedback is welcomed.

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

What Matters Most: Living a More Considered Life -- Book Review

"If we fail to engage in some form of cogent dialogue with the questions which emerge from our depths, then we will live an unconscious, unreflective, accidental life."
-- James Hollis

Longtime readers of this blog may recall that one of my favorite writers is Jungian analyst James Hollis. His most recent book, What Matters Most: Living a More Considered Life, directly deals with many of the life legacy issues I've written about over the past three years.

For anyone who grew up in the Midwest (or anywhere else for that matter), Hollis presents a point-of-view in the book that would make a Norwegian Lutheran "nice boy" wonder why everything he was taught as a child was, shall we say, "less than the truth" about life. According to Hollis:

"We are not here to fit in, be well balanced, or provide exempla for others. We are here to be eccentric, different, perhaps strange, perhaps merely to add our small piece, our clunky, chunky selves, to the great mosaic of being . . . we are here to become more and more ourselves."

That's not what my parents, grandparents, and teachers had in mind for me or any of my friends. I was well-trained to "not rock the boat, be good, be nice, don't 'show off', and that 'appearances' were of tantamount importance." I imagine that just the idea of writing a blog that all the world could see (about anything that mattered to me) would be shameful in their eyes back then and even now.

James Hollis does not discuss the usual "stuff" of what matters most in his book. He notes that matters like family, friends, love, work, and the like that "take care of themselves." Rather, Hollis encourages us to look at matters such as risking growth over security, learning to tolerate ambiguity, not be governed by fear, delighting in creativity and our "foolish passions", engaging spiritual crises, and living fully in the shadow of death. Through his personal reflections and stories of people he has counseled in private practice, the author provides insights and guidance for readers who want to live life to its fullest.

There is so much in this book that I enjoyed that it's hard to decide what to write about. In the chapter in which Hollis asks "that we consider feeding the soul," he says:

"Maybe all us will learn to grapple with the paradox that living our lives more fully is not narcissism, but service to the world when we bring a more fully achieved gift to the collective. We do not serve our children, our friends and partners, our society by living partial lives, and being secretly depressed and resentful. We serve the world by finding what feeds us, and, having been fed, then share our gift with others."

In his chapter focusing on the subject of "writing our own story," Hollis asks us to:

"Imagine what our story would look like if, rather than succumbing to the insistent voices of family or culture, we determined that our vocation was to be a better human. Many, if not most of us, will have run through our lives and never really been here, never really experienced precious moments of mindfulness, asking why, or felt ourselves in the presence of mystery, whether found in the beloved, in nature, in contemplation, in the work of hands, or in whatever venues mystery comes to find us."

He goes on to say: "Personhood is not a gift; it is a continuing struggle; the gift is attained later, and only from living a mindful journey where, prompted by an inner summons, we write our story at last."

I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in "living a more considered life" and risking being who you really are. You may find, as James Hollis does, that "in the end, having a more interesting life, a life that disturbs complacency, a life that pulls us out of the comfortable and thereby demands a larger spiritual engagement than we planned or that feels comfortable, is what matters most."

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Communicating Your Life Choices & Wishes

A professional colleague of mine, Barbara Passarelli, and her husband Jeff have created a great way to consolidate important information about your life in one place. Barbara is the person I point to in my legacy talks as the best example I've ever known of someone who has "done it all" in preparing herself and her family for both living well and dying well.

They call their new product It’s My Life KIT , “an owner’s manual for your life.” It helps adults organize important life documents and communicate choices and wishes so that trusted people can act on your behalf if you are unable to do so.

KIT stands for "Keep in Touch." The KIT has themed sections with simple checklists: Life History, Legal & Financial, Daily Living, Health Care, and Ethical & Spiritual, which family members and friends can prepare, getting to know each other better in the process. It gives you an opportunity to:

• Write a letter about your life to your loved ones

• Create a personal life history and family tree

• Help your loved ones locate important items

• Make plans for pet care and driving, and for someone to go with you to medical visits/hospital stays

• Prepare an Advance Directive, which allows you to express your wishes for health care

• Review a sample Durable Power of Attorney, which allows someone to act on your behalf in a legal or business matter

• Explain your end-of-life preparation, state personal choices for your care and your memorial

• Create an ethical will, which shares your values, beliefs, stories, joys, and dreams with future

• Put your will/trust, other documents, and some important photos in one place

You will then be able to say with confidence, “... and now you know.”

I contributed my personal legacy letter and ethical will information to the KIT and hope that many people will use them as a guide for completing the documents and will share them with their families.

The KIT retails for $60. Please visit, email, or call Jeff and Barbara at 541.636.3886.

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Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Legacy of Bill Holm: Sage of Minnesota

Reading the Prairie Home Companion newsletter on Friday, I learned about the death of Bill Holm. Garrison wrote a fine tribute to the man who he calls "the sage of Minnesota." Although I never met Bill, Robert Bly introduced me to Holm's stories and poetry. I read Bill's books at my favorite place on the Oregon Coast where I used to go for my solo retreats after leading our "Healing the Hearts of Men" gatherings at Heceta House in the 1990's. The place, called Gull Haven (now Ocean Haven) at the time, has a small cabin -- the Shag's Nest -- out on a point of land overlooking the ocean where Bly often stayed (and, as I recall, Bill Holm frequented himself).

I love poem this poem by Bill, especially the last stanza about the "dark secret of the ones long married."

Wedding Poem For Schele and Phil

A marriage is risky business these days
Says some old and prudent voice inside.
We don't need twenty children anymore
To keep the family line alive,
Or gather up the hay before the rain.
No law demands respectability.
Love can arrive without certificate or cash.
History and experience both make clear
That men and women do not hear
The music of the world in the same key,
Rather rolling dissonances doomed to clash.

So what is left to justify a marriage?
Maybe only the hunch that half the world
Will ever be present in any room
With just a single pair of eyes to see it.
Whatever is invisible to one
Is to the other an enormous golden lion
Calm and sleeping in the easy chair.
After many years, if things go right
Both lion and emptiness are always there;
The one never true without the other.

But the dark secret of the ones long married,
A pleasure never mentioned to the young,
Is the sweet heat made from two bodies in a bed
Curled together on a winter night,
The smell of the other always in the quilt,
The hand set quietly on the other's flank
That carries news from another world
Light-years away from the one inside
That you always thought you inhabited alo
The heat in that hand could melt a stone.

Take a listen to Bill on the three audio links from past Prairie Home Companion shows (provided below Garrison's tribute to him). And then read his poems, books, and the "Give Us This Day Our Daily Bach" essay on his website. The man left us far too soon ... just 65 years old ... but his legacy lives on in his writings and in our fond memories of this giant of a man with the booming voice and gentle heart.

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Friendship Revisited

This past month I was reminded about the importance of friendship in my life. Two people who were in my life 30 years ago found my blog and contacted me -- the first was a woman who was my last girlfriend in high school before going to college. We went opposite directions to college -- I went east to St. Olaf; she went west to South Dakota State. What I recall most today is the heartache I felt when I received a "Dear John (Todd)" letter from her not long into my first semester at school (she had fallen in love with another "man"). It took awhile for me to forgive her and move on ... to a new girlfriend I suspect (too many years have passed by for me to recall when I "let go" of my high school sweetheart for a new love).

I don't remember ever seeing her again, not even at class reunions because we've never been to the same reunions. This year, she sent me her Christmas letter and a bunch of photos of herself and her husband and their retirement home overlooking a river valley in Minnesota. Along with the letter was a note inviting to me to visit her and her husband whenever I return to Minnesota. I responded to her with a long email describing highlights of my life today with links to sites on the internet about my family and work life. I know I would enjoy seeing her again and spending some time reminiscing about our "young love" relationship so many years ago. We were great friends in high school (saving one another from the miseries of being young in a small [big for western Minnesota] town in the early '60's). Looking back, I can see that she taught me how to be a friend to the opposite sex -- and how not to break up with a friend of the opposite sex!

My other "old" friend who contacted me last month was a guy called "Gunnar" who was in my life during my "college dropout" years. I had left St. Olaf after my first year (Grampa's money ran out) and headed to Minneapolis to work before getting into the University of Minnesota. My foggy mind doesn't remember much of those years, so I'm hopeful that Gunnar may have a better memory than mine (though there may be some things I don't care to hear about ever again!). We've been exchanging email messages over the past few weeks and I'm enjoying our reconnection. He still has a weird sense of humor and never passes up an opportunity to share his passions and opinions. I laughed out loud when I read his blog post on Harbingers of Spring (and had to write comment on it). I look forward to continuing our conversation in the digital world and, perhaps, getting together face-to-face sometime (whether we do or not, it feels great to have been "found" by a friend ... and still experience what we enjoyed about the friendship after so many years have past).

Then yesterday, I received an email from David, a great friend who has had breakfast with me and a group of men friends nearly every Tuesday morning for 18 years (except for vacation times and when he has gone to India for months at a time). He left in November for 5 months in India, Nepal, and Laos ... and I miss him. I thought his message about his past ten years offered some wisdom for all the rest of us:

"Going from an overly busy life to retirement is not always easy and one has to face one's inner demons at some point. I continue to be blessed with comparatively good heath and have been able to stay active which has been a part of my life style for years. I have also been blessed with a loving family and many friends. My bucket list has nothing on it at this time since I was able to get back to the Himalayas one more time this Fall. In the past ten years, I have buried both of my parents and have lost some friends along the way as well ... not to mention some who are now actively shedding their forms. Death is always a good reminder of not knowing how much time we have. So as I told a friend recently, keep your bucket list short and your fences mended and never put off 'til tomorrow what is truly important to you."

What's left on your "bucket list"? Do you have any "fences" to mend with anyone in your life? What really matters to you that you have been putting off 'til tomorrow? Any friends from the past that you'd like to reconnect with?

Thank you Beverly, Gunnar, and David for your friendship "back then" and now in my life!

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