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Church today - it's been far too long. I got there in time for the Gospel reading, which was pretty good considering that every bus and train was late today. I was amazed at how much a church can feel like a home - more like home than one's own house and bed. I guess I've really missed going to church.

There was a modified panikhida service (prayers for the dead) for the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I cried a little, mostly because I was thinking of Uncle Bobby. I unconsciously (but appropriately) turned to the icon of St. Pantaleimon and prayed about whether the right choice was made. We all thought chemo was the right choice, yet the chemo killed him. He would have died of the leukemia, so didn't we have to try? Or at least, didn't we have a right to try? He died in all the comfort anyone could give - he mostly slept those last few days, in a haze of pain medications and antibiotics. When it was clear that his organs were shutting down, all but the pain treatments were stopped. That's doing as well as we could, right? I know the choice was ultimately E.'s, but all of the close relatives, myself included, thought the course of treatment was sensible. Still, one second-guesses oneself a lot, wondering if the outcome could have been any different.

I was glad to see big signs in the parish hall and out on the lawn advertising the 9/11 Interfaith Unity Walk. It's the church's role to give members more opportunities to get to know and love all other people.

The sermon was also nice. It was given by Fr. M., who is a missionary and has just returned from Outer Nowhere in the Arctic Circle. He talked about God loving the world and wanting to save all of it. Great stuff. He normally preaches very well, and I enjoy hearing him. He also has a goodly crop of children, mostly daughters, who are very sweet. One of them, who is about ten or eleven years old, contributed a plastic baggie she wasn't using so I could take some antidoron home to [livejournal.com profile] papertigers.

[livejournal.com profile] papertigers has been trying to get me to go back to church for weeks, and I guess she is right.

Vignettes

Aug. 30th, 2010 09:56 pm
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I. (A dialogue between [livejournal.com profile] debboamerik and VeryProtestantBoss)
[Scene: [livejournal.com profile] debboamerik is getting her lunch out of the refrigerator. VPB stands in the kitchen doorway.]

VPB: I hear you go to a Russian Orthodox Church.

DA: Yes, I do.

VPB: Is it true that you have to pay to go to an Orthodox church?

DA [mystified]: No.

VPB: But you have to pay to go to the Greek Orthodox Church.

DA: No, you don't. You don't have to pay to go to any Christian church that I've ever heard of.

VPB: But they say you have to pay to be a member!

DA: Sure, but that doesn't mean what you think.

VPB: What does it mean?

DA: If you want to do things like run or vote for Parish Council, you have to contribute to the parish, and you have to be of age.

VPB: How much?

DA: That depends.

VPB: So do you have to pay to go to services?

DA: N... [repeats] You don't have to pay to go to services at any Christian church!

VPB: So... just to take Communion?

DA: NO! We let little babies take Communion; how could they possibly pay?

VPB: But you still have to pay to be a member.

DA: Yes, and not just in Orthodox parishes. Catholics do that, too.

VPB: [looks confused, is asked a question by someone else, walks away]


II. (Scene on the Metro)

Three young black boys were sitting on the Metro near me. The oldest one, who was about 16, was acting much younger than the youngest one, who was about 11. I was meditating on the classic style of the youngest one's clothes. He could have been from any era from the 1930s up, dressed as he was, and looked equally cute and stylish. The oldest of the three was being noisy and singing, and trying to get the other two to sing along, which, after a minute or two, they did. Then the oldest one took out his phone and started blasting music with it. I caught the middle child's eye and gestured that they should turn the music down. He gestured back in a class-clown sort of "I don't know" way, so I tried to gesture headphones. Same response. Finally, I caught the oldest one's eye and said, "Hon, you're going to have to turn that way down or turn it off. The rules are that you're supposed to use headphones on the train."

At that point, a skinny young white man stood up and started yelling at them, telling them that I was right and that they shouldn't be talking so loudly either. I ignored him and went back to my book. After all, I talk loudly with my friends on the Metro, and I am 32 years old. The kids waited a second, and then, looking at me rather than at the man, turned their music off. I smiled at them. They started talking (in an audible undertone) amongst themselves, saying that the man had to have a woman speak before he would dare say anything, which I found rather amusing.

When I got off the train at Twinbrook, I saw the people who had been directly opposite me on the train at the farecard machines. The woman said, "Thank you for saying something to those men! I was too shy to say anything myself."

"They were just boys," I said.

"What?"

"The oldest of them couldn't have been more than 16."

"Oh... I was too shy to look, like I said..." I had this lady's number, and she knew it and was embarrassed.

"Kids are dumb," I shrugged. Anyone over age 25 would have agreed, so the woman did. I helped her and her husband work the farecard machines, and they gave me their trade-in farecards. Then I went to the grocery store.
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Last night: Got to church just a bit late for the 10:30 blessing of baskets. Stayed in the basement for the 11:00. [livejournal.com profile] papertigers brought a double batch of her amazing mac and cheese and the church ladies were pleased. After the baskets were blessed, I hid mine above the coat rack because we didn't have time to go back to the car before the beginning of Nocturnes.

Or so we thought! Nocturnes actually ended 15 minutes late this year, and the rest of the "night" cascaded from there. When Metropolitan Jonah knocked on the door of the church and asked, "Who is the King of Glory?" three times, and each time the other clergy replied, "The Lord of Hosts!", and on the third time the lights to the church came on, [livejournal.com profile] papertigers turned to me and whispered, "Protestants don't do anything this cool." I found that sweet, somehow.

We ended Liturgy a good hour later than it ended last year, and with about twice last year's crowd (to be fair, it was a bit cold and drippy last year). The new choir director had the choir singing some of the melodies I remember so well from childhood, including the Extopostilarion that reminds me so much of K.R.'s wonderful soprano, and the Theotokion that we did together a few times, with me taking the alto part (for once, the part with all the beautiful ornamentation).

Metropolitan Jonah is interactive in ways that are unexpected if you are cradle Orthodox. For example, when we sang "Having Beheld the Resurrection of Christ," he came out and conducted the congregation - rather expertly, at that. Someone - perhaps him, perhaps the director herself - also decided that all of the most important hymns had to be done both in English and Slavonic. When we finished the Our Father in Slavonic and I was waiting for the priest to chant the ending, suddenly the choir was singing it in English. (I only know the first few words of the Slavonic, but I'd prayed along anyway). After Communion, when I gave her antidoran, [livejournal.com profile] papertigers gave up and crept downstairs for the remainder. We finished a good hour and fifteen minutes later than last year.

A few fun things happened downstairs at "breakfast." For one thing, Fr. J. came down to bless the food, and after the Our Father, he sang, "Lord have mercy Lord have mercy Lord have mercy... I guess I'll bless." (OOOPS! We were supposed to sing "Father, bless"!) A roomful of exhausted people giggling at 4 a.m. is something to experience. There were meat pies and cheese and spinach pies and lamb cooked over a spit. [livejournal.com profile] papertigers and I also had fun hanging out with a flirtatious priest and a highly competitive egg-smashing twelve-year-old, but we went home fairly early. Even so, it was 5 a.m. before we were in bed.

Today it was dinner at my unofficial family's. Four generations of women (not all of us, just a representation) and girl children sat around a table talking and laughing and telling stories. The lamb was cooked magnificently. I introduced them to cheese Pascha. A good time was had by all.
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In the words of today's Epistle reading, "The night is far gone; the day is at hand." Since there are many of you that I don't see regularly in person, I'd like to ask your forgiveness for all the wrongs I have done you and yours, large and small. For those of you who appreciate such things, I also offer you mine. "God forgives, and so do I," as we say at church. May this be a season of growth and renewal for each and every one of you, my friends.
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Last night, for the Festival of Water (feast of the Baptism of Christ), we ate, appropriately enough, fish.

I love having a festival in the middle of the winter that is about, of all things, water. People have such fun with it. There are blessings and splashings and laughter. I'm sorry to have missed the church service this year - but I am going to try to go when our clergy bless the Tidal Basin this month. In some countries, people dive for a submerged crucifix. Yes, dive. Outdoors, in January. Hooray!
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I was whining - I admit it! Oh, it's a sorry state for a person to get into. Then my cousin M. said, "You sucked up a cord? While it was plugged in? You're lucky you didn't get shocked!" That was the cold water of perspective thrown onto my bad mood. After that, I was referred to this page by [livejournal.com profile] seraphimsigrist. I encourage you to read it - especially those of you who are puzzled that my brand of Christianity isn't quite what you might have expected. Reading it made me happy enough to giggle and dance.

And it is a relief to have a clean(er) house.
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Patriarch Pavle of Serbia has died. He was a voice of reason, love, and peace in some of the most trying times in recent history. He was almost universally loved, even by those who supported the war criminals he publicly condemned. He was a guiding light, and humanity is the poorer for his passing.

May his memory be eternal.
debboamerik: black-and-white cat (Default)
Here's a subject I think about from time to time.

[Poll #1478911]

On another (unrelated) note, I have decided not to go to church tomorrow. This fever is not good, and a lot of frail old ladies at church like to triple-kiss me (it's an Orthodox thing) when they see me, so it seems - prudent, I suppose, and morally more responsible - to stay home. I am sorry for it, though, because I could really use the boost. Especially because I'm ill.
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... Have a 150th Anniversary celebration at the local Jesuit church.

I did attend the Mass at St. Al's today. It was long. As usual, the exceptional choir kept it from being boring or dragging. The RC Archbishop of Washington preached. His preaching was sincere, but long, and it wandered quite a bit and didn't provide much spiritual sustenance. I wonder how they teach 'em to preach in Catholic seminaries. Jesuits are sometimes OK preachers - but not always. Fr. Deacon (my foster dad) is always an exceptional preacher. He gives a very limited but nourishing diet of "here's how you love one another." You can hardly go wrong with that recipe. He loves to have you turn to the person next to you and say, "Friend! Oh, Friend! I love you, and..." (fill in the blanks depending on the gospel: "I'll always offer you a helping hand," "Jesus and I love you in spite of," etc.). This sermon was a History of Catholicism in North America and Washington, DC, plus a lot of "the earliest Church was Catholic" and "isn't it great to be Catholic," which I found particularly amusing in light of the fact that a lot of non-Catholics go to St. Al's. It's a very good parish community, though I doubt Pope B. would think so.

I am always interested in listening to a new person preach. Sometimes you just can't hear something when it's expressed in a certain way, and you need to hear it again from someone new. We have three priests who regularly preach at St. Nicholas, and each of them has his own particular style.

Church is soothing to me. M. Charlotte and I were talking about this last week. She said that sometimes she goes into church wondering why she even bothered to come at all - especially after she and her husband (who is a very good preacher, by the way) have had a fight. We talked about the relief one can get from the liturgy when one is unhappy, angry, or stressed. When I am happy and in a good mood, church makes me happier. This is why [livejournal.com profile] papertigers encourages me to go, especially when I'm not feeling like going because I'm unhappy or in trouble. She knows that I am better for it.

That was today's main event. Millions of blessings on my parents and grandmother for enabling us to buy groceries this week. Hooray gift cards!
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A few weeks ago, I was in church with my niece E., and I was explaining that all the "funny pictures" around us told stories. I gave her an oh-so-brief rendition of St. George, because I thought the dragon might interest her. But it's gotten me thinking about saints in general.

Some saints I find completely frustrating. St. Juliana the Merciful... well, I loved her as a kid because she cared for orphans and had lots of children, but as an adult I find her far too good. It just doesn't seem like it was hard for her to be the sort of woman who stayed up all night making quilts for cold poor Russians. As laudable as that is, I would get tired. I would be grouchy. I would not do such a thing with good grace and endless patience. I don't think too many people could.

St. Moses the Ethiopian, on the other hand, is my kind of sinner. Slave, thief, murderer, penitent... and he ended his life full of forgiveness for all sorts of people. I could do that, given a good deal of practice.

I am also somewhat underwhelmed by St. Pantaleimon, though I understand why he's a saint. He was a doctor. He treated people for free. I like doctors who do that. Medicine seems to be one of those professions that attracts people with that kind of bent. It's a great bent. You deserve sainthood for it. It just doesn't touch me in quite the right way.

St. John of Kronstadt, on the other hand, is also my kind of guy. For one thing, his icon makes him look like a man with a sense of humor. For another thing, his wife really must have been divinely sent to put up with him. His late hours, his carelessness about his health, his being away from home so much, must have been pretty hard on her. So he doesn't strike me as discouragingly perfect.

Oddly, my reasoning breaks down when it comes to St. Seraphim of Sarov. For years, I resisted the appeal that has made him the Francis of Assisi of the Orthodox world. Not only was he too perfect, he had the great fault of being beloved of my mother, who can be... a bit sentimental and sometimes prone to anger over differences of opinion or point of view (be quiet, [livejournal.com profile] papertigers, I know, all right?). After a while, though, he is sort of irresistible. He liked animals. He liked people. He was the sort of guy who would be interested in a person like me, someone who is full of faults and anxieties and needs constant help from God to get through a single day.

On the non-Orthodox scheme, I'm fond of Francis Xavier, who did both creditable and non-creditable things with such a spirit of love and kindness that he was remembered even by people he wronged as one of the greatest men they'd ever known. He also loved to travel, even when it made him hugely ill, and even though he was witness to all kinds of injustice in the course of his travels - poverty, social exclusion, the dreadful waste of human potential, and much more.

I like the icon of the Russian Revolution in our choirloft, too. In the center are the martyrs recognized as saints. On one side are the royal family. On the other, behind broken barbed wire, are ordinary Russians, many of them carrying crosses. Above all of it, angels trumpet. It's a great thing to look at when one is feeling lost and hopeless... a lost and hopeless scene which also shows a greater reality. Many of our parishoners fled Russian Communism, so it's also a good reminder of the parish's heritage.

There is much more to say - the walls of our church are completely covered, and don't even give half the saints - but that is all that strikes me at the moment. The picture I decided to use is of my childhood dog, Tikhon. When she first came to St. Nicholas with me, [livejournal.com profile] papertigers looked at one icon and said, "Honey! Your dog is a SAINT! A male saint!" (She was a female dog.) So it seems fitting.
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Last week was some kind of week. I always shock myself into Lent because it's much easier to cope if I'm hardest on myself at the beginning. It was a good, strong week, amazing really, but it ended with me being a lot hormonal and a little depressed. This week I'm letting up on myself a little, still following the Lenten discipline but being a little less hard on myself. So far, so good.

What works: Having a to-do list, concentrating on prayer, limiting access to novels to Sundays, cooking rather than buying vegan convenience foods, Presanctified Liturgy.

What isn't working as well: Keeping the cheerfulness I felt during the first week, motivating myself when I am exhausted, limiting sugar intake to dark chocolate only (soy milk really NEEDS to be sweetened), being strict enough on myself to get EVERYTHING done.

To an extent, I think I bit off a little too much at the beginning, but I guess that's what the beginning is for; after that, you know what your limits will be for the season, and know how much leeway to give yourself. [livejournal.com profile] papertigers is, as always, hypersupportive. She made dinner tonight, and even remembered not to use bacon grease. She has been great at not nagging me and letting me have the space for extra added prayer. I hope, in return, she sees some small improvements in the operation of daily life, in the way I treat her and others, and I hope I learn even more to show her the kinds of consideration she needs, rather than just the kinds I'm good at showing.

I went to a networking event tonight. It was highly successful. There may even be jobs as an outcome, if I am good and if I sell myself well. I am not good at selling myself. Still, I definitely need the work. Send me the prayers, good thoughts, etc.

Also, if anyone is local and wants to send used toys, clothes, shoes, or school supplies in good condition (for kids aged 5-17) to orphans and foster children in Belarus, please let me know. I will even come by and collect stuff from you, and maybe we can have a cup of tea and hang out for a bit.

Forgiveness

Mar. 1st, 2009 08:46 pm
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Today is Forgiveness Sunday (also known as Cheesefare Sunday). I had a very, very hard time at church this morning.

You see, there is a lot of resentment I've been clutching. I've been doing a lot of "this hurts so I'm going to hang on to it like anything!" Every year, I start Liturgy on Cheesefare with the same trepidation, the same feeling that I am not ready for Lent. This year was particularly hard. I've had some honest-to-goodness bad stuff happen, and some of it has had to do with the parish. One of the hardest things for me to do is to figure out whether I am being vindictive and judgmental or whether I am being righteous and protective. So much depends not on what you say or do, but how and in what spirit you approach other people. I have a hot temper, but anger is a tool that should be used sparingly and impersonally. These are some of my musings at the beginning of the season of spiritual renewal.

As always, by the end of Vespers, I was in a different place entirely. There truly is something about having your clergy get up in front of you and ask forgiveness, something about praying the Prayer of St. Ephrem for the first time in the season together with your community, more especially something about the ritual of kissing each other and saying, "Forgive me," "God forgives," while the choir above you sings "Christ is risen from the dead!" - there's something about it that prepares you, that enables you to let go of some of your resentment and look at yourself more humbly.

My friends, I ask your forgiveness for all the wrongs I have done to you and yours. May this season be one of growth and renewal in your lives.
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...And I mean Christians. I know a lot of you aren't that, so Pagans and Jews and Muslims and so on, please feel free to disregard this message. Thank you.

Dear brothers and sisters,

Christ is among us! What a wonderful message that is. What an amazing greeting. 2000 years ago, our God became man and he just can't stop loving us long enough to leave us.

Why aren't we focusing on that? This has been a really, really hard week for me, as a Christian, as an Orthodox Christian, as an openly lesbian Orthodox Christian, hell, as a Democrat who is an openly lesbian Orthodox Christian. First, there were some declarations made that my political beliefs were essentially "un-Christian." Then, there was a suggestion (made by one of our Western brethren) that because I reject the idea that God is knowable by the pure exercise of reason, I am "heterodox." Next, a whole barrage of attacks on the idea that one could be 1) gay and 2) Christian. It was put more subtly than that (one can apparently not have gay sex and be Christian), but it devolved into how-could-you-be-such-a-sinner-land (not my favorite vacation spot). Then there was the whole "Obama is Satan" thing going around. Really, I've had about enough.

Can we get back to what this is really about, please? Isn't it about prayer, sharing our lives with the people on this crazy planet, looking at everyone as though he or she were a small piece of God, and treating them with that kind of respect? I'm not saying I'm great at any of this, but isn't this how we should be looking at each other, too, as Christians?

I'm feeling beaten about, honestly, and far too emotionally injured to carry on. I need a little dose of Jesus at the moment. You know, the guy who loved me so much he couldn't bear not to create me. Him.

I'm completely fed up, folks. I need a break from my own people, and I'm really, really unhappy about that. Heck, I had a break - couldn't go to church for three weeks because I couldn't stand up and there was no one to carry me in. This was my welcome back.

So any of that love translated into human terms would be completely acceptable right now.

Love,

Me.
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The new Metropolitan served Liturgy for us today. I am most interested by Metropolitans because of their hats. He had one which was less Imperial Crown and more pearl-studded flat cap... lined with fur. Pretty!

That being said, the communion lines were intense. One woman behind me commented that we should start saving our places for the 28th.
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We (the OCA) have a new Metropolitan. Hooooooraaaaaaay!!!!! Metropolitan Jonah, among other things, is apparently succeeded in his position as Abbot of St. John's/San Francisco by my former parish priest, Fr. Mel Webber. Aside from giving amazing sermons, Fr. Mel was a kind man who helped me cope (as a Sunday School teacher) with parish politics and gave me difficult truths about myself at times when I really needed them. The association with him gives me a very good feeling about Metropolitan Jonah. I need to feel good about the direction of my larger community.

Best of all, it seems that his installation might be at my current parish church - which is one of the national cathedrals of the OCA.

All of this, and a lovely dinner out for our anniversary (three years!) with [livejournal.com profile] papertigers, too. She made a beautiful necklace for me. More about this in a separate post.
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Today was the Sunday of the Fathers of the First Six Ecumenical Councils. While last week we heard a lovely sermon about prayer, this week the sermon was about church politics (including a whole bunch of scandals that I knew very little about, since I tend to go to church for the prayer). I asked Alexander, a priest's son who is in the choir, what that was all about, and he said that the priest giving the sermon was campaigning; he wants to be a bishop. Our Assistant Pastor and our Dean weren't present (though the Dean's wife was); I'm pretty sure they would not have liked it.

...

Being a nice Orthodox girl, I firmly believe that politics has no place in a church service - and that includes Church politics. If one is compelled to speak of Church politics (as occasionally happens), one speaks of them during the announcements - certainly not during the sermon, which should give the Faithful (that's us) something to meditate upon during the week, or some kind of spiritual food.

I once had a priest who had been asked repeatedly to be a bishop and did not want to. He was a wonderful man and gave exceptional sermons. Given a choice, I'd rather have him as a bishop than someone who goes campaigning for it - particularly during Liturgy.

Thank you all for allowing me to vent.

Musings

Oct. 23rd, 2007 01:23 pm
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Sorry, everyone - this is too important to me personally for a cut.

In July of 2002, I found myself walking, at the break of dawn, with two large bags and a medium-sized puppy, down the sand road in Djeol. I was on my way to Kaedi, thence to Nouakchott, thence to Paris and Los Angeles for the baptism of my godchildren. The journey was going to take me about a week.

I'm not good at handling material objects. I drop them. So I was struggling down the road, the puppy (Rufus Sy, may his furry little memory be eternal) foremost in my mind, when an old, old man came out of one of the nearby compounds. This kind man took one look at me and said, "I'm going to help you." He unceremoniously took the largest bag and placed it on his head, while I, mortified, stammered my thanks. He carried my bag all the way down to the "taxi brousse" at the entrance to the village. I've never been so grateful for anything in my life (quite aside from the kindness, he wasn't treating me like a curiousity or a pet, and it was nice to be with someone who saw me as a person), and I hope he gets his eternal reward.

This Sunday, the Gospel reading was the parable known as "Dives and Lazarus." I found myself thinking of the parable differently this week than I have thought of it previously, which led to a related thought, which in turn relates to the story above. I've long had a fascination with this story, due in part to a beautiful piece of the Catholic funeral service, where they mention "Lazarus, who once was poor." There seems to be so much of both joy and pathos in that statement; Lazarus, who once was poor, and now rests on Abraham's bosom. Dives and Lazarus is about not ignoring the misery of the people around us. This week, it occurred to me that this wasn't just about seeing the poor around me; it was also about seeing my privilege. Right now, I am cash poor - quite cash poor, really. But... I've been poorer, and I've seen many people who are poorer still. I get so caught up in the day-to-day of my life, and in my own difficulties over money, that I sometimes forget that I have a large collection of CDs, DVDs, and books, two cats, a nice apartment, running water, people who will feed me if I can't buy food, a car, etc. I'm really in the position of Dives. Blindness to my many layers of privilege causes me sometimes to ignore Lazarus. This kind of cruelty (ignoring Lazarus is cruel) is not acceptable to me.

Dives and Lazarus also reminds me of the Widow's Mite, another parable which I believe ([livejournal.com profile] seraphimsigrist, can you confirm?) we hear during the Lenten Triodion (Lenten season, which includes Lent and some weeks before). The message of that parable is that giving out of your poverty is more blessed than throwing money at a problem out of a position of riches. And again, thinking in a slightly less literal way about this leads me to the man who helped me carry my bags through Djeol. How blessed was this old Muslim man! Out of his age and weakness, he could see the trouble of someone relatively young and strong, and gave help out of his relative poverty. These are the kinds of small, significant gestures that I believe have the greatest impact on people's lives.

So, my task, I guess, is to think of more ways in which, by my attitudes and actions, I am not doing all I can for those around me - and then to start doing something about it.

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