Last Day of Vacation

The sun is gleaming gold this morning and the house is silent. Dinner party last night with all the family around, celebrating my in-laws’ 50 years of marriage. Gold and yellow foods for the golden anniversary.

And then, moonlight and pinprick stars in a black sky while ocean waves crashed against the cool sand. The kids ran up and down the beach for spotlight tag. We sat on a blanket, watching them, the cool air on our skin, the perfect night all around us.

It has been a perfect week. For much of it, I’ve disconnected from the workaday world and all that’s happening back home. There were times I checked in, and then it was like a jolt, leaving me wondering why I get tied up in drama and turmoil willingly rather than focus on the Truth.

And what is the Truth, you ask?

The very silence that wakes us every morning and soothes us into sleep every night. The beautiful connection when eyes lock with eyes and hearts connect. The good in all. The beauty of nature.

Whenever I spend time in nature, all is well in my world. When I step away from the human needs, the ego-driven decisions, life is good. And so it makes me wonder how to survive in the regular world because it’s just not possible to live permanently on vacation.

The Truth is the bright light shining in your face, telling you it’s just work, and people are fragile. The Truth promotes kindness and honesty, respect and reverence. Seeing God in every face, in every soul, in every moment.

A friend told me a while back to let God be my co-CEO. Sure thing. I’ll give up the reins and leave it over to the Divine because to think I have any control anyway is indulging in fantasy.

All I can do is the best I can do.

This week, I’ve sat on the beach and read a light novel and let the waves crash and retreat, crash and retreat, and wash over me and bob on top of them and smell the earth’s saltiness and marvel at the brilliance of the ocean, the way its rhythm takes it back and forth in normal course and without concern.

The depths of the ocean – so much thicker than I can even comprehend. The natural order of how the tides work. The connection of moon and earth, of sand and sea.

There is no worry in nature. No insecurity, no meanness, no drama. In nature, everything follows instinct and natural course and it just works.

We humans really do a number on reality. If we just sat back and watched it all unfold, we’d know our place in the order of things. But we’re too busy meddling to realize we have nothing to do except exactly what we should do.

I have loved this vacation for many reasons. The wonderful people. The generosity of heart among my family-by-marriage. The beautiful scenery of oceanside living. The slow pace of just waking when you wake and meandering to the beach when the kids are ready and eating when hunger overtakes you, no matter what time it is.

I have loved the incredible, magnificent ocean, and feared it too. I’ve loved watching my children dive into waves. I’ve loved showering outdoors to wash off the sand and knowing I am one with the world.

Tomorrow, we leave, but today we are here. And the gold from a party celebrating life and love and life well-lived is a remnant glittering in my brilliant morning, festive and complete.

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Starry, Starry Night

With the sky charcoal gray and the stars pinpoints of light across a huge canvas, we stood on the sand and watched the kids scatter across the beach for spotlight tag.

Cousins – some biological, some inherited by marriage – from the age of 6 to 24, played together in the night, trying to spot one another in the dark. The ocean crashed its music against the shore over and over again.

This kind of fun can only happen when you give yourself over to the moment entirely.

When I married Dan, I got lucky in the way that our kids blended with one another and all of our kids look at both of us as their parents. We are the ideal situation of a blended family – and we look and feel and act like a family of origin.

We have it pretty good.

But it goes even deeper. At the beach this week as part of Dan’s extended family’s annual vacation, we fit right into his cousins and their families. Our kids and their kids were immediate friends. I sit in long conversation with some pretty remarkable people, my husband’s cousins, and I thank God that they are now my family, too.

You hear so many bad in-law stories – but do you hear the good ones? Here’s a good one. Here’s a story of a family I not only like to be with, I feel lucky to call mine.

My 8-year-old looks up at very tall new cousins who are college-age and beyond. Asks them to throw the football on the beach. And they say yes.

Kind, good people. We live in a world of madness and hatred, but from where I sit, all is good, all is friendly, open hearts and open minds abound.

It’s a lot of effort to get even a small family out to the shore. To walk over the hot sand in the beating sun, carrying all the chairs and towels and other stuff we know we want and need down by the water.

But we get there and settle in, and the children run straight into the surf. And all the struggle of getting there is immediately forgotten, faded away into the symphony of the ocean.

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Neil Diamond on the Way to the Beach

neil_diamond1Listening to Neil Diamond on the way to the beach. His soothing deep voice, his original lyrics, reading about his life on Wikipedia. He wanted to be a doctor to cure cancer because his grandmother died of cancer but in his senior year at NYU a music publishing company offered him $50 to write songs and he took another path.

It’s 9:55, make a wish, Shaya says in his sweet voice. We don’t understand it, but we smile nonetheless.

neil-diamond-very-best-ofNeil Diamond is a Jew. Born in the shadow of the Second World War to immigrant parents with all the trappings of a Jewish family. And he became one of the most popular musicians in the world.

I listen to him and I think about what it takes to break out of routine and into stardom. What it means to be in the limelight, the spotlight, for others to watch your trajectory and your success and admire you and want to be you. And he is one of my people.

With all that is going on in Israel these days, I am reminded of earlier feelings I’ve had all my life about how we are never really safe. Although we have the illusion of safety in America, the illusion of freedom, the brief respite from persecution, I am not sure we are ever really safe.

Jewish-traditionAnd I can’t figure out why we are so persecuted. We are just a people like any other people. To be fair, we have a disproportionate percentage of successes – nobel peace prizes, film industry leaders, banking industry leaders, great leaders in entrepreneurship. So we’ve succeeded. We’ve transcended our history of victimization. Good for us.

Isn’t it? Isn’t that enough? Can’t we just be who we are?

I mean, let’s look at this. We are born Jews. Born to Jewish parents, you’re Jewish. Judaism is an ancestral lineage, and a religion. It’s a belief system. It’s a relationship with God.

Untitled-1That’s all. To be born to a certain tradition — how can that make us worthy of hate? I don’t understand how other peoples throughout history and today in Gaza can have as a criteria of their own peoplehood the annihilation of mine.

How can we define ourselves by the desire to wipe out others? I have never felt that way about anyone. I cannot even imagine wishing one person dead, let alone a whole community of people.

It breaks my heart to see the juxtaposition of successful, inspiring, talented Jews and the venomous hatred of all Jews. Side by side in a fucked up world. It can’t make any sense.

13282Recently, I watched Neil Diamond in The Jazz Singer one sleepy weekend morning. I had never seen the whole movie, and so I snuggled into my little guy on the family room couch and let the familiar songs wash over me.

The story of a Jewish son of a cantor with a beautiful voice, rising to lead in his father’s synagogue to inspire the congregation with his gorgeous singing. But he was restless. He wanted more. And so the movie tells the story of him leaving his traditional life cloaked in community and building a career of stardom.

Even still, he stops recording for Yom Kippur. He honors the traditions. He stays connected even as he branches out. And in the end everybody wins.

When you are steeped in meaningful traditions, you can’t veer off-track. There has to be a chord of meaning tying us to something. Without that, we move blindly along, making it up as we go.

tolerance5You can’t define your very existence by the annihilation of others. Hatred cannot be the undercurrent for your life’s purpose. As horrible as some life situations are, there has to be a glimmer of light, of divine hope, grounded in Truth. Otherwise everybody loses.

Last night, Asher performed Havdalah on the beach. The thunder of waves crashing against the sand was our backdrop, and we huddled around the flickering multi-wicked candle braid as he sang the ancient prayers.

Separation between holy and mundane. Inviting the holy into the week. Connecting with family over time and place and meaning.

These are universal truths, celebrated in every culture. The biggest fallacy is that we are somehow different from others, and that someone, somewhere is superior.

That’s never been true. We each carry a piece of God inside us. We alone have the power and the responsibility to make peace on earth. And we alone can destroy it.

“It’s a wonderful noise, like a symphony played by a passing parade, it’s the music of life. It’s the sound that I love, and it makes me feel good, just like a hand in a glove.” Neil Diamond, “Beautiful Noise”

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Eye rolls. OMGs. Exclamations just because. Requests for Frappuccinos.

In the car: he’s annoying me! She’s looking at me. He’s such a jerk. 

I tagged the wrong place on the photo. I tagged the wrong photo. I looked at him wrong. I said the wrong thing. I am simply wrong by being here. My very essence is wrong.

Laugh, laugh, laugh.

So embarrassing. SO embarrassing. Everything is a mortification of their very being. How can I even be here? The nerve.

Those words are NOT ok in playing Mad Libs with your 8-year-old brother. Please do NOT tell me that I look bad in a photo or my hair is thinning. Yes, I asked for honesty, but not to this degree.

I am not ready to be dropping people off a block away so as not to embarrass them. I still want to be connected to these precious souls, to spend time with them, to influence them.

But they believe they are beyond influencing. They know everything. They know better than everyone else. They have nothing left to learn.

And the words that come out of their mouths: OMG, is all I can say. Really? You talk to me that way? You talk to anyone that way?

This is like the end of pregnancy. If you’ve been nervous about the searingly painful act of giving birth, you get to a point in the 8th month when you no longer care and you just want this baby out.

So it goes with tweens and teens. You can’t imagine letting them go off on their own to college, to adult life, to Real Life, and then the behavior sets in and you think, I can deal with this, it’ll be ok when they go. It’s what’s meant to be.


On the way to the beach, there was all manner of tween exhilarations and behaviors and exclamations and affronts. We sat in the front seat, not understanding and not getting it.

By. Doing. Nothing.

I love my kids to the moon and beyond, and I believe we can ride the waves of tweenhood. Somehow, we’ll all get through this, and they’ll grow up and mature and we’ll shrink back to be put in our places and still come out on top, loving them, them loving us, all good in one big family, which is truly like a clothes dryer throwing everything around in one big swirl and somehow it all comes out OK.

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When Silence is Golden

silenceAlthough she wanted to say exactly what she was thinking and feeling, all the time, and for many, many years, she did so, it came upon her one lingering night that the more profound response was no response at all.

The heaviness of a silence so deep and dangling spoke more than the careful sentences and specific words woven together like a holiday lattice. The not putting forth effort to engage in what always turned out to be high-level conflict. The less is more approach to, well, everything.

42285-Wise-Souls-Speak-Loudly-In-SilenceThe lesson came hard and frequently. The beauty of speech is knowing when. The power in the written word is not wielded lightly. So that when someone speaks out and speaks hard and speaks definitely, the message is clearly understood by all.

The compelling need to speak right then, right now, and always right, that’s the weakness. There is strength in not saying anything. In leaving whatever the other person said dangling in the wind.

When the children bickered, she wanted to tell them, too, about the power of silence. Not needing to respond. Not needing to defend. So your brother called you a name – who really cares?

silence-is-not-the-absence-of-somethingBut the truth is that we all care and we all care deep in our bones so much so that we can’t listen to reason in the heat of the moment, step back and survey the situation enough to know when silence is golden.

Really, if you think about it, silence is always precious. In the early morning of a Maine mountain hike, before all the world was awake, the silence invited the beautiful sounds of a lake lapping against its shore, of birds singing their morning song, of the slither of a beaver into the water and below the surface to his intricately constructed home.

In the silence, we hear everything. Our souls can speak. God speaks. Wisdom grows. Confidence deepens. And contentment.

In truth, we must all strive to live in silence, even for just a short time. Perhaps the moments lengthen by day and the silence becomes more compelling, more beckoning, a beautiful arched finger pulling you closer.

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The Truth About Peace in the Middle East

peace_in_the_middle_east_logo_2[1]A politico on the radio this morning attempted to explain the real reason behind the lack of peace in the Middle East. I had to shut it off because it’s pretty hard to pontificate from an ivory bubble and actually get it right.

You can’t understand the conflict unless you’ve a) been to Israel and b) read quite a bit of history.

The other day, I met with my wonderful publisher, David Crumm, an esteemed religion journalist for nearly three decades. A dedicated Christian, David shared his perspective about why there needs to be an Israel. He based it in his deep knowledge of the situation and the people and the history in the region and the world.

That kind of respectful conversation heartens me. We can begin to understand all sides. We can begin to move toward peace.

Israel-Nbrs-MapIsrael is a tiny slice of land. Its identity as a Jewish state grew out of the ashes of World War II, the most devastating in a series of persecution-driven conflicts involving the Jews of the world. In short: most people throughout history wanted my people wiped out.

For what reason, really? How can you wish genocide on anyone? How can you ever justify killing ONE person, let alone a whole people?

152629943560364892_1343985983I can’t. I can’t look into the pool-like eyes of another person, regardless of whether their skin looks like mine or we believe in the same God, and wish their life to end. (Which I believe we all do, but that’s another blog.) It hurts me to even write the words.

Even if I don’t know them.

Every person started here. It doesn't matter their nationality. How does this turn to hate?

Every person started here. It doesn’t matter their nationality. How does this turn to hate?

Each person is an incarnation of the holy. Each beating heart grew out of love, nurtured at a mother’s breast, seeing only the good in the world. We learn to hate. We are not born hating.

Israel must exist because, after seeing all the reports of anti-Semitic rampage and hatred in places like cosmopolitan Paris, France, I am reminded of how many times my people has been chased out, beaten down, burned and otherwise persecuted. And I know I need a safe haven in this world.

This isn't my community, but we have the freedom to dress like this and walk freely on public streets.

This isn’t my community, but we have the freedom to dress like this and walk freely on public streets.

Yes, I live in America, and I am proud to do so. My people can ask for random days off of work claiming religious observance and be granted their request because we live in a country that espouses freedom of religion. We can walk along public streets carrying odd objects to observe our holidays, and we are not gunned down.

We even have the freedom to cloister ourselves away from the rest of the world and say awful things about the government in belief that God is supreme. I don’t subscribe to this, but we have the freedom in this country to do it.

However, if we are to drive to small backwater towns and proclaim we are Jews, we may not be welcomed. We may encounter people who still believe Jews killed Jesus (Note: it was the Romans. Sorry to burst the bubble.). Who still believe we have horns lurking in our curly hair.

In Israel, every person is family. Every person serves in the Army at 18. It is One People. Every life is precious, an entire world.

In Israel, every person is family. Every person serves in the Army at 18. It is One People. Every life is precious, an entire world.

Israel is the best example of strength I have ever known. Out of the ashes of extreme horror and tragedy grew a nation that is not only self-sufficient, it’s brilliant and majestic and strong and compassionate. One life lost is a whole world lost. A nation that fights to recover one living breathing soul because we are all part of the same tribe.

And a nation where even while its most religious citizens don’t recognize its statehood, it still protects them because we are brethren.

Why is this tiny country such a threat? Why call for its destruction in your very charter of existence? Think about that: in Hamas’ constitution, its raison d’être is to bring about the annihilation of another people. Who defines themselves in juxtaposition with another?

wp_MultiLingualPeaceDoveThe reason there is no peace in the Middle East is because we’re not speaking the same language. Us: every life is precious. Them: every life can be sacrificed for the cause. Us: we’re willing to talk peace. Them: die.

There’s no common ground to begin a conversation. You can’t trust an opposing party that wishes you dead.

I am a daughter of the 20th century, but my soul goes back to Sinai. I’ve lived through many conflicts, and I have a feeling I was there during the Holocaust and didn’t make it out alive. I feel it in my bones…I’ve had dreams at night about Cossacks banging down my door.

All I ask is to be allowed to be who I am. Is that asking so much? Can’t we afford that simple wish to every person on the planet? Is it really such a threat? How does it even affect you?

The truth is, it doesn’t. Put down the fear-sheathed sword and look into the eyes of your opponents. They look strikingly similar. And that’s where we begin the conversation.

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Below the Surface & Between the Lines

ocean_waveOn the surface of the ocean, waves crest and swell, dip down and repeat. It’s a constant action, a huge movement, and if you get caught up in it, you risk being swept out to sea, unable to paddle back through the current to shore.

ocean_water_rays_depth_textures_hd-wallpaper-46083In a pool, we don’t feel it quite as much. The depths are only so deep. In the ocean, the depths are infinitely calm and most of us will never get deep enough to know it.

It’s a metaphor, of course, for the pits and swells of life. Most of us choose to get caught up in the drama of the waves, although most of us never quite realize it. The point of meditation as I’ve learned it is to dip under the variation of the waves and reside at the calm of the deep.

MagrittePipeSometimes a pipe really is a pipe.

Think about how much energy goes into ruminating over stupid stuff. And how much better it would be to devote that energy into something personally rewarding – writing or cooking or putting up a bat house on a north-facing tree in the yard to make my son happy and help the environment.

A stroll through a farmers market. Time spent alone with my father on a Wednesday morning because we can. The freedom to know yourself deeply and live your destiny.

pixar-up_00382816The way you get lost in a song performed live on a stage by a musician who is so swept up in the rhythm and the lyrics and the soul-reaching melody.

We are practiced at never feeling too deeply about the right things, erecting a shield around us for fear of getting hurt. And we are not not at all conversant in stopping the drama, putting it on a shelf and focusing on what really matters.

Sometimes a pipe is, truly, just a pipe.

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A World of Contradictions – or is it Juxtapositions?

passiton-positivityThe Facebook posts scroll through hate and war and terror to love and hope and brilliance. A woman posts her son’s first book. A friend poses in an optimistic way on a brilliant sunny beach with the word POSITIVITY stamped across the center of the photo. Another woman posts about her disabled daughter rising early, dressing herself and making breakfast for her brother.

Still another post forwards stories from the media that scare her. Cowering in the corner, we observe, we read, we lurk, we fear. We don’t actually live all the while we are posting and exclaiming and wondering and shaking.

What would your day be like if you shut off social media? Technology? Smart phones?

smartphone-kill-art-g7fpnv71-1smartphone-kill-switch-jpeg-05f66-jpgYesterday I sat in the green room at WDIV Channel 4 with a client and watched as two other groups of guests had palms open, smart phones resting there, gaze down at the screen rather than at each other or around the room to see where we actually stood. We did it too.

We connected outside of where we were instead of being in the moment. Then they went on the air. You can take pictures if you want, I was told, so I stood behind the tele-prompters and recorded the wonderful moments for my client and myself and then posted it all over the social-sphere.

It’s what we do.

Last weekend, at my retreat Up North, a participant got sick. She had a cold or something coming on as she drove north and it settled in fully so she took to her hotel bed and rested until it was time to go home. If I had been at home, she said, I would have worried about all the things I had to do. Here, I could just sleep.

moment2We shut out the world when we go away (or at least we try to) and we are better for it. In our everyday lives, we connect connect connect obsessively, as if afraid of missing, what exactly?

What would be the worst outcome if we shut down and stepped away for a day? Or a week?

Or our lives.

In Maine with my husband in June, we hiked trails where there was no signal. So we settled into the quiet and each other’s presence and the trees and the views and the ocean and the birds. And I pondered whether ascending or descending is harder and loved the metaphor.

Group meditation can change the world.

Group meditation can change the world.

Could the answer to all of the awful things in this world be as easy as shutting down our fears and turning on our intuition? What if every single terrorist sat down to meditate? What if we looked into another’s eyes and saw the humanity there, the similarity to our deepest selves? Would we put down our arms and take up another’s hand and breathe in the peace?

When I get quiet, I get happy. When I stop running, and planning, and checking off the to-do list, that’s where the peace lives.

I think of those days when I’ve got a packed schedule and one of my children wakes up sick. Cancel it all, and I am none the worse for it. And so I settle in on the couch with blankets with my little one and nurture them and love them and in the process love myself.

They say, we make plans and God laughs.

So today, as I venture forward to a breakfast meeting followed by a coffee meeting followed by a meeting-meeting followed by a long circuitous drive for a meeting about my next book, I’ll play the soothing music and breathe long and deep and remember that none of it matters, even while all of it does.

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From Scratch

“This is made from scratch in a home kitchen with the best ingredients,” the woman told us. She was pointing to artful cupcakes in plastic containers with homemade labels stuck to the top. “I once looked at the ingredients of the same cupcake I bought in the store, and there were like 20 more ingredients than I need!”

The Grayling, Michigan farmers market. Nice people. Good food.

The Grayling, Michigan farmers market. Nice people. Good food.

On the way Up North to our Writing + Yoga Retreat, Katherine and I pulled into a farmers market in Grayling. We bought the last strawberries of the season, two cartons of just-picked local blueberries, zucchini bread and strawberry-rhubarb bread for our post-sadhana breakfasts, and two German chocolate cupcakes.

From scratch. A funny phrase. Meaning by the work of my hands, in my own kitchen, with unadulterated ingredients I trust and know. From scratch.

The woman was right. When you make things yourself, you do it simply, with exactly what you need, no more, no less. You get it done. And it tastes good.

This is what you get when you buy store-made cupcakes. What, exactly, are we eating?

This is what you get when you buy store-made cupcakes. What, exactly, are we eating?

When we buy things all perfectly packaged and on a shelf in many stores across the nation, there is a uniformity that requires preservation, a long list of ingredients, many of which are so chemical in nature I have no idea what I’m eating.

For the past few months, I’ve been making this simple thermos lunch for the days when I don’t have a lunch meeting. It consists of a quarter cup of rice cooked just a short time with diced carrot, cut snap peas, spices exactly for my constitution, ghee, flax oil, salt and sometimes other veggies too – kale, red pepper, zucchini.

Simple, right? It is the absolute best lunch.

When I open the thermos in the office, the rice has plumped and all the liquid has been absorbed. It’s fluffy and warming and tasty. Filling. Everyone in the office says something, too. “Something smells good…”

Ingredients for my thermos lunch. Amazing. And so simple.

Ingredients for my thermos lunch. Amazing. And so simple.

The simplest things are often the best. Over the weekend, as I taught writing in the context of Finding Your Voice, I repeated the refrain that less is more.

In writing, that’s certainly true. If you can write a compelling, tight paragraph, you’re better off than long-winded page upon page. Say what you need to say, say it well, say it quick.

And let it sink in.

The German chocolate cupcake was delicious. It wasn’t huge like in my grocery store and it wasn’t sky-high with whipped frosting. It was simple. The caramel-coconut mixture on top that is signature to German chocolate was just enough – not skimpy, not overbearing.

And the chocolate cupcake was moist and light and tasty but not too strong in sugar or in chocolate or in anything.

Made from home. From Scratch. What it means and what it is supposed to mean are two very different things.

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Writing + Yoga Retreat Summer 2014

My view during morning meditation today. Perfect peace.

My view during morning meditation today. Perfect peace.

The trees are a hug, all around, full green, full bloom, fresh air. This weekend, the sun shone bright over the rolling landscape. I slept with the screen door open to the woods beyond.

The night brought perfect quiet and peace. It was as if we had stepped out of the crazy world for just a day or two, discovering that none of it needed to happen. None of the fighting, none of the war, none of the hate.

Still, it went on in other parts of the world. Here, we were inoculated against disturbance, going inward, writing and bending and stretching and finding the confidence to speak with our one true voice. Realizing that word can represent soul, and soul sits in the driver’s seat.

Morning yoga today at the Writing + Yoga Retreat with Lynne Golodner and Katherine Austin

Morning yoga today at the Writing + Yoga Retreat with Lynne Golodner and Katherine Austin

I started the weekend by asking, who are you? We end by answering, how do others see you and how does that make you feel?

I am remembering my trip to India a few months ago. The perfect quiet, the different kind of peace.

Stepping out of our lives even for a day – better for longer – shows us what matters and what doesn’t. We have to go away in order to come home.

I can’t imagine a better way to live. At this moment, I can’t imagine how I ever let anxieties and insecurities take me over. I am watching my lovely retreaters do a very special last yoga class with Katherine Austin at the lead and see people brave enough to let loose, to open up, to go free.

My room number at Shanty Creek. Auspicious week. Pray for what you want. You just might get it.

My room number at Shanty Creek. Auspicious week. Pray for what you want. You just might get it.

I can’t imagine a better way to live. The day begins with meditation and encounters hills and dips and flavors and scents along the way and then at the end, we slip into sleep, alive, bright, to awaken again as if for the first time.

I am so surrounded by love. From where I sit, it’s like a swirl of energy, big clouds I can’t see but know they are there. I see perfect wonderful precious souls in the people here. I see the beautiful people whom I call friends, who call me friend, who blanket my path with gold.

I can’t imagine a better way to live.

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