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Reader Experiences

What follows are some of the recent experiences and remembered stories offered by Talking Plants readers who, like many of us, turn to the garden for solace. Sometimes we find it. Sometimes not. All stories are welcome. My fondest wishes to all who have taken the time to write.
-- Ketzel

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I think it is important to continue gardening, or even take it up at this particular time. There is nothing like nurturing a garden to remind one of the cycles of life, birth, death, losses before time, and bounty.

I believe if more people grew some of their own food (even those without yards could have herb gardens or a small radish bed or other small vegetable box inside or on their balcony), the healthier we would be. The more removed we become from the land, and thus the knowledge of our food sources, the more materialistic and self-centered we become.

Gardening is a wonder to children. At the age of five, I had my first garden of my own. I was so proud. Most grammar schools have some type of project wherein they plant a seed, or put the proverbial avocado pip with toothpicks in water (I have a tree I began in that fashion); how excited the pupils are when the first green breaks the soil.

I am now in a townhouse, and have to make the most out of the patches of earth available. I try to plant a mixture of food plants for their practicality and flowers for their sheer beauty.

I find one of the most soothing things to do is the weeding by hand of my various plots. I am a Viet Nam vet, and I have heard that it is recommended for that category of men, especially those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, something I have been recently diagnosed with. Now I don't have to feel guilty about "wasting" time doing such mundane and time-consuming chores connected with tending my garden. I have a mandate for "playing" outside in the dirt!
-- Tesa

On September 11th the temperature was perfect, the sky was blue, only one small cloud low in the sky. As I got closer I saw the cloud was actually smoke pouring out of the World Trade Center. I watched the towers collapse and then could only think of getting home, so I walked, stopping at every pay phone trying to call my boyfriend, for about a hundred and thirty blocks to my 300 square foot studio in Upper Manhattan. Moving here six years ago from the wild and beautiful desert of the Southwest, my plants remind me of the wisdom of the non-man-made world that exists outside of "The City." I am famous among my friends for growing plants not usually grown inside, like strawberries, morning glories, and black-eyed-Susans. My goal is to cover every wall with plants so I can pretend I live outside. But now I live in New York and have no plans to leave. I am watering my basil plant with bottled water just in case, but as long as I can feel the energy of the u niverse in a little plant in a terra cotta pot, my ivies, palms, dragon trees, cacti, snake plants, jasmines, hibiscuses, orange trees, morning glories and I are staying right here.
-- Susan

A month later, I am still trying to get back to normal.

I, too, have found my garden to be therapeutic. I live in Denver, but had ordered a shipment of daylilies (Happy Returns, a rebloomer) from Connecticut. It was shipped the morning of September 11, intended for air delivery. My plants, too, were grounded, and then rerouted by truck. Eight days later the sawdust was dry and so were the bare roots, and no hint of green showed. I knew they wanted to live, though (plants really try hard at survival!), so I soaked them for an hour, then, after dark, dug a trench and put them into the good earth. Despite being re-dug and re-planted, they are now all green. Next year as they bloom, and bloom again, I will think of their will to survive, and see the blossoms as a memorial to those who did not.
-- Sally

Yes, I agree. At this time more than ever, we need to garden!

I started gardening about five years ago, when my father was transitioning. I would go to the garden and feel his presence near me. My father the master gardener who had tilled the soil so many, many years before me. And then as I began to throw my hands into the dark, rich soil, I felt his guidance so close to me. Sometimes, while I sometimes cried in knowing that I would loose him soon, I would be suddenly filled with a song and I would run into the house to write it down. Before this time I had only written poetry, not songs, and here they were coming to me as I tended my garden.

And so it was in the gardening that I mourned my father's leaving but was given the gift of songs.
-- Joyce

I found out about the attacks in New York while waiting in the Doctor's office with my youngest daughter. The doctor informed me about what was going on. My first thoughts were filled with fear for a cousin who lives 6 blocks away from what was the World Trade Center. I cannot describe my feelings during the 30-minute drive home, except that I cried most of the way. My first instinct upon reaching my hometown was to go to our chapel and pray and be with others who had gathered at the church. I talked about having so much to do at my nursery/garden center, but could not seem to concentrate. A friend urged me to get back to work and pot my iris for the coming spring. I took him up on it. I turned off the news, mixed soil, potted plants, listened to the birds and took in every bit of beauty from my Southern Appalachian home that I could. It was indeed very therapeutic. A sense of calm came over my being. Now, one month later, some of those irises are actually blooming. There is always hope.
-- Robin

For the past five growing seasons I have been a volunteer gardener and coordinator of other gardening volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House of Cleveland. This landscaped four acres was designed as a place of solace and relaxation for the 37 families that live in the house while their children are in treatment at local medical centers. The rear yard is completely visually cut off from the surrounding busy streets by a wide variety of large trees, shrubs, and vine covered fences. Concrete walks wind through the garden beds where every turn brings a new colorful perennial flower bed, a mass of sunflowers, or a sitting area surrounded by blooming shrub roses. There is even a handicapped access tree house completely surrounded by very large trees to give the feeling of being up in a tree while in reality the tree house is just a few feet above the ground.

Frequently parents will approach me to ask the names of plants and to comment on how much they appreciate the chance to relax in our gardens. Some of our families stay in touch with the staff after returning home and many talk of a renewed interest in gardening as a result of the healing effects of our garden during their stay in our house.
-- Bobbe

The day of the attacks, I was struck by how beautiful the day was: Sunny, with a clear blue sky, and a mild temperature; this in sharp contrast to the horrors under way. As I walked across the Key Bridge toward Virginia, the sun was shimmering on the Potomac, and in the distance I could see the billowing smoke at the Pentagon. I was deeply moved by the reminder, strong and clear, that life holds both extremes. I want the memorial ceremony at my daughter's school to be a way for the families in our community to share both our sorrow and our resolve, and I think beautiful, young trees do that very well.
-- Bridget

The Sunday after September 11, I planted 30 daylily bulbs that had arrived by mail on September 10. For me, the best way to cope with upset and distress is to go on about my life, which for me included planting lilies on that Sunday. I didn't expect it to be therapeutic, but it was. I carried my wind-up radio out into the yard and listened to NPR coverage of reaction to the bombings, including church services, interviews with families looking for their loved ones, phone-in shows, etc. I cried as I dug in the dirt, putting those bulbs in the ground, and I realized that I would never look at the flowers without thinking of all the people who died on September 11. I also realized that it was a positive sign that life continues, no matter how tragic the events that play out around us. I see the daylilies as a tribute to all those people who were killed. It soothed me to know that the lilies will grow, and even if I die next week, another gardener will look at the flowers and be glad that I planted them. Death truly is part of life, and working with plants is a reminder of that process of death and renewal.
-- Melissa

My flower and vegetable garden took on a whole new meaning on September 11, 2001. On my first visit to the garden on the afternoon of the 11th, my first thought was of all those people who perished and the fact they will never be able to enjoy the beauty of our earth again. I must have stood for a half hour or so looking at some towering sunflowers I had planted along a back fence. The huge faces, heavy with seed, were bowed. Each had a unique character, each in a unique stage of development just as the people who perished on the 11th.

When I went back to the house, I found my camera and drove to a nearby farm where there is an entire field of sunflowers. Going to photograph the sunflowers was something I had put off doing for days but that day it seemed to take on a sense of urgency. One of the photographs will be framed as a memorial with each sunflower representing an American who died.

Next spring I'll plant sunflowers again but instead of planting them as supports for the pole beans, I'll plant them to honor those who died on the September 11, 2001.
-- Linda

Yes, going back to the garden is a good thing. I live in the city so I have a small yard but it's mine!! I made a lawn into a garden last fall by covering the grass with layers of newspaper and more soil. Ehen the place was dug up it was ready to be a garden in the fall.

All of this is to say maybe we got too far away from what life is all about... Maybe we got in a bubble and saw only our way. With gardening the wisdom and the lessons are abundant, teaching without preaching and letting us goof but still grow! I am not sure what the wisdom is this time but I am hopeful because I am planting spring bulbs with confidence.
-- Lynne

Like you, I was obsessed with news coverage for several days, but I finally got back to my summer-long project of hand-weeding my lawn. As I was pulling out an unwelcome clump of grass, I got to noticing the thatch and all of the little bugs I could see in it like roly polies and centipedes. Then I thought about all of the little organisms I couldn't see. I thought about it all and what a complex miracle our world is, and I felt calm and I felt hope.
-- Mindy

As I was driving down the highway the Friday after the bombings, I felt myself falling into a deepening despair. My son had witnessed the plane "bury itself into the Pentagon" and he found himself a firsthand witness to the "murder of hundreds of people" (his words). His angst and mine were overwhelming me.

And then I drove by a garden center. As a mental health professional, one of the therapeutic tools I have used for years has been to suggest the planting of trees for grieving parents, siblings and mates. "That's it!" I thought to myself. "I need to plant something. Something that will be around for a while."

I just finished my project, and as I type this, I am listening to the sound of the water as it sprays my new plants. And it comforts me. I dug and I cried and I prayed. I ranted and tried to understand as I felt the earth in my hands. I trimmed and pruned and walked through my garden. I felt connected and grounded and came to understand that there is still a universal rhythm as I watched the hummingbirds, butterflies and bees go about their business.

I still hurt. But, that's OK. I listen to the voices of the hurt and they will tell me what to do next. Gardening is a meditation. Planting is good.
-- Judy

Well, I won't be planting trees as a memorial, but seeds, as an affirmation. There is, as you no doubt guess, a story behind them.

I subscribe to several gardening e-lists. Last fall, a gardener in England offered seeds of several plants growing in his garden. I contacted him, and he agreed to send me seed, refusing any postage. Well, the seeds never arrived. I figured they were lost in the mail, and that was that.

On the afternoon of Sept 11, 2001, the mailman delivered a package from England. Inside was a bounty of seeds and a letter. Rick wrote that the original package was returned to him, early in the new year, as undeliverable. He searched for my address, but wasn't able to find it. He is a member of the North American Rock Garden Society, and when the new roster arrived in July, he checked for my name. Then collected fresh seed at the end of summer and sent it off to me. So, on a day of horror, I was reminded of the kindness of people, by the generosity of a gardener.

Over the last few weeks, we have come together as a country, and as people of Earth. I cried when our anthem was played at Buckingham Palace, I smiled when a collection was started to buy protective booties for the search dogs, and I near burst with pride when my sons dropped their allowance in a Red Cross collection box. Across the ocean is a stranger, who, because we are "brothers of the spade," saved seeds for me for over a year.

So, the seeds will be planted as an affirmation that there are more good people in the world than evil ones, that acts of darkness, even great acts of darkness, cannot extinguish the light of all the small acts of goodness that happen every day.
-- Lisa

It is the beauty of a garden that keeps me there... and the enduring hope that beckons me year after year to plant new seeds and plants... and then the miracle pushes up through the ground... and the beauty again appears and covers the earth... bringing to the beholder... only joy.

Perhaps only other gardeners will understand... why, when a world is turned upside down... the only recourse that brings solace is to immerse into the beauty of the garden. There I find hope and God... and peace.
-- Willa

I'm a Horticulture Therapist and was delighted to hear you talking about how gardening heals and can get one through very difficult times. I wish there was some way to make people more aware of gardening and tuning in to the cycles of Nature as healing and transforming. I am also an instructor in the Horticulture Therapy certificate program at the New York Botanical Garden and am constantly talking this up with my students. It was very encouraging to read in the newspapers that a number of psychologists and mental health professionals have been suggesting that this is a time to go to parks and public gardens and let Nature help us with our grief and loss. Some friends of mine released 40 monarch butterflies that they had hatched on the morning of the 11th just before they learned of the tragedy. They are cloistered nuns and the significance and symbolism of that act is very powerful.
-- Lee

I have a pea patch at the home of some friends. Yanking out weeds and snipping off the yellow flowers of my pumpkin plants two days after the attack was very satisfying. Hearing the roar of a commercial jet overhead as it left PDX was one of the most joyful noises I've heard in the aftermath. I'll never complain about having my conversations drowned out ever again.

The next day, I went for a hike around the lake. It was so comforting to look up at the Douglas Firs and Cedars. I realized, there were here before the attack and they are still here. It was so nice to have those constants.

Hearing you with Scott was yet another indication that life is getting as close to back to normal as it's going to.
-- Kelly in Vancouver, WA (America's Vancouver)

Hearing your words about the healing nature of our gardens affirmed my own experience. It has been wonderful in the last painful weeks to see the amazing display of flags throughout neighborhoods. They are an encouraging symbol of our collective strength and resilience. But they are less than the experience of being in a garden where the ultimate strength of life goes on. Growth, beauty, and harmony are there. The experience of peace is there. It is not a thought or metaphor. We need to live our experiences of peace and harmony and balance no matter how much ugliness is in the world. Walking through my garden seeing the beautiful colors and textures, pulling out a weed and creating better order is my experience of peace.
-- TS

I just heard your discussion with Scott Simon on NPR about getting back to the garden in the midst of all this shared pain and I too am definitely experiencing a feeling of revitalization whilst gardening. After the attacks I felt utterly drained, totally consumed by grief and really wondering what the point of living was. That sounds very dramatic, especially considering that in my personal life everything is steady, stable, comfortable and full of friends and love. But I guess it is a very common feeling amongst the more sensitive types, even at the best of times I can tap into despair pretty readily when I hear news of tragedy.

My husband is a firefighter and, true to his nature, he has been steadfast and supportive while I slip into tears every day or so. For both of us our adventure in backyard landscaping has been keeping us focused on the present and looking forward to the future of watching things grow. Our yard is all fenced in with cedar and has a lovely arbour built above a garden gate, all built by my husband Todd -- his first fence! The other day sitting in a bed with my back against the fence it felt so peaceful and private, together we have created a space, an environment, a place for things to grow. It gives me hope. I will water and feed these plants and in the spring they will burst anew, thrive, and give beauty. I pray that we will all feel the renewal of spring in our hearts, that it will be a time of healing, rebuilding, and growing a safer and more loving world. God bless you and your garden.
-- Cathie

I heard you on NPR from Cherryville, North Carolina. I couldn't agree more in that the best way to keep our sanity dealing with loss of a loved one is outside in the garden. I never tire of being outside either doing chores or working on canvas (my planting beds). It just amazes me that I can get tired standing up to the counter inside doing some cooking - or housecleaning (ugh!), but never get tired working outside no matter how much back breaking things I have done for hours on end.

Born and raised in Gresham I know how wonderful gardening is in Oregon with the beautiful loamy soil. If only I could truck some of that soil out here to North Carolina, but alas I have to make do with amending our naturally clay soil with compost, cow manure, etc.

My son lives in the Hawthorne district and I spent a week with them at the end of July. Perfect weather!!! When I flew in to Portland and saw those big fir trees my heart flipped flopped and I almost cried to be returning to the place where as a child I took for granted looking toward the east seeing the sun peeking over Mt. Hood, seeing lightening flash over Larch Mountain and those wonderful fir trees.
-- Suzanne

Your Sept. 29 conversation with Scott Simon about the Sept. 11 tragedy brought us your splendid idea for a memorial: a forest of 6,000+ trees! You may be interested in my "Letter to the Editor" published Sept. 18 in the Roseburg, Oregon, News Review:

To: News Review Public Forum:

As we join our fellow citizens in mourning the terrible tragedies in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, we frantically search for ways to help. What can we do? We write our checks to the Red Cross or Salvation Army. We make an appointment to give blood. We try to comfort the very young people we know. But what does our relatively small-in-population county possibly have to offer those faraway city people? How can we help?

We have precious gifts to give: here in Douglas County, we live with (and take for granted) precious natural wonders that many easterners do not have, that the majority have never seen or visited. At such time as the tragedies' survivors or their children or grandchildren start to recover, we will be able to provide the solace and peace and restorative powers of our Douglas County forests, lakes, rivers, streams, waterfalls, mountains, wildflower meadows, beaches, ocean, clean air, scenic trails and highways.

And how else can we help? For example, if every family and classroom in Douglas County were to plant several trees or shrubs as memorials to individuals lost in the tragedies, in the future their survivors could visit or see pictures of "their" trees as well as our other natural wonders. The memory of the thousands killed would live on here as well as in their own lives. An added benefit, the process of planting a tree helps to assuage grief in adults and most certainly in children.

Douglas County is blessed with an astonishing array of native plants, trees and shrubs -- some say as many as in any county in North America. From helping with the tree exhibit at the annual Glide Wildflower Show, I know for fact of dozens of species of native hardwood and coniferous trees, ranging from the subalpine fir along the Pacific Crest Trail at 9000 feet near the eastern boundary of the county, to the majestic old Sitka spruce near Reedsport on the coast. An excellent information source is Trees to Know in Oregon, published by the extension service at OSU and available for a reasonable price from the extension office here in Roseburg.

Perhaps local offices of our national and state agencies -- Forest Service, BLM and the State Department of Forestry -- would be able to advise us as to when and where to plant.
-- Dorothy

My daughter is a senior gardener at the Powell Gardens just outside Kansas City, MO. She worked last year on the island garden and now has stewardship for the gardens around the visitors center. I spent a day working with her and her colleagues as a volunteer a couple of weeks ago. It is always a wonderful and renewing experience to be in the dirt with them. They live from a heart and soul that so many of my business colleagues have lost touch with.

Last week I dug out the grass in the strip between the sidewalk and the street. I put planting mix and home made compost (horse manure and shredded oak leaves) in to amend the soil. I planted asters and mums that my daughter gave me. The asters developed a powdery mildew. I had to discard them. It rained really hard and I had to put in a temporary dam across the driveway so the water would not erode the soil out of the new bed. I have yet to level the bed out and put stones around it. I will also put soaker irrigation in it. The bed will have blooming flowers all year into perpetuity.

And I did all that instead of writing on my book that I am trying to get done by the end of the year. But I needed to do it. My heart needed it done.
-- Pete

I left my home not long after hearing of the WTC tragedy to spend time in the Community Garden I am a member of. The garden is under the flight path of San Diego's Lindbergh field. I knew it would be quiet on that morning. A strange turnaround on "quiet."

The Front and Juniper Community Garden (owned by our airport governing body -- the San Diego Port District -- and leased to our nonprofit) exists because it is in the flight (landing) path. A tall building was purchased by the port district to be torn down as a landing safety factor. Somehow an activist gardener lobbied and got the community garden lease.

The garden is a wonder of the variety of gardening philosophies and choices.

I was saddened that some gardeners were fearful of being under a flight path. I was delighted to be interrupted by an overflight. Overflights mean that a plane, its crew and passengers, are close to a safe landing.

The garden -- so elemental -- is safety to me.
-- Pam

Since 9-11-01, a day has not gone by that I have not teared up or cried. NPR has been my refuge and comfort from noon on the 11th, when I went home to jog, which I do almost every day.

Today, I heard you and Scott Simon and your statement that there will always be a spring made me cry again. For all of us, this has been such an awful time. I wish you and yours a happy New Year and thank you for your wonderful words. Scott Simon's essay last week on Jerry Falwell also made me cry.

I hope you are back hard at work in your garden, which I love to do as well, and thanks again.
-- Norman

We know how you feel! My wife and I have great empathy with your listeners/readers. We too thought about how our garden brought us solace. It led to some real action on our part. We started the Pennsylvania Memorial Garden Fund. The goal of the fund is to obtain the property at or near the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93 in western Pennsylvania and turn it into a Memorial Garden for all the victims of terrorism on September 11, 2001. The garden could serve as a quiet reminder that life is beautiful and precious, yet fragile.

We have had great input and a bit of press coverage (we heard we even got a little press on NPR, although somehow, we missed it!). We have had offers of help from all over and expression of support from many, many people.

If you want more information or have some ideas or suggestions for us, we would love to hear from you. Also, you can visit our web site
-- SMB

I sobbed the week of September 11, in the morning, at night, during my commute, and at work.

On Friday I finally turned off the radio, went home early, and struck out into the garden. I had read an article in Organic Gardening about "a chicken in every backyard," and, for some reason, the idea of a plucky hen stepping about in my garden, eating slugs, depositing manure, and laying eggs brought a glimmer of hope back in all that darkness.

I thought about chickens as I gardened, and felt, in both thought and deed, that there were tiny good things in the world, and progress to be made despite the hopelessness and horror. Chickens are chickens, and they eat slugs whether or not we're at war. And flowers have no concern for humans, but they bloom when we need them to.
-- Heather

It's my habit to listen to the radio for keeping up with current events, but when I woke on Tuesday morning, September 11th, I turned on the television for the morning news.

I turned it on to find videos of the first plane flying into the tower and then watched as the videos came in of the second plane flying into the other tower. Glued to my television, I watched in horror for several hours as the news station continued to show the events over and over.

It was difficult to understand what had happened. I was in shock. When I could hardly breathe anymore, I went outside and spent the rest of the day working on a new border that I had been creating in my garden.

I had to touch the velvety brown earth and the green plants. I had to see the life there and be in touch with something that was real to me. The scenario I had witnessed on the news was surreal and too horrifying. Prayers for all rolled from my heart through the day as I dug and planted and tended to the needs of a new planting.

I have had a hard time for the last two weeks. Often I am in tears. My thoughts have teetered between the need for and knowing that life goes on and wondering what kind of terrible world this is.

Last Saturday I went to an agricultural seminar. The day was warm and clear as I drove the back roads from Salem to McMinnville. Farm activity was evident at every point along the way. There was peace. There was life. Farming goes on. The warm fall sun began to melt the icy grip of the past weeks events. I felt the seed of hope spring to life in my heart. Healing can begin.
-- Bonnie

I did not work in my garden the day the Towers came down. I could not summon the will power to look away, to stop listening. Like all of us I was absolutely helpless to offer any assistance, much less strike back. I could only play the role of witness, and I did that. It was almost more than I could stand.

The next day, when I could not watch more of the ongoing television coverage, I did what needed doing in the garden. And the day after that as well. I watered and weeded. I picked beans, removed spent blossoms from marigolds, and harvested small watermelons and some basil. The question, "How can you garden at a time like this?" never even entered my thinking. How could it? The simple chores of gardening have got me through so many troubles in my life, so often provided that here-and-now focus I need when stress threatens to overwhelm me. And I have never needed that stability the way I needed it the week of the attack. The immediacy of gardening, these normal acts that only gardeners can know and love, gave me something to turn to when I just could not be the respectful witness any more, when I had seen and heard too much. I needed a world that, for a brief time, knew nothing and cared nothing for terrorists, exploding buildings, and ruined lives. The garden is where I turned for that relief. I found it, a little peace and quiet, and when I caught my breath on the evening of Friday, September 14th, I was able to go out and sit by the curb with my wife and our neighbors, where we lit our candles and tried to understand what had happened to our world.
-- Thomas

There is no more hopeful act than to care for a garden. We plant and prune and tend for results we might not see for several seasons. Gardening is our hope for tomorrow and our trust in the future. I hope, I trust, therefore I dig.
-- Susan

I have a day lilly from my Babka (grandmother) who immigrated before WWI. The flower blooms for 50 years of people who didn't, for the love of family that isn't. Growth is basic and going on with peace, life and love in ANY way is the only way to heal in this life. If we submit to feelings of terror, anger, hate we add to the problem.

So, my dear young one, do not leave off of NPR! We need your voices and stories! "Nu", my lettuce is 1/2 to 3/4 inches tall; the edges are just beginning to get rippled. Radishes have grown to show which are red, pink and white... I don't think that I'll get more tomatoes but the new plants are too happy growing in the grand application of compost - compost that is death, rot, garbage - and yet what a glorious product in the end!
-- F.C.C.

Following the terrorist attacks on September 11th, I was listless, dull, depressed. My children even played quietly and whispered in my presence. Then, one day, I looked out the kitchen window as I listened to more reports of the falling stock market and citizens' fears for the future and I saw something terrible; my tomato plant had overrun my rosebush.

It was huge, a monster, taking over a place I had never offered it with no regard for the rose's need for sunshine and breathing room. I dashed to the laundry room and donned my war gear. Carrhart overalls, Wellies, leather gloves, cutters, baseball cap. As I approached the intruder, it became clear that tools were not going to do the job. Only my bare hands would do. I lit into that tomato plant and forced it from my rose. I removed unnecessary limbs and freed my delosperma from its massive clutches. Verbena once again felt the light of day.

When the tomato was finally tamed, I began to notice other weedy intruders in my garden. It was clear that I needed help. I called to my children and we labored together, putting our little world right. At the end of the evening, we stood looking proudly over a breathtaking pile of large weeds and a garden that could now show off its flowers and textures. Our little world was right again. The children laughed and shouted. I went inside and turned off the radio. It was time to begin living again.
-- Elizabeth

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