Lou Gehrig: The stricken hero was ‘The Luckiest Man …’

By BENJAMIN PRATT

THIS WEEK, as millions of us celebrate Independence Day—Americans also are remembering an inspiring moment that happened 75 years ago in New York City, when a man stricken with a disorder that eventually would kill him declared himself, “The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth.” As I am publishing this column, fresh news stories about this anniversary are popping up in newspapers nationwide—from the Wall Street Journal to Newsday.

Once rivals, on July 4, 1939, Babe Ruth enthusiastically hugged Lou Gehrig, who had announced he was dying and at the same time declared himself "The Luckiest Man."

Once rivals, on July 4, 1939, Babe Ruth enthusiastically hugged Lou Gehrig, who had announced he was dying and at the same time declared himself “The Luckiest Man.”

The man who made that declaration was Lou Gehrig, “The Iron Horse”—first baseman for the Yankees in the 1920s and 1930s, when baseball was by far the most popular sport in America. He earned his nickname for the strength and endurance he showed throughout his career. Gehrig played 2,130 games in a row from 1925 to 1939. He had a .340 career batting average with 493 home runs. He drove in more than 100 runs in 13 consecutive seasons.

In 1939, at age 36, everything changed for Lou Gehrig. In the spring he lacked energy, looked thinner and less confident at first base and in the batter’s box. His performance was so poor that he removed himself from the Yankee lineup. He went to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota where he was diagnosed with amyotropic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, the rare, debilitating disease that attacks the body’s nervous system. It was eventually called Lou Gehrig’s disease. So Gehrig, one of our country’s most revered sportsmen, knew he would become more and more helpless.

That summer, Gehrig agreed to go public with his diagnosis. His fans clamored for a way to show their love for him. That groundswell led to the July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day and a special program between the first and second games of a double header. Gehrig was surrounded by his Yankee teammates, including his former rival Babe Ruth. They were joined by their friends once known as “Murderers’ Row”—for the ruthless power that Yankees lineup showed in the 1927 World Series. The festivities included the retirement of Gehrig’s Number 4.

When Gehrig himself stood before the microphones, he began:

“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.”

Gehrig turned to thank his many friends in baseball, concluding: “Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky.”

But then Gehrig did something unusual. He talked about his family—the people who would become his circle of caregivers. He started by poking fun at his wife and mother-in-law: “When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter—that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body—it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed—that’s the finest I know.”

He ended his brief talk this way: “I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.”

The crowd applauded for two minutes!

Many friends rushed to offer Gehrig new roles that this great star might fill in his waning years. The only one Gehrig accepted was an appointment by New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia to serve in a special post granting parole to some of the city’s more deserving prisoners. Gehrig refused to allow any media coverage of his work, in this role, but he did pay many visits to correctional facilities to help prisoners who might deserve paroles.

He never complained. “Don’t think I am depressed or pessimistic about my condition,” he said at one point.

Then, just shy of two years after his Appreciation Day, on June 2, 1941, Gehrig was gone.

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM ‘THE LUCKIEST MAN’?

Benjamin Pratt cover Guide for CaregiversNo, none of us is Lou Gehrig. No one could be. But consider this …

When I was interviewing for my book, Guide For Caregivers, I constantly heard from caregivers about the remarkable people they were serving—and about the sense of purpose and courage they shared in facing tough odds. Many caregivers across our nation understand the kind of attitude Lou Gehrig expressed 75 years ago.

One of the most moving statements I heard, in my research, was from the father of his disabled son, who came home wounded from his military service. Here are just a few of that father’s words to me:

“Since my son got wounded I have often thought how I wish we could get our life back—you know, as it was—comfortable, simple, and familiar. And, I often felt angry or jealous, as well as guilty, for thinking I wanted my life back. …

“But, the unexpected just happens to us and we are coping. We are on the front line—in the trenches—all day—every day. This is our life … and our lives have to be lived as best we can. Our son was doing his job when that damn bomb went off. None of us will ever get back to the life we had.

“One thing feels pretty strange to me now—I’ve never felt more like I have a reason to stay alive than I do now.”

No, this proud father never called himself the world’s “luckiest man.” But I do know that he is deeply grateful and his life is full of purpose.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Why caregiving is fuel for ‘church growth’

By the Rev. Dr. BENJAMIN PRATT
Author of The Guide for Caregivers

Benjamin Pratt cover Guide for Caregivers

CLICK the cover to visit the bookstore.

When I talk to groups of clergy and lay people, many of them are surprised to hear that expanding their caregiving ministries is in their own self interest. It’s true!

Most often, I’m talking to Christian groups, where “church growth” is always a No. 1 concern. But, the principles I share with groups (and in my book) are effective in fueling “congregational growth” in general. So take today’s column to heart, as well, if you are part of a synagogue, temple or mosque.

Here’s a prime example: On a recent Saturday morning, I helped to present a public forum drawing on my book, A Guide For Caregivers. A United Methodist congregation hosted the event and promoted it to the interfaith community and the general public. Weary caregivers from all parts of the community gratefully attended—and kept the interchange going more than an hour longer than planned! Tears and laughter flooded the room as we all shared our different stories.

Gratitude to the United Methodist church for hosting this event was effusive. Members of that congregation told me that they were getting involved in this kind of outreach because they realized they have been under-serving the needs of caregivers in their own community. They resolved to seek new and creative ways to support caregivers and care receivers.

Convince your congregation to get involved

For this special column, I invited friends to help me make the case that caregiving is, indeed, fuel for congregational growth.

ReadTheSpirit Editor DAVID CRUMM, this week, was the emcee of an annual one-day conference in southeast Michigan for religious and health-care leaders to hear from experts about the importance of collaborating on health and caregiving. One of the first questions David got from religious leaders was: How can we convince people that this is central to our religious mission?

United Methodist website on caregivers helping families of disabled veterans

CLICK this thumbnail image to visit a United Methodist website, where a recent article reports on the widespread needs of American families caring for disabled veterans. The denomination’s founder, John Wesley, taught that healthcare should be a high priority in congregational life.

David told the crowd …

“Anyone who tells you that our congregations aren’t in the business of health and wellness doesn’t know much about the history of the great Abrahamic faiths. Judaism and Islam have ancient codes for health and wellness. For Christians, Jesus spent more time on health concerns than almost any other issue. There wouldn’t be modern hospitals today without the mission of the Catholic church centuries ago. And United Methodists who hesitate to get involved? They should remember that their founder John Wesley (1703-1791) felt so strongly about meeting the health-care needs of parishioners that he wrote a medical handbook (published in 1747) to aid the countless families in his era who could not afford medical care.”

MARTIN DAVIS, a contributor to this online magazine and head of SLC: Sacred Language Communications, consults with congregations and often hears the objection: “I don’t have time for one more program!”

Martin sent these thoughts to share with you …

I hear that objection from overburdened church leaders, who are stressed and yet feel the pressure to add more ministries: feeding programs, energy programs, education programs, healthcare programs, music programs, outreach programs—and on and on. The problem comes when church leaders contemplate “programs” they must fund, support with volunteers and administer—rather than focusing on the core mission of their faith communities.

Health care is a prime example. The Parish Nursing movement is a good and powerful program that emerged in the 1970s that is today growing, especially among larger congregations with resources to hire parish nurses. But my message to congregations is: You don’t need to hire a parish nurse to provide care. Caregiving is as basic as “love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s that simple.

LDS Mormon website page on caregiving and disability resources

CLICK this thumbnail image to visit the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints website covering a wide range of disability concerns to help caregivers within the Mormon church. Within this website, individual pages look at common issues in various kinds of physical and mental health.

And, yes, energizing your congregation to take caregiving seriously also is complicated. That is … if you want to provide effective care and really touch lives in your community.

Over the years, I have been impressed by the way the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) incorporates many levels of caregiving into daily life in Mormon congregations. They accomplish this through several smart policies: 1. They keep their congregations (called wards) small, so that people get to know one another. 2. They stress that we are God’s hands and feet on earth as much as they stress the life to come. 3. They embrace the practice of genuinely caring for one’s neighbors, from regular home visits to assistance with job placement and even emergency stocks of food.

If a family member loses a job, the community knows and rallies to support that person—and their family—to right the ship. And if illness strikes, the community is there to provide whatever support is required. And, they do this without professional clergy or paid staff. They do this out of a commitment to one another born of a deep faith in God.

As I write this, you should know: I’m not Mormon myself and I’m not suggesting the LDS church is better than all others. But, I am suggesting that their orientation is solid: Faith in God animates action in this life, because we are the feet and hands of God on this earth.

Is caregiving fuel for “church growth”? Just look at the statistics on growth in the LDS church!

Care to read more?

KEEP IN TOUCH WITH WE ARE CAREGIVERS: Our online magazine regularly reports on caregiving issues, sharing ideas and inspiration from various authors and experts. Click on the link in the upper right corner for “updates by email” and be sure you are receiving our free email alerts to new stories. Among the past We Are Caregivers columns you’ll find useful:

BEST-SELLING AUTHORS URGE CONGREGATIONS TO GET INVOLVED: While you’re signing up for our email newsletters, be sure to get our weekly ReadTheSpirit newsletter, sent out each Monday afternoon. That way you won’t miss our trademark author interviews, which often touch on caregiving. Among our most popular author interviews on this subject:

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

 

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The cry of the disabled caregiver: “I’m not a good patient!”

“I lay ill through several weeks, and the usual tenor of my life became like an old remembrance. But this was not the effect of time so much as of the change in all my habits made by the helplessness and inaction of a sick-room. My housekeeping duties, though at first it caused me great anxiety to think that they were unperformed, were soon as far off as the oldest of the old duties. … I had never known before how short life really was and into how small a space the mind can put it.”
Esther in Bleak House, by Charles Dickens

“Step 1 of learning to walk in the dark is to give up running the show. Next you sign a waiver that allows you to bump into some things that may frighten you at first.”
Barbara Brown Taylor in Learning to Walk in the Dark

By BENJAMIN PRATT,
author of Guide for Caregivers

Hair Pulling StressHave you lived through this reversal of roles? As a caregiver, you suddenly find yourself in the role of care-receiver!

You’ve probably raised the cry of the disabled caregiver: “I’m not a good patient!”

Read my story—and you’re likely to nod your head. It was a serious problem involving one of my feet that flipped the roles in our household: My wife Judith, who has occasional periods of disability, suddenly was caring for me! I freely admit that I’m a bad patient, primarily because of my im-patience. And, if I’m honest, my pride.

One day, when Judith slipped out of the house to buy a few groceries, I was nestled in my chair, reading. I was under strict orders from my doctor and my caregiver-wife to stay off my feet. So, as she departed, I was fixed in the chair, foot elevated to reduce the persistent swelling from my recent surgery and a four-month-long infection.

When she returned, she went about tucking goodies into the pantry and refrigerator. She slipped in a wry comment, “I see you had a visitor while I was gone. It was so nice of whomever to wash the few dishes in the sink.”

I sucked air, shuffled and hurumphed, saying, “I stood on one leg while I washed those dishes.”

“So, you hopped over here on one leg?” she retorted.

“I can’t stand, pun intended, not doing my share of housekeeping duties.”

Again she retorted with a wry grin, “Guess what? This is one more day you are not going to receive a smiley face sticker!”

This was one of the lighter, more playful exchanges over recent days. I have not transitioned well from being a caregiver to being a care receiver. I have been obstinate, willful, sometimes making her my enemy and not my friend. This switch of roles has forced me to examine my motivations and my behavior.

I reluctantly confess how proudly I identified as a caregiver. The role fit my persona and reinforced my sense of purpose and identity. I invested so much of myself in that role that I became too proud to receive care. I am facing the reality that I resisted letting another love and care for me. I have been boldly confronted with my stubbornness and resistance to love and grace. I have selfishly held on to being only a giver; resisted being a receiver. I definitely need to accept, even encourage, another’s gift of care.

I have been a patient a few times in my life but never for the duration nor gravity of this occasion. When I was in my early thirties, I broke both my arms at the same time and was totally helpless for a month. This four month stint of infection, out of control blood pressure, and finally a surgery (and possibly another ahead), undergirded with the reality of my age, has thrust the life questions of health, mobility, place of residence and purpose of life all center and forefront. Oh, and did I mention, aging comes at a most inconvenient time!

Over the years, I have used my imagination to foster empathy and compassion as a caregiver. It is clear to me now that my imagination has lacked what only living the experience of patient can teach. Imagination pictures that living with a wounded foot makes one or two vertical steps seem like a hill. Actually living with a wounded foot can make one step feel like stepping across the Grand Canyon.

Then, a week ago, journalist David Briggs—who reports on new research for the Association of Religion Data Archives—posted a column on a new study making this very point: “In a culture that prizes rugged individualism, and can interpret personal needs as a sign of weakness, many Americans find it is more acceptable to give than to receive. Yet the blessings appear to multiply when you are able to do both, according to new research. Americans who both meet the needs of others and are cared for in a nurturing community are much more likely to love and trust their neighbors.”

The research makes sense, doesn’t it?

Sitting where the other sits is surely the best way to foster our empathy and compassion. If only every preacher would sit in the pew; every jailer behind the bars; every wealthy person roam the streets at night; every white be a person of color; every man, a woman; every caregiver, a patient—we might become a more hospitable world.

I’m still a bad patient—but I am starting to feel more grateful for my experience. How about you? What’s your experience?

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‘Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?’

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

Have you had one of these conversations?

A colleague and I were talking about our parents a couple of weeks ago, swapping stories about our fathers. Hers has been declining for years, but a fresh episode was troubling her. My father passed away last year. As we talked, the stories began to sound like—well, they began to sound like things we shouldn’t even say out loud. We were talking honestly. If you’re a veteran caregiver, you can fill in the rest of this story. You know right away the troubling kinds of issues we were discussing.

Roz Chast book cover Cant We Talk About Something More Pleasant

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

It was a good talk! We laughed. We felt better.

As we were getting ready to leave, I said, “These are the things that no one talks about, but really should.”

Fast forward a week or so and I found myself listening to an interview with Roz Chast on NPR. She became the sole caretaker of her two elderly parents and she shares both the pain of this process and the laughter (and, yes, there is laugher, too). I immediately related to her new book: Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? A Memoir. That link takes you right to Amazon, but if you want to listen to Roz on NPR, you’ll find two different interviews: Here’s the All Things Considered interview; and here’s the Fresh Air interview.

I find myself thoroughly relating to much of Roz’s book. Told in a way that only a cartoonist can, I am getting great relief from enjoying another person’s tale of life in my shoes. In her memoir, Roz certainly dares to tell the often unspoken “rest of the story.”

So this week my recommendation is: Check it out and let us know what you think.

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Your body won’t lie. Your mind will!

By BENJAMIN PRATT,
Author of Guide for Caregivers and contributing columnist

A moment of stress by N Renaud via Wikimedia CommonsBoth of our daughters were ill at the same time recently, and they live 1000 miles apart. No, they are not twins. It was just coincidence. Nothing serious really—each complained of being worn out, tired, no energy, exhausted, congested, aching.

Our older daughter described it by saying, “I just needed to drop out for a few days and have an affair with my couch.”

Neither left her couch for three days.

Both are in their 40s, leading very different lives, yet they have a few things in common—endless work and constant stress from self-demanding standards. Confession time: They got it from their parents.

Our older daughter is a successful businesswoman who devotes untold hours to charity work. Among her many time commitments are serving as a regional board member for the American Red Cross—plus fund-raising and development for a local museum and the regional symphony and for a local child care center related to her church. She is also a key creative player in the annual book festival for her city.

Our younger daughter is a 4th Grade teacher in a Texas border city. She works 7 to 7 most school days and juggles the demands of her family, with children’s sports and school functions.

I talked briefly to both of them on their lie-down weekend. I, of course, had to drop in my fatherly advice: “Your body won’t lie. Your mind will! Your mind will tell you that you are able to do one more task. But at some point, your body will just shut down and demand a rest. I think that is what is going on at this moment. If you don’t listen to your body and treat it better it will get sick.”

They politely listened, but I strongly suspect they will not follow my sage advice much more than I did myself at their age.

When I teach caregivers I often take a bottle of water and hold it out at arm’s length and ask its weight.

The replies come back: “Six ounces?” “Twelve ounces?”

Then I ask, “If I hold it like this for an hour, how much does it weigh?”

Smiles begin to appear.

Finally I ask: “If I hold it for 24 hours? A week? A month? A year? Five years?”

I pause, as they are nodding with me, and I say: “Now you know the weight of stress!”

I have a good friend whose mother died recently. Nearly seven years ago she retired from a position she loved to become the caregiver of her mother whose physical and mental capacities were diminishing rapidly. Her mother was finally placed in a nursing home where my friend visited her daily. She continued to go each day, even when her mother only rarely recognized her or expressed any appreciation for the visits. As if this was not enough stress, her husband developed serious heart problems. My friend was a caregiver on two fronts.

Not long before her mother died, my friend began having problems talking. Her voice became raspy and could barely be heard above a whisper. She has had extensive tests which reveal no physical abnormalities in her throat or larynx.

Her doctor simply said, “Have all the muscles in your neck always been so tight?”

“No,” she replied, “Only in the recent years that I have been under a lot of stress as a caregiver.” She says that the voice lessons she is now taking are helping, but it will be a long recovery.

It is well for each of us caregivers to remember that our bodies won’t lie—our minds will.

Be tender toward yourself.

Listen to your body.

BENJAMIN PRATT’s recent columns include “Simple Gratitude for Simple Gifts” and “Did I Say Anything about Anger.”

Recovering in a bath Becky Wetherington via Wikimedia Commons

PHOTOS today are not Benjamin’s daughters. Both photos were contributed for public use via Wikimedia Commons. Top photo was taken by N. Renaud of Canada; bottom photo was taken by Becky Wetherington.

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International Pay It Forward Day: Let’s Keep It Going!

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

Here’s a challenge:

Let’s keep it going. International Pay It Forward Day came and went last week. (Dr. Wayne Baker wrote a whole series of stories about the importance of this idea.)

But please remember: The whole point of this “day” is to keep it going. The campaign seems to be working. Paying it forward has been gaining momentum over the years. I know of some friends who honor their mother’s birthday by paying it forward and encouraging others to do the same on that day. It’s a nice tribute for a woman who was very generous with her time and talents.

Card for Pay It Forward Day

Want the “official card” as a reminder? Click this snapshot to learn where to download and print one to carry in your pocket.

I had the opportunity to pay it forward (or backwards, depending how you view it), this week, in the drive thru while getting my morning coffee. I picked up the tab for the person behind me. Did the person appreciate it? Did he, in turn, and pay for the next car? I have no idea. I do know it made me feel good—and it made for a good start to my day. Hopefully it improved his day as well.

Why am I writing about this in our We Are Caregivers column? Because, as caregivers, we often are overburdened, stressed, and tired. Frankly, we’re helping so much—each and every day—that most people don’t expect caregivers to go an extra mile and do something like paying it forward.

I have a challenge for you. Sometime in the next week try to do something to pay it forward. Pay for a cup of coffee, ask someone to go in front of you in a long line, pick up trash or drop off some flowers (May Day is Thursday!). I promise you it will make you feel good.

When you pay it forward, tell friends on Facebook that you did it because we suggested it on WeAreCaregivers.com, which is an easy-to-remember web address for this column.

Try it! Talk about it! Let’s keep it going!

Have a great week!

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Gardening brings joy, if we are smart about adapting

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

Gardening makes me happy.

I love watching things grow, digging in the dirt, moving things around. I don’t even mind pulling weeds. I have mentioned in past columns that I am not the only gardener in my family. In fact my grandma and my husband’s grandfather have bonafide green thumbs.

Through this column, we put the word out a couple of weeks ago that we were looking for caregiving tips we all can use in spring and summer. A number of ideas focused on gardening. Today, I’m going to share my tips and a couple from our readers.

Thanks to Edy Brown for this tip: "We can learn a lot from traditional gardening around the world. Smart housekeepers plant herb gardens in containers they can maintain without stooping over. This example is from Laos. Lots of herbs, onions and other useful crops can be planted in containers you've already got in the garage or basement."

Thanks to Edy Brown for this tip: “We can learn a lot from traditional gardening around the world. Smart housekeepers plant herb gardens in containers they can maintain without stooping over. This example is from Laos. Lots of herbs, onions and other useful crops can be planted in containers you’ve already got in the garage or basement. You can re-purpose many plastic, metal and other containers. I’ve even seen several container tomatoes grown together in a children’s wading pool.”

People who don’t share the love of gardening don’t always understand the draw to be out in the fresh air making sure everything is the way you like it. But it isn’t as easy with age. As our grandparents have aged I have observed a few things.

1. Telling a gardener not to worry about their garden is not going to work. They care about their plants and want them to look good and flourish. That means risking a fall or a sore body in order to keep up with the maintainence required. Try to see these plantings through the gardener’s eyes: An unruly flower bed may make no difference to you, but it can be deeply troubling to the gardener whose loving labor originally planted it.

2. If you are assisting a gardener with the tasks that need to be done, please make sure you are doing what is important to them and to their standards if at all possible. When my grandma had to stop mowing and weeding it drove her crazy when others blew the lawn clippings into the flower beds and flowers were pulled instead of weeds due to lack of knowledge.

3. Less can be more as we grow older. My grandfather is the ‘Tomato Man’ at his large assisted living residence. Having once had a huge garden, he now sticks to a small space and grows only tomatoes that everyone wants to be the recipient of. It satisfies him and his need to garden.

4. Raised beds are a good thing. They can be built at all levels, allowing accessibility to those in wheelchairs or people with walkers that have seats built in to sit and garden. Take a look at the photo from Laos that a reader recommended, today.

5. Even a small container that grows herbs can be satisfying to a gardener. And growing things is good for the soul.

LEARN FROM AN EXPERT:
PATTY CASSIDY

Gardening for Seniors by Patty CassidyA couple of readers recommended books by Patty Cassidy. She is one of the nation’s best-known horticultural therapists as both a master gardener and counselor with years of experience with seniors. She occasionally shows up in the New York Times as an expert on these issues.

We recommend her very practical and beautifully illustrated book with a long title: The Illustrated Practical Guide to Gardening for Seniors: How to maintain your outside space with ease into retirement and beyond (although you’ll only find it for sale by re-sellers at this point) and her newer book The Age-Proof Garden: 101 practical ideas and projects for stress-free, low-maintenance senior gardening, shown step by step in more than 500 photographs.

In Patty’s view from her website: “Tending our gardens is a lifelong pleasure. As we age, our energy and physical abilities become more limited, but gardens are magical, evolving places, with the potential to keep us young at heart and physically fit.” So she—and other experts in adapted gardening—focus on choosing lower-maintenance plantings, adjusting the location and height of beds, choosing gardening tools designed for people with a range of disabilities.”

SHARE YOUR TIPS

Are you a gardener or do you take care of someone who is? Tell us your favorite thing to grow or leave us a tip that has helped you through the years. We’d even welcome a photo from a corner of your garden that you especially enjoy. Contact us at ReadTheSpirit@gmail.com

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