Revisiting and Retelling Our Histories

I realized something this week. Something I hadn’t known before, or at least hadn’t recognized.

We revisit old wounds, in order to tell new stories. 

We must retell our histories, especially the histories of our wounds, over and over until we find the story with which we can make peace. When we have parts of our history that unsettle us, that keep rubbing up against us and poking at tender triggers in our hearts, perhaps, maybe, it’s because we haven’t gotten the story right yet.

I came to this realization quickly this week, but it was a long time coming, like a paper that burns and burns until the last piece goes up in a quick and ernest puff of smoke. I had been re-telling an old story and I finally got it right.

I have an old wound, I’ve been chewing on and mulling over and over in my mind for more than a decade. It stems from a season in my history that shaped my identity. A part of my journey that changed me and named me, in good and not so good ways. At various seasons this old wound would ache and call for my attention yet again. And I, I would poke and prod at it.

What happened? What did I do wrong? What did I do right? What did others do wrong? Why does it still hurt and ache? What in my current life is causing this old wound to flare up? Why now? Why then? Just why?

Each time this old wound has called for my attention I come to new realizations about my history, about who I am, and about who I want to be. Each time I have faced these questions I come to new realizations about the story itself, how I tell it to myself changes. The labels I give myself, and the names I call myself, change with each retelling. The names and labels I give to others in the story change as well. When these names and labels change for the better the wound aches a little less. When they change for the worse it only calls my attention to the story more.

This week I retold this same old story again, and in a flash of recognition and insight I saw a part of the story I had been neglecting for a long while. I realized there was part of the story I’d been jumping over, skipping, down playing, and making assumptions about. For the first time, I saw that part of the story clearly. I realized that the way I’d been interpreting my actions wasn’t accurate, there was another way to see it. The name I had placed over myself and my actions at this part of the story was very negative and it didn’t need to be.

I could see a place in the story that felt familiar to other stories from my past. I saw a decision I made in this story and recognized how I’ve made that same decision at many other points in my history, a decision that has almost always led to heart ache and rarely led to good. And I recognized a point in the story where I did something right, a point in the story where I could take back power and give myself a better more respectful label.

So I retold the story to myself again. And the wound didn’t ache. At all. It was gone. I knew in that moment that I had finally worked through everything about that story that I needed to at this point in my journey. I realized that I could tell the story rightly now. Without regret, without shame, without hesitation or awkwardness. I could own my actions. I could own my power and my lack of power in the story.

It made me think of a quote I saw on Instagram a few months ago, I can’t remember who said it, but I think it is so perfectly true:

“Feeling old wounds is the soul’s way of looking for what else can be healed.”

Often when these old wounds ache and hurt and draw our attention, we want to brush them aside, telling ourselves we shouldn’t still be hurt over something that happened so long ago, or over something so insignificant, or over something we’ve already worked through with a counselor or therapist or mentor or just good friend. Why does this still hurt? Why do I still feel so awkward whenever this comes up? Why can’t I move past this? We feel shame that this pain still stings. Or at least I have often felt shame that I still carry so many bruises and aching wounds.

But, we don’t have to feel shame that our wounds ache. Healing takes a long time, and learning to tell our stories rightly can take years or even decades. Our souls want to heal and so they draw us back to old stories we think we shouldn’t need to revisit, but the truth is healing requires that we not only revisit them, but that we re-feel them, and then re-tell them more clearly, sometimes many times over.

So now when old wounds hurt, I’m gonna let them. I won’t fight it, or feel shame about it, or tell myself I shouldn’t feel this because it’s “old” or I already dealt with it. Instead I’m gonna pull up a chair and listen. Lean in and ask the questions.

What is my soul trying to tell me?
What is my heart trying to heal?
What have I not yet noticed in this story?
How can I reframe this story and tell it more truthfully?
How can I take back power in this story?
How can I rename myself, and others, giving labels that are more deeply true and honest, names that are more compassionate and loving?
How can I see my past self with compassion and understanding?
How can I tell this story in a way that brings grace and peace?

Grace and peace, friends. Grace and peace over all our past wounds, all of yours and all of mine.

Grace and peace,
Bethany Stedman

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Follow the Pull

Today I got together with a friend who I hadn’t talked to in almost a decade. Neither of us had stayed up on each other’s lives very well, so there were lots of gaps to fill in. We swapped highs and lows. We talked about the big moves and the big changes.

I loved hearing about the ways in which he followed curiosity and intuition and the places that has taken him. And though, in many ways his life, like my own, has been different than he expected or anticipated or perhaps at times even wanted, his life has been full and rich with experiences. And as I listened there was some envy that stirred in me, and some desire that woke from sleep and whispered for my attention.

Before meeting this friend I had woken up already processing through a certain aspect of my story, and I held that part of me as I listened, and she joined her voice with the voice of envy and desire.

Before Bryan and I got married my parents expressed one concern: they weren’t sure that Bryan would be able to give me the “big life” that I wanted. It sounds a little silly perhaps. But, it wasn’t an invalid concern, you see my husband has a fairly contented nature. Sometimes I think his ideal life would maybe look like a little cabin in the woods, all on his own, or maybe with a few close friends walking distance away. Somewhere he could live a simple minimalist life and rarely leave the house except for long walks.

I, on the other hand, have always longed for more, for change, for experience. Don’t get me wrong, there are times, especially during seasons of stress (which most of the past few years have been) when a little minimalist house in the middle of nowhere sounds pretty good. But, the overarching theme in my life is not for a simple, quiet life.

I want my life to be unique. I want to matter, to influence people, to change things, to build something, to be part of something bigger than myself.

In high school I didn’t just want to go to school, I wanted to influence my class in such a way that they would all love God and continue to walk a spiritual journey even after graduation. I didn’t just want to be part of a church, I wanted to change the church, or start a new kind of church. In college when I studied education I didn’t just want to teach, I wanted to change the education system, I wanted to start my own school, I wanted to teach differently.

I had dolls as a little girl, and I did play house, but I preferred to set up shop with my sister and best friend and create our own little company. I preferred playing with the boys. I preferred reading about great adventures and brave heroines. I preferred playing with Lego or to sketch out elaborate architectural plans. I preferred reading poetry while daydreaming outside. I wanted to do something, build something, create something. I wanted to feel inspired and I dreamed about one day being inspiring.

When I dreamed about my life, it never looked like life in suburbia with two kids and a picket fence. I wanted more than that.

My life now looks a lot like life in suburbia with two kids and a picket fence (although our fences here in AZ are cement brick rather than picket). But, I still want more. I still want unique. I still want different. I still want big.

I woke up this morning with this desire in my hands. So I started to look it over, examine it, and ask it some questions. Why do I want this? Is it part of me, part of who I am and who I’m called to be? Or is it an alter ego? How do I define the words unique, important, and big? How might I pursue some aspects of that desire even while staying faithful to the responsibilities I have and the place in life I’ve been given?

It was amidst processing through these thoughts and questions that I met with this friend, who by all outward standards has had a big life. He’s lived and studied and worked all over the world. He’s started a non-profit. His life is fluid and changing and full of experiences and creativity. I have no doubt that he’s touched and changed people’s lives.

And yet over and over throughout our conversation he kept making comments about how he hadn’t expected his life to go this way, how it was different than he had planned, how life took him towards things he hadn’t wanted.

Themes kept popping up in the conversation; themes of trusting the path that comes for us, of trusting that life takes us where we need to go (even if it’s not where we thought or wanted), of trusting that what is for us will come for us, and that all of the twists and turns and unexpected are preparation for what’s to come.

I have to admit, when I first left our time together, I felt the smallness of my life. Driving my minivan to pick my daughter up from school, stopping by the store to get groceries, coming home to laundry and dishes. It all felt so mundane, so repetitive and pointless. I didn’t feel like I was building anything, creating anything, leaving a mark on the world in any way, apart from maybe the three humans that trust me to care for them. It felt small. I felt small.

But, then I started to sit again with these questions, and with the conversation.

I started to wondered. What might it look like to live fluidly in the live I already lead, to listen to the prompting of the Spirit and respond even if it feels small, trusting that what is for me will come?

I don’t know how to live the big influential life I sometimes dream about, I’m still not entirely sure if it’s even something that is for me, but I think perhaps the way there isn’t found in pursuit of the desire itself, but instead in pursuit of curiosity, in pursuit of intuition and the voice of the Spirit that urges and prompts and pulls us forward into what is for us.

Perhaps I don’t need to change a whole system,
or build something that lasts,
or even make people’s lives better,
perhaps I just need to follow the pull,
listen and obey,
and trust that in so doing I will change what I need to change,
build what I’m intended to build,
and make better the lives of the people I’m called to love.

 

Grace and peace,
Bethany

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A Country Called Cancer

There’s something they don’t tell you, something you don’t realize when you’re first diagnosed with cancer or when you first have an immediate family member diagnosed with cancer. You aren’t just entering the “worst club with the best people” as they sometimes say, you are crossing a border. You’re becoming an expat in a new land, a war zone. 

You hope that you can live there a short time, fight in the battle you’ve been recruited into, and then move on, move out, make a new home in a city called Survivor, in a town called Remission. What you don’t realize though, is that Survivor and Remission are just border towns in the country of Cancer. Once you cross the borders into Cancer, you can never go back. There are always check points, check ups, and always the chance of being recruited back into the battle again.

You also don’t realize that sometimes, for many soldiers, Survivor and Remission will never open their gates. These solders will fight in the battle and live in the war zone for the rest of their life. They may have weeks, or, God willing, maybe whole years, when they can visit or even set up home in the small neighborhood of Stable Disease. But, leaving the war zone is never an option. They’ve been drafted for life.

Often those on the outside don’t realize that you are a resident in the country of Cancer now. They think you can leave, they pray for your return, they expect you to move home someday, to be completely free of the battle. But this is a battle that leaves permanent scars, this is a citizenship that is irrevocable.

Bryan is one of those soldiers that’s been drafted for life and as his wife I’ve been drafted along with him. And we’re tired.

You see there’s something else that you can’t really understand until you’ve experienced it: sometimes the periods of reprieve, the times when tumors are shrinking or stable, the times when you aren’t fighting head on and you can take a little breather on the side lines, those times are harder than being in the heart of the battle. It sounds ironic and ridiculous doesn’t it? But, let me tell you it’s true.

In the middle of the fight, in the height of the struggle, Adrenaline comes to the rescue. Fight kicks in and takes over. At the height of Bryan’s pain during the past few months I was more productive than I’ve been in ages. There was something to do, a battle to fight, and I fought it and then some extra ones too. Adrenaline carried me.

After almost three months of intense and growing pain, last week Bryan’s tumors started to shrink. His pain stopped. Thanks to lots of prayer, three tiny little pills, and God’s unending grace, we experienced our own little miracle.

Friends and family celebrate, and praise, and scatter.

And I wish I could join them, but I sit on the sidelines feeling the bruises that adrenaline kept me from feeling before. Now Adrenaline has said it’s goodbyes and left us feeling wasted and weary. With more breathing room, anxiety has space to come to the surface and yell. It lobbies for my attention at every turn. It keeps me awake at night with it’s voice in my ear.

We are grateful. And we do rejoice. We are relieved and we continually count this season a blessing we weren’t sure we were going to get. But we are still in the war zone and the quiet is deafening. We have no idea when the next raid will come, when the next battle will break in, when the next air strike will drop. And all the fight has gone out of me.

This yo-yoing back and forth, this being relieved and then being struck down again, and again, and again. It takes a toll.

Next month it’ll be five years since Bryan was drafted into this battle and we moved into the Country of Cancer. Five years. We are grateful that it has been so long. Grateful that each season of battle has been followed by a season of reprieve. Grateful that we have lived long by melanoma standards in the land that many don’t last long in. But we are weary of this citizenship.

I see the walls my little heart has built after 5 years and I wonder what sort of armor I’ll wear after a decade. Could I do a decade? I pray for a decade. I pray for more. Yet at the same time fearing the bruising and battles that a decade of this would bring.

They say “bloom where you’re planted”, but I still haven’t figured out how to bloom in the the country of Cancer. These battles take everything from me, the fear that gets stirred up each time my husband’s cancer grows again demands my full attention. And when the bombs stop falling and these battles leave me space to breathe and imagine, I always find I’m too weary and beat down to do the work. To do any work.

Today I’m reminding myself that though I have been a citizen of Cancer for five years, and a citizen of another battle ridden country (Special Needs Parenting) for just as long, these are not my only citizenships. 

I am also a citizen of another country,

a country with a promise, 

a country ruled by the King of Grace,

the God of Love. 

 

Come, Lord Jesus. Come.

 

Grace and peace,

Bethany

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Self-Rejection and Becoming Beloved

Ok, friends lets get real honest. I’m fighting today, fighting to believe that I am loved. There are lots of things that can trigger insecurity for me, but today I’m sitting with one particular trigger, and it’s stirring up lots of self-doubt and self-rejection.

Henri Nouwen calls self-rejection “the greatest trap in our life”. And then goes on to write,

I am constantly surprised at how quickly I give in to this temptation. As soon as someone accused me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking: “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” Instead of taking a critical look at the circumstances or trying to understand my own and others’ limitations, I tend to blame myself – not just for what I did, but for who I am. My dark side says: “I am no good…I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned.”

Today I’m choosing to “take a critical look at the circumstances” and “try to understand”.

A little over a week ago I announced that I was going to teach two special Yoga Nidra classes. I decided to try something. I decided to try pitching an event rather than just my normal weekly classes. I decided to charge money and make people pay ahead of time in an effort to value myself and what I have to offer. I thought Yoga Nidra would be a good event/workshop type class to start with, since it’s very accessible for all levels, and I picked an evening time since I’ve had a number of people tell me it would be easier for them to come in the evening after their kids are in bed. I also decided to put myself out there and market the classes in a way that I haven’t before – putting out lots of clear asks, updates, reminders, and info about yoga Nidra.

When I launched I told myself I’d have no problem filling the classes and some part of me believed that.

Now it’s been a week and a half since I announced the events, the first class is 5 days away, and only 2 people have signed up

I don’t want to admit that. I don’t want to publicly share that only 2 people signed up so far.

The psychology-intrigued side of me says don’t share, if you make people think others haven’t signed up then they won’t want to either. People want to be where other people are, where things are happening. That’s when the shame side of me jumps in with a very clear, “Plus, admitting only 2 signed up will just prove to everyone how lame and insignificant you are.”

Shame is loud on this one.

Another voice rises up and tries to fight, pointing out that someone choosing not to come may have nothing to do with me. In fact it almost certainly has nothing to do with me. Each person has every right to make the choice that’s right for them in this moment and maybe this class just isn’t for them. That’s fine. It’s not going to be for everyone. Not everything I offer will be for everyone. I’m not going to be for everyone. I get that.

But shame doesn’t stop there and back off, of course not. Shame continues to berate me with all the other classes, and projects, offerings and dreams that haven’t been chosen, that no one showed up for, that failed. I begin to wonder if I’m for anyone, maybe I really don’t have anything to offer the world, maybe no one likes what I put out there. I am useless. I am insignificant. I am nothing. I am nobody. 

I take a deep breath. I take captive every thought and surround it with larger truth, “Jesus loves me”. Then I pull myself back from the edge, “Two people signed up, that’s not no one. I’m for those two. They are for me. And there’s still time more could sign up.”

I do battle with my thoughts as I sit in the line of cars waiting to pick up my son. My playlist from this morning’s yoga class plays quietly in the background, and just as Shame roars up again, I catch the words of the song echoing, “You’re enough. You’re enough. You’re enough.” My breath catches in my throat and I fight back tears.

I’m enough. 

Statements like this used to bother me, I’d push back with comments like “I’m not enough. That’s the whole point, that’s why I need Jesus. Only Jesus is enough.” Then I realized enough doesn’t mean perfect. What I need to know in those moments when my heart longs to hear “you’re enough” is that I have nothing to prove, nothing to protect, nothing to gain or force or strive after.

I am enough for Jesus right where I am, right as I am. I am enough for the life he’s placed me in. I don’t have to work, and strive, and pull myself up from my boot straps. I don’t have to kill myself to be something I’m not. I can be me, as he made me. I already have everything I need for life and godliness through Christ Jesus. It’s enough. My weak, feeble hands are enough. I don’t have to kill myself to gain favor, to be accepted, to be significant. I’m enough already. For one generation the phrase that struck the heart was, “Just as I am”, for another it’s “I am enough.”

I turn the music down and open the door for my son. As he climbs in, I think about how I never want him to feel less than, or small, to shrink back from the good God created him for, or to doubt that God created him for any good at all. But I know that he will. Because we all do.

Today I’m feeling “less than” because only a few people signed up for my class. Yesterday, I felt “less than” for entirely different reasons. What I need at both times is a reminder of my original significance, of the value God gives his children, of my identity, not as struggling floundering yoga instructor, or as failing mom, or temperamental wife, or whatever else, but a reminder of my truest, deepest, core identity as “beloved”.

I am loved. 
You are loved. 
We are loved. 

And so I fight shame, and the desire to shrink back, not by puffing up and making you think lots of people have signed up and I’m this great yoga instructor leading all these classes, but with Satya: truthfulness.

I fight shame by getting honest, and open, by pulling off the cover and revealing that which I’d rather keep hidden. I fight shame by showing you my insecurity, my fear, my self-rejection, and claiming something different over myself.

I fight shame by sharing that only 2 people have signed up so far.

Friends, please know I don’t share that to manipulate you into signing up or to put pressure (or shame) on you – God forbid!!! There is complete and total freedom for you, friends. You don’t have to come to my class to prove that you love me or that I’m significant. The truth is you can’t do that anyway, even if you did come to my class. I could have a full class and still feel insignificant and unloved. As long as my self-worth is tied to other people I will always ride a roller coaster of self-rejection. What I need is not affirmation, what I need is to accept the love God pours out on me, to believe that I am valuable to him.

John Philip Newell writes in his book A New Harmony, “What is it we need to know in our lives? That we are loved. That we have always been loved.” We can’t know this simply by other people telling us, we have to claim it for ourselves. We have to take hold of love.

Henri Nouwen writes in Life of The Beloved:

Aren’t you, like me, hoping that some person, thing, or event will come along to give you that final feeling of inner well-being you desire?…But as long as you are waiting for that mysterious moment you will go on running helter-skelter, always anxious and restless, always lustful and angry, never fully satisfied. You know that this is the compulsiveness that keeps us going and busy, but at the same time makes us wonder whether we are getting anywhere in the long run. This is the way to spiritual exhaustion and burn-out. This is the way to spiritual death.

Well, you and I don’t have to kill ourselves. We are Beloved. We are intimately loved long before our parents, teachers, spouses, children, and friends loved or wounded us. That’s the truth of our lives. That’s the truth spoken by the voice that says, “You are my Beloved.”

I am loved. 
You are loved.
We are loved. 

Breath it in friends. Claim it.

Grace and peace,
Bethany

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On Hawaii and The Senses

I was a pre-teen when we first started coming here. For awhile we came almost every summer. It’s not really one of my childhood places, it’s not where I grew up. But I have roots here. And they are specific in nature. 

My skin was covered in salt and sand and sun. I had spent a good portion of the morning swimming in the ocean with my daughter and by the time I came into the room to gather food for lunch my hair was large with frizzy curls and my cheeks were slightly pink. I glanced in the mirror and that’s when it hit me, like a wave knocking me over. 

I like what I see.” 

The thought felt so foreign to me that I paused to think about it longer. No it wasn’t a completely foreign thought, more like a visitor you only see on short rare occasions. And then I realized it was a visitor I was most familiar with in this place. I feel pretty in Hawaii. Attractive. Beautiful. Even sexy. 

Why? What is it about this place that makes me feel that way. Because I don’t normally feel that way. And honestly I could recognize the person in the mirror, she didn’t look all that different from the person I saw in the mirror at home. Sure her cheeks were sun kissed and her hair was wild and free and curlier than normal, but she still had the same flabby tummy and the same flat butt and the same blotchy pimply skin and the same wrinkles and the same slightly saggy breasts. All the things I normally focus on and obsess over, the things that make me feel anything but pretty or sexy or beautiful, they were all still there when I paused and looked again. But for a moment I could see those things and yet not see them, because what I felt was beautiful.

 

Something about this place makes me feel more alive, more beautiful, and more like a women than anywhere else I’ve ever been. 

Perhaps it is the timing this place holds in my life. It’s my coming of age place. 

My parents would come here on their own when I was a little girl and I wanted so much to join them, but I was always told I wasn’t “old enough.” 

And then one summer I was old enough. 

Coming here was almost akin to a rite of passage. My parents only let us come once we were old enough to make our own lunches and fend for ourselves. It was a place where everyone was responsible for themselves and got to determine for themselves how they moved through the day. I would run around all day on the beach, play in the waves, spent hours reading and sun bathing on the sand, and go for long walks by myself. While we were here I could determine my own days, I was the captain of my own ship.
This place makes me feel like an actual adult. Not in the way that buying a house or having a baby made me feel like an adult, but in the sense that this place communicates to me that I am old enough to make my own decisions and follow my own desires.

 

But Hawaii doesn’t just make me feel like any adult it makes me feel like a woman. And it makes me feel like it’s ok, even good to be a women in my own skin, in touch with the senses. 

Because everything here plays to the senses. 

For me Hawaii has always been a sensual experience, a place devoted to the senses and where sensuality was not something dangerous to be avoided, or something superficial to be pushed past, instead it was celebrated. 

My trips here were always about the sensations. The sound of the waves crashing, or the wind moving through the palm trees. The feel of the sand between my toes, the water enveloping my skin as I dove under a wave, the warmth of the sun on my shoulders. The way papaya seems almost to melt in my mouth, the sharp sweetness of pineapple, the flavor of perfectly cooked fish fresh off the grill. The view of a rainbow after a sudden shower, the vivid colors at sunset, the way the light plays on the water. This is a place made for the senses and somehow experiencing life sensually, fully engaging in the senses, leads me to a feeling of contentedness with my own being, with my own skin, with being a part of this world that is so full of color and sensation. 

The senses remind us that we are alive and that it is good to be alive. They tell us something all of our philosophy has struggled to understand and rarely gotten right. They tell us that we are physical body and it is good to be a physical body alive in a physical, beautiful, good world.

This practice of engaging in the senses somehow transforms the way I experience being in my own skin. It makes being in my own skin something good, not something to criticize or fix, avoid or overcome. 
Perhaps that sounds strange, but the truth is I have not always been in places where it feels ok and even good to be a physical being, and especially a woman. I am often still in places where I do not feel comfortable in my own skin or in touch with my senses, and I am surrounded by others who are uncomfortable in their own skin and with their own senses. 

We are not just spiritual beings who happen to have bodies. We are spiritual bodies. We are whole beings, not divided, and our bodies are not just part of us, they are us. The God who is One, created us as one. When I criticize and demean my body, I am criticizing and demeaning my heart, my soul, my very God-created self. When I criticize and demean my body I am criticizing and demeaning the image of God within me. 

Perhaps the first step towards moving away from the sort of body shaming and critiquing I am so good at is to recognize that I am one being not many. My physicality is not something to be avoided, feared, or ignored. Perhaps I need to start by celebrating the senses, engaging in them, fully experiencing them, letting them take me over and pull me into the present moment, because when I feel all the goodness and beauty of this world through my senses, when I experience the ways in which this physical body allows me to experience this amazing world, well, then it becomes a lot easier to see the good in my body than the bad. My own body gets to become part of the good, beautiful, amazing world I get to experience.

This world is clearly broken, and there is a lot that is heartbreaking and terrifying and gut-wrenchingly wrong, but it was also created good, by a good God who desires to give good gifts. And like this world my body is broken, it is not perfect, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good. This physical body is still a good gift from a good Father, who values the physical so much that he refused to abandon it and instead chooses to redeem it. All of it. 
This body may not be exactly as I’d like. I may have more allergies than I wish, and according to my doctor, the asthmatic lungs of an 84 year old rather than a 34 year old. My stomach isn’t flat, it’s curved. My skin still breaks out almost as much as it did when I was 16. But this body of mine, it is good. It can taste and touch and see and hear so much that is good. 

This body is a grace, pure grace. 
 

So I pause and look in the mirror a little longer. Thanking my body for all it does to enable me to experience this one brilliant and beautiful life. 

And it feels good. 

And I like the beautiful girl that stares back at me. 

Grace and peace,

Bethany Stedman 

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