Finally Comes the White Flag

“I said I’d be your lover

You laughed at what I said

I lost my job forever

I was counted with the dead”

(You Have Loved Enough—Leonard Cohen)

In most pursuits—sports, writing, preaching, cutting out sugar, keeping my body in decent condition—I can count on discipline to come through for me. I have a finally honed and heeled will. Once I put my mind to something, and truly make a decision, I usually “succeed” in accomplishing what I set out to do. That’s not an entirely bad thing. It has served me well.

 

But when it comes to love, willpower doesn’t seem to cut it. I can’t will my heart to open. I can’t will myself to not get triggered when my wife says something that bugs the hell out of me. I can’t will myself to love the taxi driver who seems oblivious that he shares the road with other human beings. I can’t control the adrenaline that kicks in when I see a fight break out in hockey. (And until recently I wasn’t able to muster the willpower just to stop watching these barbaric displays of male testosterone).

It wouldn’t be a problem, except for the fact that I feel this profound sense that love is actually what my life is for. It’s all I want. It’s what I showed up for.  And truthfully, I’ve always known this. Which is why I was sitting on the edge of my bed today feeling (yet once more) desperate. I CAN”T DO IT, I heard myself saying. And I realized that this is probably the whole point of the exercise.It’s my personal thorn-in-the-side. I’ve finally found the one thing that “I” actually can’t do, can’t make better, and can’t conquer. Sitting there with my face pathetically in my hands, I heard the words again, ” I can’t do it”. I’m meant to fail. It helps me understand what Fred Buechner meant by the title of one of his books—a reflection on the theology of the cross—The Magnificent Defeat.

I sat there, and looked around for a white flag. The best I could come up with was my sweaty underwear (post workout). I friggin’ give up, once and for all. No more strategies. No more books. No more anguished self-reflection. No more behaviour modification. No more believing that if only other people would change.  Been there. Done that. G_d, Holy Spirit, brother Jesus, heavenly hosts of angels, Whomsoever has this portfolio, I surrender.

I swept the marble chambers,
But you sent me down below
You kept me from believing
Until you let me know:

That I am not the one who loves
It’s love that seizes me
When hatred with his package comes,
You forbid delivery

And when the hunger for your touch
Rises from the hunger,
You whisper, “you have loved enough,
Now let me be the lover”

The longest journey (for a man at least) is to one’s knees.  The personality (ego) is a hodgepodge of biologically and culturally mediated impulses and concerns. The male personality is evolutionarily wired for battle, and after 200,000 years forged on the battlefields of life, my brain is wired to see the world  through the eyes and heart of Attila the Hun. Only a fool could imagine that this “I” could, by force of will, take on these impulses and win. I have tried enough to love and failed magnificently. I pray for the grace to step aside, and by the power of all that is not me, let the Lover take over.

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Carol says:

    Thanks for sharing your heart. You capture the human story and it is particularly challenging for us ministers to accept. Can we truly manifest the Christ presence in these earthly bodies? That’s the question. I believe we can. And I must love myself and others when we fall short… and ultimately fall to our knees.

    • Bruce Sanguin says:

      I like that, Carol, especially loving ourselves when we fall short, and ultimately fall/fail to our knees.

  2. Jill says:

    Do you feel totally liberated in the surrender?

    • Bruce Sanguin says:

      Not really, Jill. I feel like this is an ongoing practice of releasing into every moment. Turns out I’m not that great at it.

      • Jill says:

        If you were great at it, you probably wouldn’t be human. And not being human is never an option unfortunately, although, always appealing.
        Adyashanti’s book ‘Falling into Grace’ super helpful. Will pass it on when I’m done with it.
        PS: I hope you started on your releasing into every moment by releasing the post workout undies:-)

        • Bruce Sanguin says:

          Yes, Jill, the good news is that I have actually released the underwear. Small steps, day at a time, and all that…:-)

          • Jill says:

            Actually, really not likely I’d tell you to take small steps, one day at a time and all that……..Never found it helpful myself. So no, it wouldn’t be me telling you that. I’d more likely just say you are much loved and then I’d say ‘take care’ and hope that you make your own sense of whatever that looks like for you. And then I’d make a joke to make you feel better such as ‘ Why was 6 afraid of 7?’ ‘Because 7 ate 9′ and hope it makes things a little lighter for you.

          • Bruce Sanguin says:

            Thanks for the love, Jill. It’s interesting. I’m not feeling heavy. Just reoriented and a little more freed up. You make me smile.

  3. Ellen says:

    Yes! It’s about surrender. Radical acceptance. Thank you Bruce for this eloquent and heart-felt reminder. Yes!

    • Bruce Sanguin says:

      Thanks Ellen,

      Yeah, the piece around radical acceptance is important. Surrender/accept what is; surrender/accept what is arising, not once and for all, but for all, now and every moment.

  4. kellie says:

    My struggle with love manifests itself in not trusting in either myself or the other. So I find myself not speaking my truth for fear that it will upset my husband or I will find out it is true.

    The other day we found out some bad news about something else going on with my husbands eyes. I kept my feelings and concerns bottled up wanting to be strong about it and feeling that if he didn’t show signs of concern I wasn’t going to.

    Yesterday, as we sat I struggeled with my fears and concern.
    in the Dr’s waiting area I named my biggest fear, “that we had waited too long to take this 6 month sabattical and by the time September rolled around he wouldn’t be able to drive.”

    Knowing that we have a deep love and respect for each other, I rdecided to risk it and name my concerns. Sitting in the Dr’s. waiting area I named my biggest fear, “that we had waited too long to take this 6 month sabatical and by the time September rolled around he wouldn’t be able to drive.”

    Just saying it out loud made a difference in opening up my heart – opening to fear and to love.

    By naming it we were able to talk about it together and then we talked about my concern with the Dr. The Dr heard me out and then gave me a look like I was kind of crazy. He assured me that my fears were just that “MY FEARS” and not reality. He explained what I hadn’t heard before; that this new condition happens with the injections and it can be managed. He said that even in the last week there has been improvement in the condition and that it was all getting under control. In his explaination and words of assurance I felt his deep concern for us – an expression of love.

    In trusting enough to name and talk about my greatest fears with my husband and with others there was an outpouring of love. It reminds me that there is love all around us we just forget to open our selves to it.

    I also know that the next time my husband says something that “bugs the hell out of me” (and I know it will happen) I will remember to tell him it bugs me in a way that shows my deep love and concern.

    Because in the end all that really matters is love.

  5. Carol A. says:

    Have been travelling in this same territory lately. So often, it seems to me that the biggest thing I can’t do is to take my eyes off of my not being able to do it. I am rather attached to my miserable condition.

    • Bruce Sanguin says:

      Thanks Carol, Well put, that is a danger, isn’t it? Becoming attached/addicted to the story of misery.

  6. Harry MacLean says:

    I think Marty in VU619 has something to say about this. Hang in there. Harry

  7. Sophia says:

    Dear Bruce. It sounds like you are in that beautiful, horrible, transformative space where only total surrender (kenosis) can transfigure eros to agape. May you know you are held in love and compassion, and that sharing your journey with such honesty and humility is making the passage just a bit less frightening for all who follow…

    • Bruce Sanguin says:

      Thanks Sophia,

      Yep, that’s what it feels like. Nice to know that I am not alone. I appreciate your kind and wise words.

    • Bruce Sanguin says:

      Thanks Sophia,

      You nailed it—so to speak! And there is a true, deep beauty in it, maybe the most beautiful of all spaces, and most horrible as you say – the paradox is profound. Thanks for holding me/all in love and compassion…

  8. Jackson says:

    Hey Bruce….I’m a down to earth kinda guy who knows just what may be needed to restore your soul: simply a few restful days… spent on the front porch of my deep southern, down-country log home…swinging and rocking…listening to the mocking bird. How can you possibly pass up such an offer? :) Why, it’s enough to make Wendell Berry swoon. Best, always. Jackson

    • Bruce Sanguin says:

      Ok, I’m booking my flight! That’s very generous of you my down home friend. I’m not actually fried/burned out. More like I’m at the end of my small self’s resources. I figure it’s a good thing. But I can feel a visit coming anyway. Can I bring my guitar and sing a song or three for the mockingbirds?

  9. Jackson says:

    I’m holding you to it, my friend! Pack that guitar. I’ll have the pool open soon….for your early morning swims. Coffee and tea at poolside, with my cat, Lovie.

  10. Sita D. says:

    Dear Bruce,
    I am glad to read all of the loving support you are receiving. Please rest assured that no matter how things turn out in the little picture, you have made a huge contribution to the spiritual evolution and healing of the world in the big picture.
    Have you seen the movie “Amazing Grace?”
    I had to think of it recently, as I too was feeling like it is all too much for little me to do (even though I knew it was Spirit just trying to do it through me).

    I thought, “if Wilber Wilberforce had given up when he experienced defeat the first time, who knows how much longer slavery would have existed?” He was exhausted and got sick and tried to let go of the whole thing. But Spirit had not finished what it was doing through him, so after a pause, he found the strength to keep going.

    Hold on to your vision. As Gandhi said, “Truth always wins in the end.”

    Love & Hope,
    Sita

  11. Sally Schaeferle says:

    Dear Bruce,
    I hear and feel your pain. It is Jobian in it’s call to God and the world. No, I don’t think you are feeling ” Oh, woe is me”, or that this is all your ego. I think that you are sincerely trying to love, been working on this for quite a while, and realize your humanity, and fallibility. Good for you to be so honest and vulnerable. It allows all of us to get the courage to admit our failures and our despair around loving.
    My middle son Blake is schizophrenic, and I alternately love him deeply,and rage against the night and him for his out of control behavior. I know it is his illness speaking and acting, but I am not “‘big’ enough to love him in the moments of behavior, behavior which has caused him to be charged and put in jail, abuse others verbally,mentally and physically. This is a very cruel disease. Blake is a completely different person than he used to be.
    Maybe you think I have good reason, but I don’t have, because I know what is inside , what his soul is really like, and it is beautiful.
    I have many times been on my knees in church, or beside my bed saying exactly, ‘ I give up ‘. Lord take over, because I can’t do this anymore. There is something rock bottom,humbling about this position, and this call or prayer. Haven’t we been told that God will give us what we need when we ask in complete submission?
    I don’t have any answers, just understanding and compassion. Leonard Cohen also said, ‘ There is a crack

    in everything, that’s how the light gets through.’. May the peace of God be with you Bruce, and thankyou. Sally

    • Bruce Sanguin says:

      Beautiful Sallie, and thanks for being so out there with your journey with Blake. I know how you go to your knees, and this must be the secret of how you remain so loving and open, and not absolutely broken by his illness and behaviour. I honour you, my friend.

  12. Yvonne Dina says:

    Wow…that is the most beautiful and moving and REAL thing I have read in a long time…if ever. Just beautiful. I understand and want the same thing. And I want to be around others who want the same thing and KNOW they want the same thing. That is why I am taking that webinar course from Craig Hamilton. To find my communal support. And that is why I will continue to read your blog. Keep writing. Love,Yvonne

    • Bruce Sanguin says:

      Thanks Yvonne,

      For knowing that place inside yourself that knows it wants to love and be love, and knows this struggle consciously and intimately. Don’t you feel like as we bring the conversation into the light of day that more and more people will “own” it and be liberated by the yearning? I think Craig is fabulous.

      • Yvonne Dina says:

        I hope so. Right now I feel like they are just looking at me like I’m a little nuts. Hence the need for a little more like-minded support for now. Maybe I’m just not talking about it right. And as for Craig…you are the reason I know about him. Also I am getting “blown away” by Michael Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics, again thanks to you. Try explaining his theories to people….YIKES! The unusual thing is that I had thought about some of his same ideas BEFORE I read his book; i.e the need for interest, infinite growth. He put it all together. I’m ready but I’m not sure the world is yet. Thanks again for your blog and especially for making yourself so vulnerable to us.Gives us permission to do the same. Looking forward to your next blog and guest “speaker”.

        • Bruce Sanguin says:

          This is why it’s so critical to find our tribe. I remember a well-known spiritual teacher speculating (no conclusions) about the possibility that we are actually dealing with different species of human beings at this point, so great is the divide in consciousness, as if another branch is starting to grow on the tree of life. It’s a loaded idea, very controversial, and calls for ever-increasing compassion and connection. For now, I’m thinking that Essence is gaining an opening in an increasing number of souls-in-service.

  13. Toni says:

    Wow, I’m a bit stunned. I know that place in you and I know that place in me – that just can’t do it. I don’t have a lot of words. My heart hurts with both the sorrow and the joy to know you (and Kellie and Jill) and to have arrived at such places in ourselves and with each other that you/we can share such vulnerability. I can’t even get to my knees yet, so this isn’t just a guy thing.
    Love, Toni

    • Bruce Sanguin says:

      Thanks Toni,

      I hope that I’m not giving the impression to folks (I know this isn’t the case with you, Toni), that I need rescuing. I interpret it rather as an addict’s moment of realization – only my addiction is to my small self. It’s a powerful break through, and yes it’s sad, but really it’s only the slow, dissolution/contextualization of personality. I suspect that there are endless opportunities – like every moment – to wave the white flag.

      Also, I’m aware that the metaphor of surrender may be more apt for the male gender than for women, who have been required to surrender to patriarchy for 10,000 years or more. Although, Elizabeth Diebold of EnlightenNext believes that this is an issue of the personality, and not gender. Still I remain cautious. I, too, am moved by the beautiful vulnerability of our deep humanity. I’m sure it’s where G_d lives. :-)

      • Yvonne Dina says:

        Just had to make a small response to your response Bruce. I have great radar for people who put out the “rescue me” message. I often even feel it when they are not even meaning it! Yet that was not my reaction to your sharing at all. What I felt, what I was in awe of, was your voice of your innermost struggle, the one I struggle with also. And maybe this is a sexist thing to say but it seemed so much more powerful coming from a man. That your white flag was some dirty underwear made it so human (and a bit humorous too!) Yvonne

        • Bruce Sanguin says:

          :-) , I’m glad. I feel clean around this, Yvonne. Just another (critical) step in the journey of my small self giving way/making room for Essence, expressing as Love. I imagine that what needs to give way is unique in each of us.

      • Toni says:

        Hi Bruce,
        I would agree with Yvonne – that I do not get a “rescue me” vibe at all. In fact, quite the opposite. You are helping me have the courage to pray for my own heart to be opened by grace – as you say, will has failed.
        Its an interesting inquiry re: the gender issue – women have certainly been in the position of having to submit in patriarch, but I don’t see that as surrender. However, I do think women are more likely to put relationship ahead of their ego. Or, maybe, doing so is more ego-syntonic for women because of our socialization. Gotta think more about this.
        Toni

  14. Donna Powers says:

    Thank you Bruce! I hear resonance in all the replies…the vibration of love. We are all uplifted through and with each other; a community of acceptance of what is.

    If not for my/our small self, how else could I/we know what awaits in the transformation of love’s presence? The small self, as contracted and limited as it is, recognizes the need for something/someone greater than itself. What a miracle it is that I/we can invite the small self into the glory and grandeur of love. The resurrection of the small self? Dying so that I/we might be born again? Hope for all of us this spring season where in the northern climes, we get to witness the ‘verdant greening”!

    My challenge always is to love the smaller aspects of myself. Barbara Marx Hubbards’ work Emergence: The Shift from Ego to Essence, 10 steps to the universal human is helpful for me. She refers to the work of Almaas…(I have yet to read that book…so much to read, so little time!):

    “Almaas (Essence, 1986) suggests we directly experience the deficiencies of the ego or local self and recognize that what the ego is attempting to get is already present in Essence. The process here is to feel deeply ego’s lack, or ‘hole’ as Almaas calls it, and not defend against this feeling of lack, nor come up with any strategies for solving the problem from the egoic point of view.

    It is a two-step process: First, the Beloved invites the local selves to come forward to describe as deeply as possible any pain or deficiency being experienced- the needs, wants, pain. We don’t defend against the feeling, don’t try to fix or solve it from the egoic point of view, but rather completely allow it to be present and fully feel it- its location in the body, its density, vibration. Second, we stay with that pain and follow it all the way to the root, the source where we first felt such pain.

    According to Almaas, when we follow the deficiency as deeply as possible, it leads us to that part of essence or Beloved that the local self has been seeking by trying to have some strategy in the outer world. In other words, we let our local selves discover that the fulfillment they’ve been seeking is already present in the Beloved. Ego becomes the guide to essence.”

    I witness this in you Bruce and it gives us all hope that we can surrender and love our defeats so that we can be transformed and live in the presence of Love itself. We can be Love. We are all coming home.

    • Bruce Sanguin says:

      That nailed it Donna, and helps to shift or perhaps clarify the metaphor of surrender. I love imagining the deep acceptance of small self’s deficiencies as the key to our evolution in and toward Essence. It is an invitation/provocation to fall in love (again) with Essence, knowing that our perceived lack is already, always present in Essence. The journey of becoming is that journey of Essence incarnating in deeper, more nuanced, and subtle expression of Itself. In this sense, the journey is about aligning with/identifying with Essence in process of becoming. I like to imagine as well that Essence itself or Being is filling out in itself, becoming more robust as It internalizes advances in its own Nature becoming.

      “Ego becomes our guide to essence”. Very nice. But it’s an unconscious guide, I would think. Some other part of me is required to notice, the witness/soul. Hmmm…

  15. Laura Madsen says:

    Bruce. Congratulations! I have read through all of the comments and your responses to each. You are a gifted wordsmith with a loving and appreciative community surrounding you. Everything is in its proper place for you now to let go (as Sophia mentioned) and receive the wounding of grace — inseparable at this stage of our journey. We are all blessed to be feeling a response to the Call — so Strong and Heart-Piercing now. What a Supreme Gift to be alive during this long-awaited surge of Spirit coming Home. We/you are That. We/you are Love. Amen

    • Bruce Sanguin says:

      Thanks Laura and simply “yes” to your comment. It is good to hold and be held in a community intent on realizing that we are the Love that we are seeking.

  16. kim brandt says:

    From his book entitled Breathing Under Water-Spirituality and the Twelve Steps Richard Rohr writes “…I believe Jesus and the Twelve Steps of A.A. are saying the same thing but with different vocabulary:

    We suffer to get well.
    We surrender to win.
    We die to live.
    We give it away to keep it.

    This counterintuitive wisdom will forever be resisted as true, denied, and avoided, until it is forced upon us – by some reality over which we a powerless – and if we are honest, we are all powerless in the presence of full Reality.”

    I think Richard totally “gets it.”

    The first step in recovery is “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol (fill in any addiction here) and our lives had become unmanageable.” It’s the only Step we have to grasp 100%. The rest are practice.

    What a wonderful place to be Bruce. Yes, man to man, who wishes to admit defeat. My ego rails at the notion of admitting that. One reason I am grateful to be a recovered alcoholic is that addiction to alcohol is obvious and not as culturally accepted/promoted as workaholism, co-dependancy and so on.

    I celebrate your seeming defeat! Woooo Hoooo!!!

    Yours on the broad highway, letting go, one moment at a time.

    • Bruce Sanguin says:

      Thanks Kim…Glad you recognize this space as a wonderful place to be. It’s true. I find that people who have been or are in recovery know this terrain. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

    • Laura Madsen says:

      Thank you Kim. I am also a devoted Richard Rohr fan. He does “get it.” Receiving daily doses of his wisdom is a blessing. (Center for Action and Contemplation: cac@cacradicalgrace.org) I am also a recovering addict — along with most of our generation — recovering from an allegiance to thought-patterns and actions that betray who We Are in God. I am reminded of the acorn’s fear of cracking its shell (dying) in order to birth its potential — the mighty Oak Tree. (http://www.sigler.org/Fautley/THE%20ACORN%20AND%20THE%20OAK%20TREE.pdf)

  17. darryl says:

    Thanks for sharing Bruce. Two things come to mind : “O God ! * grant me the Serenity to accept the things i cannot change * Courage to change the things i can, * and the Wisdom to know the difference.” and ; “All things are possible with God ” Cheers

  18. Yvonne Dina says:

    This has been a wonderful stream of conversation. I am now thinking this: Perhaps the addictives of our world are really the sensitives. They feel the pain of the limit of the ego/small self so intensely that they are driven to numb it with food, alcohol, drugs, sex. work etc. And it is that pain that can and has lead some of us to the 12 step programs. When you take those 12 steps, you are right Bruce, it is familiar terrain to what you describe. I started with it at age 19. I am now 56. I feel I am just now starting to “get it”. For sure I met my ego along that path. It was at the root of all my ugly behavors, along with fear. Having had the opportunity to experience and discover that, I am now really primed for what seems to be this next big spiritual step/adventure. Scary and exciting, depending on the moment!

    • Bruce Sanguin says:

      Interesting Yvonne, I too have often imagined addiction as an alternative strategy to the one Donna describes above —the yearning/suffering of local self interpreted as an invitation in truth to expand into essence).

  19. Toni says:

    Thanks Donna and Bruce,
    I just worked with the process you described around something that I woke up troubled by and it was very helpful. This has been such a rich discussion, and I appreciate all the comments and experiences people have shared!
    Toni

  20. Gabrielle Cheung says:

    the Love that comes thro’

    to us it seems
    is all forming in the womb
    being knitted together
    a dream fabric
    something tangible
    imagination printed on life
    the way in which i happen
    ideas trickling thro’, filtered and distilled
    after silence and confusion
    after effort, come-to-nothings and all tangle
    all disconcerting, troubling and tiring

    this is just the way of things now
    in the darkness before inspiration alights
    upon a captive soul…
    after all the effort
    of my need, my desire, my praise, my love
    all that is left is Love
    coming at me
    homing into me
    arresting and resting upon
    my lips and my ears
    to conquer, own, soothe and quieten me
    with “I Love.”
    It is I Who Loves…
    you

    O! to stay still in Such Words
    as life and breath just now and forever!
    In Love certainly not mine
    and after the exhaustion of all my small, great effort
    to be reminded again and
    at long last to let go

    Friends, is this our small, great blessing
    in the world?

    deo gratias

    • Bruce Sanguin says:

      O, to stay still in Such Words…

      The competency of both stillness and movement – Love’s dynamism.

      Thank you, Gabrielle, our poet of love.

  21. Mark says:

    Step one my friend. And remember, without getting cliche about it, those who surrender go to the winning side.

  22. helen goodall says:

    Do you know the quote from Albert Camus, “I have been to the bottom and it is solid?”

    Helen Goodall

  23. Gerry says:

    Ok Bruce and all your compatriots in the virtual world. This stream of word and thought is growing into a mighty wind and gale of goodness and wisdom. I know you as a rev with the UCC who runs and is seeking a new way to evolve as Xian. I share all those attributes with you and I find my running life has grown my spiritual life to the point of letting go of my little ‘self’ that has been such a pain to make room for the greater ‘Self’ that teaches me to love myself so I can love others regardless whether I actually like them. This is a hard learning but over the last 10 or so years it has grounded me in my practice of ministry making me fearless instead of always fearful. Hope you make it to the East coast again soon. I missed you at Tatamagouche last year and I’m only 50 km away. Good Spirit with you my friend.

    • Bruce Sanguin says:

      Thanks Gerry,

      Nice to know a brother who knows from the inside out how to allow love to be stronger than fear. I’ll give you some warning next time I’m out that way. Thanks for adding your ruach to this mighty wind that’s gathering momentum.

    • Bruce Sanguin says:

      Thanks Gerry,

      Nice to know a brother who knows from the inside out how to allow love to be stronger than fear. I’ll give you some warning next time I’m out that way. Thanks for adding your ruach to this mighty wind that’s gathering momentum.

  24. connie says:

    Bruce – I admire your vulnerability. The kind of love you describe was never an allure for me. Rather, my ill was knowing I was supposed to be nonjudgmental — and then feeling inauthentic when I wasn’t but had to pretend I was. Thankfully, life eventually found a way to knock me to the floor. The gift from that was compassion for the human condition — mismatched instincts and all. Yippeeee! No longer do I have to “try” to have the right attitude and emotion and be nonjudgmental. Boom, now the compassion comes rolling forth, with no effort. Perhaps the Buddha’s ultimacy is more accessible to us mere humans than Jesus’s?

    • Bruce Sanguin says:

      Nice Connie,

      Interestingly, just yesterday while doing my weights I was listening to you and Michael interviewing Dierdre Barrett on mismatched instincts and supernormal stimuli. Great interview and got me through the workout to boot. Interesting point out Buddha and Jesus. I don’t think my thing got triggered by an external command of Jesus to love. Rather, more attachment dynamics. And by the way, I do experience you as one of the most non-judgemental and multiperspectival person I’ve ever met.

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