Shhh… Just Be Humble.

“Live and let live!”

It’s a phrase I hear often from the mouths of those who don’t.

Individuals that always pride themselves in being so “laid back” and “down to earth” are, most times, the most judgmental people I have encountered. Sadly, it takes some time to figure this out because it takes them some time to slowly drop that façade and show who they truly are. These people are the kinds of people that believe to be so darn knowledgeable on the way life works, to the point that they become arrogant in their teachings. They no longer accept or stand to listen to outside thoughts or opinions. You’ll find yourself talking to them and will quickly realize that they are not listening but instead coming up with strategic ways to counter ever word you were expressing. They shoot you a look of pity due to what they perceive to see in you, ignorance.

Conversation, a dance of two people’s thoughts and opinions bouncing off of one another in hopes of communicating and possibly learning a thing or two from one another, or at the very least, allow room for growth. Yet, with these kids of people conversations aren’t had, or simply put, it’s almost painfully impossible to be had. It’ll quickly become a one sided chat where you’ll do the listening as they begin to spew their ways of thinking into your direction, hoping that it’ll stick. Once I begin to observe that they’re continuously forcing their thoughts or way of life onto me or others, without allowing room for uniqueness and individuality, that’s when I begin to slowly back away.

Humility for me goes a long way and life will make sure to do that for you if you tend to get too lost in what you’re doing to remember that. I try to remind myself of this when I encounter people who have forgotten to be humble. The very same people who have become so “enlightened” that they find it hard to except others who are still well on their journey.

I’m nowhere near being perfect, and of course Ego will at times blind you at that fact. I do however try to keep myself in check. Even when I get excited about the new things life has bestowed upon me be it knowledge or more tangible items, I try hard to not to let that get the best of me. At least not to the point in which I’m turning off the most important people in my life. I try to remember that we are all in a different place of our experience here. I have certain people who come to me for advice or guidance. I try my hardest to listen to them to see what stage of the game they’re in and depending on that is where I’ll begin. Being present to fully take in all variables (who they are, what they are currently going through, what they have in the past gone through) it’s all important when it comes to guiding others. It’s like they say “We have two ears and one mouth for a reason.” Double up on the listening instead of exhausting your mouth in beating in your agenda. Remind yourself that not everyone is willing to be taught or are ready to listen. Some aren’t up for the enlightening process and maybe that’s their role here in life, to teach us that. No matter the scenario, let’s put forth patience and kindness towards one another. Think in terms of love and let everything else just be.

Learning Lesson #192020

You can plan something meticulously, like a complex move across the state or something as simple as tonight’s box mac and cheese dinner. You can make sure you try everything in your power to have crossed all your t’s and that you’ve dotted all your i’s. Yes, you can take every precaution necessary to make sure you did all the right things, and that, yes, that you also spoke all the right words. Of course you did your research. Still, here comes life and with one swift swoop sends your building blocks crumbling to the ground.

This tid-bit of knowledge is something I’ve noticed for years now but only once the COVID19 pandemic of 2020 hit did it really sink in that we have absolutely no control, nor will we ever be fully prepared for what life will have in store for us. Something so outlandish such as a global health crisis stopped the world in its tracks. Who would have thought? Not me. This was like something out of an apocalyptic movie, a story plot created by a creative writer with the imagination of a rebel teenager. Yet, here we are almost 8 months into this and my plans have still been highjacked.

Moments like these is when it pays to be easy going. Don’t get me wrong, I get ridiculously frustrated at the fact that there is an abundance of activities that I would like to plan but yet, with no end in sight to the pandemic, I can’t even begin execute. I can’t imagine the people out there that typically have their entire day, weeks, years planned much in advance down to the tiniest of details. To be kicked out of the driver’s seat and to be told that you have to just sit and wait I’m sure has some of those people’s skin crawling with uncertainty. I try to focus not on them, but on my self. Whenever I start feeling uneasy I need to remind myself that there is nothing I can do but dream about my plans someday coming into fruition. Until then, dreaming will take me where no current planning will and at least for the time being I can be content with that.

Pushing Fantasies

***FICTION***

It was a life that he created on a lonely day, long ago. His partner, Paul, had just gone to rehab and there he was, left behind raw and emotional. It was like a tornado whisked through, devouring his life and then spitting it all out, leaving him to pick up the pieces.

He sat at his computer feeling alone and all he craved more than anything was attention. His mind began to wander, his thoughts like an eel gliding across the deep dark waters of his mind. His thoughts turning dark and adventurous, borderline sinister. He decided to Google for things he had never thought of googling and before he knew it, he had created a profile on a site where people went hunting for dark things.

Instantly he began to receive messages. Small windows popping up all over his screen and all from men who were also wanting and seeking relief in their cravings. He chatted with many of them finding pleasure and amusement, and into the night he played with his new found friends.

Just like with anything else that starts off new, he had become instantly obsessed. The following day, although exhausted from staying up all night, his mind never drifted far from the new world he had discovered. He daydreamed of the stories told to him by his newly found lovers hidden behind his computer screen. He dreamed of playing out the scenarios that had been typed out before him, fantasies his mind had never before fathomed of. He was hooked and could not wait to get to his house to sit back on his couch and cruise the scene just one more time. He knew himself.  He could get into way too much trouble if he kept this up, but one more night of fun couldn’t hurt.

*

He got home, relieved that his partner Paul was still away detoxing. He wouldn’t be back for another two days and that gave him comfort. In his mind, he was much too ready to leave the relationship but wasn’t wanting to rush to the breaking up part. He hated breakups. Whether it was him that was doing the breaking up or the other person, the ending of a relationship always sucked for all parties involved. Knowing that Paul would arrive back home with sensitive emotions from going through detox, he knew it would not be easy.  Rob grabbed his laptop and quickly decided that instead of thinking about his real life situation, he would instead get lost in a world of fantasy.

Though he chatted with many men, there was one that stood out from the rest. He was a silver fox of a man. His pictures reminded him of a silver haired Hercules. With his broad and muscular chest and shoulders, and each of his arms the size of both of Rob’s thighs put together, he could only dream of what a man like that could do behind closed doors. How long had it been since the last time Rob had been intimate with someone? It was a shame that Tomas lived states away. Rob knew that sex with Tomas would be fun. He imagined Tomas pushing his limits and testing his boundaries. The thought immediately made him hard and he hurried in logging onto the site and searching for Tomas’ page.

                                                                *

Tomas wasn’t really Tomas. His name was Dwayne and he was an overweight middle aged man and married. Together they shared 4 daughters. One thing was for sure, he hated his life. Everything about his life brought agony to his soul. He felt that his entire life was a complete lie, one that he had been living for over 45 years.

Dwayne was born both male and female and although they decided to make him into a man and call him “Dwayne”,  he always felt like a Diana instead. His parents had chosen for him and he always knew that they had chosen wrong, but with a misogynistic father, and a subservient mother, there was no way he’d be getting out of this one. Even long after they passed he still help up his end of the forced upon bargain. He was married after all and at that time he was on his second daughter with his lovely wife Madeline. There was no way he would break his wife’s heart. His secret was tucked away held by locks and chains, but no matter how deep inside he buried it, the true version of Dwayne was dying to be let out.

He held even deeper secrets. His love of men was undeniable. Although he had never been with a man, the fire burned within. Sure, his wife was beautiful and kind. In his most honest opinion, he didn’t deserve her. He married her for his parents. He did everything for his parents and though he was grateful to have her in his life, she still didn’t quench the desire he had for others. 

One night as his wife and daughters were out have having a girl’s day, he decided to go online and search for a distraction from his mundane and unfulfilling life. What he ended up finding was a whole new life, a new identity. He hadn’t chosen to be a woman but instead created Tomas. A handsome man chiseled out of marble but infused with the same lust Dwayne carried. It wasn’t long after his profile was approved that he met Rob, and with that came an addiction he never thought possible. 

                                                                   *

“5 DEAD IN LOVER’S TRIANGLE ENDING IN MURDER SUICIDE” 

Detective Juarez slammed his phone on the desk rage cruising through his veins. How had they gotten word so quickly? The department hadn’t even contacted all of the victim’s family yet and headlines were already circulating. Not even 24 hours had passed since he had initially arrived on scene, a scene that was forever seared into his memory. A quick flash back took him to the moment he had arrived on the farm. He walked up the dirt driveway only to be stopped by his first piece of evidence. He crouched down and extracted a pen from inside his navy blue blazer and used it to pick up the shoe to take a look. A size 8, closed toe shoe with fresh dark red droplets now decorating it, most likely coming from the body that lay just a few feet from where he was. He could make out the bubble gum pink polish on their now blue colored toes, and thought to himself that if it weren’t for where the body was located he would have just assumed that they were peacefully sleeping. 

All in all the crime scene looked to be the scene from a horror movie. The buzzing of flies was deafening and with the minuets ticking on, the smell was beginning to make it unbearable to breath. A total of 5 bodies ages ranging from teenagers to middle aged, one of them being the person to have inflicted such savagery  to the victims and then to themselves. He immediately thought to himself that this looked to be a crime of passion.

Looking back at that moment, he knew that this was an open and shut case. Juarez knew who had committed the crime and how.  Now he just needed to know the details, the why behind it all. How had it all began? In order to move on from such a travesty he had to try to piece together the days leading up to what had transpired the evening before, but before he could go on with his investigation, he must go  and speak to the families. 

Hopefully he would get to them before the news headlines did. 

Sweet Home NJ

Perspective is a funny thing.

I had a friend of mine reach out to me recently curious as to why I moved back to NJ. It’s a question I get asked pretty frequently. This friend of mine says, “I always wanted to move away from here. I hate this place. I’m shocked because you were one of the few to actually get away.”

I once hated this place too. When I left I told myself that I would never move back but yet here I am. I had gotten away and yet I still came back. Its been 11 months since I moved back and although the beginning was a bit rough, nothing went as planned, I can’t say I regret it. It’s been a great support being around my family and close friends throughout this pandemic. Honestly, in that aspect, I feel as though my timing in moving back couldn’t have been any better.

Removing the pandemic from from this equation, I have always enjoyed certain hobbies here in NJ with more frequency than let’s say I ever did in Florida. Things like going for walks, camping, or even going to the beach I’ve done more here. I hadn’t realized how much the heat and humidity stifled much of my wanting to do things outdoors. I spent a total of 12 years in various parts of Florida and although the scenery was much prettier than what you may find in South Jersey, the constant heat with only a couple weeks of a break once a year really killed all motivation to ever want to do anything outdoors.

Since moving back I’ve gotten to enjoy winter, spring, and summer seasons again. Next up is my favorite, Autumn. These are all moments in time that I had once taken for granted. As a child, I always wanted it to be summer. I manifested it, and let me say, I wasn’t careful with what I wished for because I truly didn’t enjoy year-round summer living.

Those last 12 years of my life away from home I did a lot of working on myself. Some willingly, some of it came by surprise. All of it has molded me and focused my mind and sight on what truly matters in life and this is why I can be back home and not feel hate for being here. The person who packed her car and left is not the same person who is here today. I love that. Will I be here forever? Most likely not, but who knows? Maybe I’ll make this my hub while I take to the world and do some traveling. All I know is that I’m currently enjoying the ride here at good ol’ New Jersey. Living on this little island, still living my beach life, I’m choosing to look at my time here as the glass being more than halfway full. Although many have been yearning to get away, I am blessed to be back.

The Final Act

Panic attacks. I used to get them periodically and what always triggered them, it was never anything else, were thoughts of death. I guess that’s what happens when at a young age you begin to lose people.

The attacks would always start with a small thought, something innocent like seeing roadkill, or hearing a piece of news on the radio about some celebrity’s passing. I would start to think about how they’re no longer able to soak up the day’s sunrays, or ever appreciate what it feels like when a spring’s breeze kisses your face. I’d begin to think about how their loved ones somewhere out there in the world would be heartbroken for what it would feel like a lifetime to come. The thoughts would then trickle into my personal life. What if I lose my mother?… or my sister? What if right now someone crashes into me, T-boned, and POOF! Lights out?

THAT’S when the panic would slowly slither in.

It would start with a slight flicker of the pulse in my neck. It felt like a double click; trigger being pulled. My throat would feel constricted by only a little at first, making it an actual thought to swallow instead of the instinct that it is. My hands would begin to get clammy and would ball up in anticipation of what was to come, and a cold sweat would soon then follow. Thoughts all the while tumbling around my mind, detailing the sudden death, a death that hasn’t happened yet.

This went on for a number of years at times being almost debilitating, but with the help of things like meditation and such, I slowly was able to control these attacks. Instead of having such a fear of what is death, I in turn decided to change my mindset and learned to adapt a healthy respect for it. Regardless of the respect, there are times in which I simply do get caught off guard by what is the final act in this play called Life. Especially when someone so amazing suddenly goes.

It makes no difference the way in which a loved one passes, it’s never easy. I do find it excruciatingly difficult to grasp when someone who is young and full of life dies without one ever seeing it coming. I’ve lost many people in my life this way, more than half of them being when I was still too young to fully understand the permanence of what was happening. Recently however, the ones in my life that passed have really taken me back, almost to those moments of panic because now I do understand the permanence of it, as well as the randomness. I see and logically comprehend that amazingly good hearted people, wise souls that shine a light onto this sometimes dark and violent world, aren’t immune to being taken early. Emotionally I cannot understand it. My heart doesn’t compute why the good ones go so young and as I get older, I don’t think it ever will.

No matter how hard I try to put words to how I feel about my friend’s recent passing I simply cannot. When I tell you that this world lost an amazing person, I cannot describe to you how much I seriously I mean it. An intelligent, compassionate soul who truly did make a positive impact on this world, because anyone who came across him would forever be changed in their most positive of ways. To extinguish that torch was to make this place just a little darker, but if you believe in heaven, it just got a heck of a lot brighter.

However sad and painful, I still try to find the silver lining. I guess it goes to say that I haven’t really lost them, but if anything I now have quite a crew waiting for me to get back. I am in no rush, but I do find comfort in that. Until then, all can really do is clichély live my life in tribute to them and seize the chances and opportunities, living for those who could not.

Inevitable Crossings

South Jersey, a small little beach town cannot hide what you’re not trying to see. It’s been 10 months and I avoided running into the past that I have worked so hard to forget. Still, it is like a shadow that inevitably reveals itself, reminding you of what once was. It is crazy for me to see how much others have not been able to move on with their lives even years later when memories are now fuzzy with dust.

When I moved away the second time it was due to two heartbreaks, the passing of my closest cousin and the infidelity of my best friend. For years I delt with both losses. One still wears on my heart like an itchy wool sweater because he is no longer able to enjoy and share in the journey of this world. The other I learned to forgive as well as forget. I knew that once coming back to my hometown, the later would resurface but I would be damned if I would make it easy for a chance encounter. I almost made it an entire year.

Like mentioned before, this area is small, where everyone knows everyone and if they don’t know you, there will still be various mutual acquaintances to keep you tethered. That’s how we ended up crashing into each other again. I remember it being innocent and refreshing. I felt as though full closure was finally had, and to know that we could each move on with our lives without the weight of a tragic and heartbreaking past weighing us down was a great feeling. In my mind there was no longer a full need to dodge, for both parties were in accordance, a synchronized dance. Yet, it was two days later that I heard through the grapevine that things were not well; drama was to ensue.

Honestly, what the actual fuck did I think was going to happen? Not everyone is going to be like me. Not everyone can forgive or forget, even if it was them that were the snake in Eden’s garden. I decided to ignore the gossip, although juicy. I also couldn’t help feel the slight ego boost that infiltrated my soul. A moment in which it all came full circle, knowing that ultimately they did not succeed in their malicious plan to thwart something so natural. Never the less, it was none of my business and I wanted no part of being caught up in the spectacle. She, however, could not help it.

Weeks later I run into him again, even though at this point there was no mistaking, it wasn’t coincidental. I knew he was finding ways to bring himself around and on this specific night I decided to let him know that this, what he was doing was not only brazen, but dissapointing. I now understood that there had not been much change that had taken place in the time of my absence. Even though I wanted to believe that with age there had been much growing amongst all involved, that had simply not been the case.

“We need to talk,” he begged as I turned away from him. “Just give me a minute.” Without wanting to be rude or cold, I allowed him the minute, but he only got about 10 seconds in before I stopped him. He began by asking me why it was that I had contacted his wife in order to tell her that we had seen each other. I laughed. I was shocked at the lie she had configured and even more so at the fact that he believed her. The serpent had slithered her way into trying to gain information and he fell for her trickery. I give her props, but then immediately took it back. I don’t like to be used as a manipulation tactic.

“I have absolutley no need to contact your wife. I haven’t spoken to her in over 5 years. I also have no time for childish games. Please, both of you need to forget about me just as I have moved on from all of you. You’re no more than a grain of sand in my sandbox.” And with that I relocated to another area of the bar.

He ended up following right behind but his boys, my angels, decided to send him packing, but not before he could rob himself a hug and a drunken smooch on my cheek. A smooch that cost him a hard and boney elbow to his chest. “Get off of me! Don’t you EVER do that again!” With that, he was wisked away into an uber.

Apologies and messages of shock radiated from his friends. I wasn’t too surprised at his actions so I told his friends there truly was no need of an apology from them. This was exactly the kind of thing I was used to years ago, when all of this was my life. Now however, I would not tolerate the disrespect be it towards me or his serpent. I left this life long ago and there was no way in hell I wanted any part of it back. A friendship, at most, would have been the only thing I was open for when it came to these circus clowns but now seeing as though conflict is all they still swam in, I was not at all interested.

As sure as I am that I will see them around for the world is too small, I am equally as sure that I won’t even take a glance in their direction. All I will say is that it’s sad to see people in your life staying trapped in a time that truly has no present purpose other than to keep you chained to unease and unhappiness. When you notice that their days are filled with empty monotony and lack of passion. They mesure their success with titles and tangibles and never seem to notice that they never evolved into their full potential simply because they got caught up with trying to manipulate life. Life isn’t a game. It is a beautiful journey of inner growth and spiritual learning. Many may not understand this, but I do. So I will continue on my path without taking much of a glance back, because what’s important to me is making a consious effort in maintaing my inner peace, while showing others that it is ok to evolve in to a more happier and peaceful version of what once was.

Stardust Conception

With my head resting in my palms and gaze directed up into the dark and deep abyss above me, characters from a time of what seems so long ago begin to rush back. There are so many of them, people that I’ve encountered throughout my time away from home. Even smells and sounds float back to my senses, rapidly taking me to unique places in time. It’s times like these that I wish I had someone to share these details of my life with. I wish that I could share and that they’d listen, not from obligation, but because they care enough to want to get lost in a good story. An ear who listens out of pure interest and not because it could get them somewhere; hidden motives.

People don’t have time anymore for good stories, not unless it pertains to them, and that’s the sad truth. It’s all about listening to themselves speak, or at the very least, being the protagonist of the current story being told. You’ve got to love the honesty too. When you’re trying to share a story, some people will let you know without speaking it so that they could care less about what you could be trying to share. Their gaze screaming, “I don’t care. I’m listening to be nice..” or my favorite facial expression, “I’m acting like I’m listening but also staring away to let you know I’m also kind of ignoring you.”

And so, I journal. I write down people, places, and things. I may not be able to verbally tell my stories, but I have faith that someday all the pages of most of my journaling will tell the stories that are meant to be shared. They will have their time. Until then, I will be that ear for others.I mean hell, everyone knows how much I do love a good story. So let them tell theirs. I’ll reminisce to myself, allowing for all those characters to swirl and dance, and melt together; live on inside my mind.

A Letter To Self

You are so imperfect, its perfection. Don’t doubt who you are or what you’re becoming. Simply live every day getting yourself to the highest level of good feeling frequency that you can. Living positively is the force that will take you where you need to be. Believe in your intuition and if something gives off a negative frequency, steer clear. Take steps with love and kindness in mind, with no regard to race, gender, religion, or any other sort of diversity, and understand that that path will never lead you in the wrong direction. 

Life isn’t a race. You’ll get to accomplish the things you want and need to accomplish at its own time. Don’t compare where you are in life with those around you. See them as their own individual example of how others live their life. Contemplate the lessons you may take away by admiring their situation but don’t compare, for you are on your own journey.

Be mindful and stay present. The best way to live your life is to live right here, right now. Feel the breeze that just brushed across your cheek. Touch the petal of the flower that just caught your eye, give it a “thank you” for blessing you with its natural beauty. Listen to the laughter that erupts from children playing as you walk by your neighborhood playground. Let their giggles uplift you and ride its innocence to the depths of inner joy. Have no thought to the past for why reminisce and long after what no longer is. Don’t live in the future for there is no real future. You’re not promised the next 60 seconds let alone an entire lifetime.

Waste not your energy or time on things, people, or situations that bring you no joy. Forcing yourself to do things won’t strengthen anything other than the bond others will have a hold on you. Don’t allow the social chains to hold you back from taking advantage of this journey you’re on.

Laugh as much as possible and if you cry, cry from deep within your soul and let your tears nurture the ground below your feet. Allow its nutrients to strengthen the foundation for your rebuild. Don’t simply get over your problems, work through them, and move on.

Happiness is a choice and you have an abundance of it at your disposal, but only if you make the choice to seize it. Have faith in yourself because you are worth more than you know.

XOXO

Me.

Contemplation Station

All I’ve really been doing the last couple of months is contemplating. I think about everything. I think about where I was a year ago, or 5 years ago. I think about the people I have met along the way, and have also lost within this process called life. I mourn the loss of those who are still alive but are no longer with us. I think about certain things that I would never even think twice about before. Like, why I’ve gone to the beach more since moving back to New Jersey then I did the entire time it was living in Florida. I find myself wondering how I have gotten into a stagnant routine or which I’m constantly craving more for myself but yet can’t take steps towards changing certain things in order to get the ball rolling my direction. I think about how I’ve gotten in my own way, and although I would love to blame this pandemic, I can only truly blame myself. I think about how my passions such as writing and painting have taken a back seat to drinking and thinking. I guess the silver lining to all of this is that at least I’m thinking.

A COV(ert)ID Silverlining

When all of this “virus” chatter began, I will admit that I wasn’t fully convinced at the gravity of it all. I blame our government and media outlets for that. They have broken my trust on many levels, so pardon me that it took me some time to believe what was being said. Lucky for me I learned at a young age to look outside of mainstream media sources and to dig deeper when seeking out the truth. Slowly I began to ingest what was truly going on and instead of brushing it off as, once again, another media-driven hysteria, I began to heed what was being warned. For me, it went from being “virus” chatter to serious virus talk.

I am currently on day 8 of our “official” lockdown and although I have been able to see friends and family periodically, it was only in the last three days that I have chosen to completely isolate myself, and not for the reasons that you may think. 

Amid all the calamity this virus has brought to our front doors, I’d like to think of all this as a necessary evil for society and what’s left of this starving planet Earth.

I might get shit for calling this pandemic a “necessary evil”. How could I say such a thing when so many people have died? But like a war, a battle being fought for the greater good, it has its deaths by the thousands of the guilty and of the innocent alike; it is exactly that, war. This type of war, however, isn’t to bring together land and eradicate manmade borders. This war is an internal war, not only physically but spiritually and emotionally. It’s a war to remind us of where we came from. It’s a war for time, because humanity needed time. Humanity needed a break from it all.

The last three days have been filled with a lot of self-reflection. I’ve been taking a look inside myself, asking myself questions, and having discussions that I should’ve had long ago. I limited my T.V time and within the silence, I have found sparks of creativity. I’m able to connect with nature better and I even feel as though the Universe speaks to me louder and more clearly without all the every day static I had grown conditioned to. I have learned to be a little more resourceful and a lot less wasteful. I’ve become more aware of the immediate things I must change to improve who I am.  I’ve become aware of the things I will gradually give up in order to live my version of a better life.

Some people end up finding themselves while lost at sea. Some find themselves after veering off track and getting lost in the wilderness. We have been given the chance to find ourselves within the confines (and comfort) of our own home. We have been given that extra bit of vacation time. We have been given the chance to learn from crisis hoarders, that greed leads you nowhere other than to the land of Overloaded and Nowhere To Store It.  We have been given extra time with our family, with our pets, with our crafts. We have been given the space to work on ourselves; the time to detox from everything that has been pumped into our senses.

I have read that for us here in the U.S it’s only going to get worse before it gets better. I also hear that “getting better” still means that we’re going to be set back about a decade.  Whether any of that is true or not, I don’t know. We’ll call it what it is, speculation. I say that if at the end of all of this there is more genuine happiness within homes all around the world, genuine happiness within our own home, and with one’s self than I’ll pay that price. In the end, we are all going to be going through it together and there is comfort in that. This is a covert opportunity to change humanity in wonderful ways if only we begin to choose love before greed. We have the ability to rebuild a stronger and better world by going through such adversity together. I wish that through all if this social distancing and social isolation, after all the souls who have passed on because of this virus, we end up choosing to do good to one another.

“We will have suffered together, we will have fought through it together, and we will overcome together.”