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Through the Red Door

Red Door

In the early days of the Church, when the front door of the parish was painted red it was said to signify sanctuary – that the ground beyond these doors was holy, and anyone who entered through them was safe from harm.

In the lives of many recovering people, it is through these same red doors that sanctuary is found on a daily basis. Initially that sanctuary may not have started in the rooms with high vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows, but in the basements and back rooms of churches where 12-step meetings are held.

This blog was created for recovering people to share the experiences they found walking through those doors of safety, refuge and peace.

 
To submit a entry to the blog, please click here for the details or contact us at info@episcopalrecovery.org.

  • 10/14/2016 11:59 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I remember well that cold, wet February evening when I walked in to my first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous.  I believe that the minute I walked in the door my spirit began to awaken from a deep and deadly sleep.  The room was bright, warm, full of people with love for me before they even learned my name.  Yes, I inwardly rolled my eyes at the corny slogans on the wall -- One Day at a Time and Easy Does It – but the atmosphere of the room reached a part of me that had grown as cold as the weather outside.

    A kind woman gave me the A.A. Big Book and in it she wrote, “It’s a WE deal!”  Apparently, that was the topic of that night’s discussion.  All I can remember was the talk about God.  I thought God had abandoned me and I cried through most of the meeting.

    A few members of the group invited me to dinner and I followed them to a local restaurant.  I had a bowl of soup and listened to their happy conversation about their lives and how A.A. worked.  When a young man asked if I still had alcohol in the house, I answered honestly, yes.  I believe that was the first fruit of my spiritual awakening, that simple honest answer from me – a person who lied when telling the truth would be just as easy.  Someone else asked me if I could pour it out when I got home.  Again, an honest answer came from me when I admitted that I didn’t think I could do it.  It was suggested that I put it outside, away from sight.  I believed I could do that much and I did.

    I was so hungry for relief from the agony of my alcoholism that I read almost the entire Big Book before I went to sleep.  I also prayed the Serenity Prayer that night and the miracle of my spiritual awakening really kicked in.

    By the time I started on my second step with the guidance of a sponsor, I had become reacquainted with the God of love I’d grown to know as a child.  I had no trouble turning my will and my life over to the care of God when I did my Third Step on the banks of a beautiful little creek near my home group.

    The rest of the steps weren’t as easy or maybe I wasn’t quite as desperate but I did them to the best of my ability.  When I got to Step Eleven, it was like coming to an oasis.  Establishing “conscious contact” with something I couldn’t see, hear or touch was a challenge but the process of prayer and meditation brought me then and now into contact with a loving force beyond my understanding.

    I arranged a small meditation spot at a table with windows on two sides.  I keep a small vase of fresh flowers, a candle, my journals, a meditation book, my bible and a few other things that are special to me.  Almost every morning, I make time for what I call “Coffee with Jesus” at this small table.  My gray cat often joins me and as I enjoy this quiet time with my Lord and we watch the birds and squirrels in the backyard.

    Currently, I’m struggling with a couple of life’s challenges and I have to admit that I’ve been discouraged and questioned God’s love for me as well as his very existence.  Nevertheless, I continue to have that brief quiet time at my table in the mornings.  It enriches my spiritual connection even in these times of doubt.  If I keep at it, I know my spirit will continue to awaken a little more day by day in spite of trouble and the difficulties that life presents me.  God is good!

    -Anonymous

  • 10/05/2016 9:51 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Before I had a program, I thought that my life was a play that I had to write, direct, star in, and produce. Even though I had prestigious degrees and affirmation at work, I felt overwhelmed and angry at all the different people I had to please to pull off the show. In my exhaustion, my solution was to isolate on the weekends, passing away hours alone in my apartment ruminating about how I ended up being so unhappy despite outward success. My solution to my isolation was to imagine the person who would break through the walls of my heart, freeing me from my isolation, fear, and shame. Looking for that person got me out of the physical walls of my apartment but I never found “the one.” Instead I found affairs, romantic intrigue, and the deep pain of feeling like I had failed God and my own values.

    That pain brought me to program. I remember the freedom I felt when I first time I heard page 61 in the Big Book and the line when the authors describe how most people are like actors trying to run the show rather than letting God be the director, “Is he not really a self-seeker even when trying to be kind? Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages well?” Those words freed me from the shame of feeling like a failure - of course I couldn’t manage; I was trying to do a job that was God’s job, not mine. So I poured myself into program – 90 in 90, three outreach calls a day, sponsorship, steps, service, daily meditation – to learn how to let God direct my life.

    I am on step nine and feel the promises of the program bearing fruit in my life. I left a painful and destructive relationship. I left a job that paid well but that disconnected me from my Higher Power. I have moved to a new city I have wanted to move to for more than a decade. However, with all the positive changes are new fears about economic insecurity and uncertainty about where to find new friendships. But today when I feel overwhelmed and afraid, instead of going into a cycle of shame, overwhelm, and isolation, I make even more outreach calls, go to even more meetings, and spend even more time in prayer. I know that what I crave isn’t really any particular outcome but the freedom of knowing that God is running the show. The more I work my program, the more I realize that his play is far more joyous, fun and abundant than anything I could create.

    -Anonymous


  • 09/28/2016 9:50 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Headed out the door, late as usual, I paused with my hand on the key. The neighbor’s cat was immobile on the front porch, deathly still, ready to strike. My eyes sought out his prey. After a moment, I saw it: a lizard or green anole, just three inches long. It was a dusty, unremarkable brown, still as a stone, about three feet off the ground. It was out of reach of the cat, but was it aware that it was safe? Looking closer, I saw its throat was pulsing rapidly, and it looked like fear to me.

    When I am fearful, anxious, out of control, I forget to breathe and lose my focus, paralyzed by the threat I am so certain is about to pounce. Then I am best served by stillness, because that’s how I sometimes discover how to act, think and become what my Higher Power has in mind for me.

    My first impulse was to rescue the lizard from the fanged, clawed predator, but some instinct or maybe just curiosity stilled my movement. I stopped and witnessed the stand-off, a miniature high noon, completely inconsequential except to the three-inch anole. For the lizard, it was literally a life-or-death situation, and I wonder now: did those few seconds feel like an eternity to the cold-blooded creature?

    Then, because of impatience or a short attention span or a desire to look like a responsible adult who owns a clock, I twisted the door knob. The cat, quite accustomed to my comings and goings, barely flickered an ear. The chameleon’s throat seemed to pulse even faster. How ironic, that the apparent source of its salvation at that moment caused even more distress.

    I told the cat, quite nicely, to leave the poor beastie alone for the time being, and Rocket complied with feline aplomb. That is, he ignored me for a leisurely beat or two before strolling a few feet away and burying his nose between his long, upthrust legs.

    I stood on the threshold and watched the lizard. The fresh air reminded me to breathe, and the deep stillness of the creature gave me a little jolt of joy. As I watched, and breathed, and remembered to be grateful, an electric, vibrant green crept from one end to the other of the chameleon, a transformation so soothing, so astonishing, so poignant I gasped – and just like that, the lizard disappeared.

    When I came home hours later, no sign of the lizard. But Rocket, my neighbor’s cat, was sprawled across my front step, and deigned to allow me the pleasure of sinking my fingers in his silky, warm belly fur. He purred, and it was as if we had never held the balance of a tiny life in our control. Perhaps we never did.

    Karyn Zweifel
    9/21/16

  • 09/14/2016 10:49 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    One of the greatest gifts I received from AA was learning and understanding that I am both good and bad. That sounds crazy at first doesn’t it? What a contradiction! Aren’t we supposed to be good and not sin? Aren’t we supposed to be perfect? What a gift to know that we are supposed to be both! It’s the spirituality of imperfection that brought me the peace of God that passes all understanding, to the knowable mystery of God.

    I tried for years to pull myself up by my own boot straps and try to figure out what I could do to make you like me? All I did was wear myself out and push people away. Wasn’t my being nice and trying to figure out what you wanted a good thing? Why didn’t you like me and why didn’t God like me? Why did I not fit in? Was I not being perfect enough for you and God?

    Actually it was crazy to try the same thing over and over for years and of course all of my endeavors never worked! I finally gave up and jumped into the bottle when I could no longer feel comfortable and stand your company. I had to be drunk to endure certain relationships. So whose fault was that? Who was right and who was wrong? Who was I supposed to blame…you or me? I lived in a very black and white world where it had to be one or the other, no liminal space where all belonged!

    In giving up and trying a different path, a different way of being, my life began to change. I will say it was not overnight and I had to do the work of the 12 steps and take all the suggestions I was given. I became teachable. I became willing. I also began to learn about my character defects as part of the steps and how to look at them honestly, to accept them and to admit I am wrong when I am wrong. How freeing is it to say to the person I hurt that I was wrong? That allows for forgiveness and reconciliation for both people! I also learned to ask God to remove my shortcomings and to accept if they were removed or…. NOT. Let me say that again… accept if they were removed or not! I have come to believe our character defects are our greatest gift from God. Character defects actually bring us to God. Again another contradiction! Without these defects why would I ever need a Higher Power in the first place?

    This acceptance of my defects also taught me that not all character defects will be removed when and if I want them to be. To date the ones that have not been removed have taught me about humility and it has also taught me how to love and accept these behaviors in others. Even Paul asks God three times to remove the thorn in his flesh and the answer he gets from God is, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.” (2 Cor. 12: 7-9) Talk about powerlessness! Paul shows us how step one works by admitting he is not in control! Paul’s thorn was not removed and through his acceptance Paul rejoiced in God’s immeasurable grace. The reason for the thorn remaining like my character defect is an affirmation of God’s Grace. It becomes a way for us to name and claim our defects and that naming and claiming frees us from them. Sitting in an AA meeting I began to see my own reflection in the voices and faces of the other people in the room. We are all good and bad, right and wrong and we need each other to live through these choices we make, to love and accept each other as we struggle in our life here on earth. We are all in the same lifeboat; actually the whole earth is in the same lifeboat called LIFE. We are all needed to keep the boat afloat and to share the work that it takes to do that. Some of us are more skilled than others and that is why we are to carry the message and share the gift we have of this miraculous program.

    Today I am grateful that what was broken in me led me to this new way of seeing, feeling and perceiving. Yes, life is still a struggle and there are things I, too, wish would pass from me, but today I know as I am falling into the abyss of life, God has me firmly grounded in His love.

    Margaret D.


  • 09/07/2016 11:16 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I was two months sober and my mind still foggy when my dad invited me to an Episcopal Recovery Ministries retreat.  Actually he didn’t invite me, he said, “I think you ought to come”, and I said “OK,” which was about all I was saying at that point.  So we went, my dad and I, who hadn’t had a good relationship since I was about 12.  I was flabbergasted that a church denomination would have an entire department devoted to recovery from addiction and alcoholism.  How did that happen?  They must have a bunch of drunks in their midst! 

    The retreat leader was a Catholic priest in recovery.  There were two more things I couldn’t wrap my head around – an alcoholic priest and a Catholic being at an Episcopal gathering.  If I wasn’t messed up before, now I was really confused!  But I played along.

    We went around the room introducing ourselves, telling how long we’d been sober, and what brought us to this retreat.  I said I was dragged there, and been sober 2 months.  The priest reached in his pocket and said, “Well, this must be for you!” and gave me a 2 month coin.  I already had a plastic poker chip coin, but this was a real metal coin – Wow!

    He told an old Native American story about Jumping Mouse which made no sense to me, and I don’t remember the rest of the weekend.  But I knew that I was hooked, and already planned to go the next year.  I don’t remember anything about that year either, but I know it was part of my recovery. 

    In addition to AA, my sponsor, working the 12 steps, and prayer; these retreats gave me a warm “coming home” feeling every year.  I started getting more and more out of each gathering, remembering more and more, and beginning to put into practice some of the things I learned.  It was good to see the same people every year, especially the ones whose first time coincided with mine.  We can now look back and laugh at crying our way through those first couple retreats. 

    All this to say – Thank you, thank you, Episcopal Church, for creating such a needed and special ministry for us drunks and addicts.  I, for one, may not have survived without it. 

    Rachel M, Birmingham, AL


  • 09/01/2016 3:57 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Last week I arrived outside of Iconic Ink, (a real place) for a consultation on two tattoos that I was getting as enduring reminders of two pilgrimages I have had the good fortune to take in the 12 months.

    In June last year I was blessed to travel to Assisi on my honeymoon with the love of my life. We met nearly five years ago when she relocated from another diocese to take a new position as rector of a neighboring parish. That happened on September 1, 2011, which also happens to be my sobriety date. Assisi, according to my new bride, is a “love drenched landscape.” That nails it in my opinion and experience. Francis and Clare are lurking around every medieval building and throughout the countryside that nurtured two of the most influential Christian lives in history.

    We hadn’t even been married yet when the opportunity arose to take a pilgrimage to Israel, Jerusalem, and the Occupied West Bank during the week of Passover and Orthodox Holy Week this year. We jumped at the chance. Needless to say it was a very special and poignant time personally and spiritually.

    I had been tattooed for the first time just before my sabbatical to Ireland in 2012. I was there in the first year of sobriety and on my own for several weeks. That was a graced time given that Guinness Stout was my drink of choice at the end of my drinking. St. Brigid and St. Brendan crosses had been inked into my shoulders as sort of a talisman on that way.  I was surrounded by grace and not a few AA meetings in Ireland during my stay in West Cork.

    Before I had left on that trip I had experienced a continuous if not rapidly growing belief in the truth of the Step 9 promises that are read in my home group before each meeting. Those promises end with this phrase, “We will suddenly see that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. Are these extravagant promises? We think not!”

    As I walked in the door of Iconic Ink, I followed the proprietor who had arrived to unlock while I was waiting in my truck listening to the news of an earthquake in Umbria, not far from Assisi, and a story of the beating death of a Palestinian who had been jailed on suspicion of attacking an Israeli soldier the previous week. (God can weave some remarkable patterns in the tapestry of our lives if we take the time to step back and look!)

    He asked me, “What do you do for a living?”

    I told him I was a priest. He said, “I’ve never tattooed a priest before. I have inked a couple of my fellow deacons in the past.” He used to serve as a deacon at a neighboring UCC church near where I live.

    I told him that I was the first priest that each of my two previous tattoo artists had inked as well. I told him that one of them asked me, “Are you going to hell for getting tattooed.” And that the other one had asked, “Am I going to hell for tattooing you?”

    The proprietor of Iconic Ink and I shared a good laugh and then he told me that he had been raised Roman Catholic and only gone back to church after getting sober some 15 or so years ago. The spark of connection was swift and unmistakable (I suspect he may have seen among the many bumper stickers on the tailgate of my truck, ‘I’m a Friend of Bill W.’

    We talked a little bit of sobriety, a bit of church, and went on to work on the designs that he would inscribe on each of my calves in two days time. It was fellowship that only The Fellowship of AA has provided me on a regular basis.

    Two days later we opened up the shop together sharing stories, experiences, and views on sobriety and faith while we prepped for our session together. As he finished measuring, applying the stencils, and confirming the color schemes and selections, he asked me, “Should we pray first?”

    We joined hands over the table. I offered a prayer and we concluded with praying for one another’s families, our shared faith, and our continued sobriety. I have to say that was not one of my expectations as I planned to honor and remember these pilgrimages--that I would be praying with my tattoo artist on a bright summer morning.

    This vignette is only the latest in a string of graced events that I have received since I started living the Promises of AA with a confidence born of experience. A new ministry, a new wife, a new circle of friends, and deepening friendships that had shallowed out until I got serious about working on spiritual fitness as the bedrock of each day of sobriety that I am blessed to live.

    Life is full of unexpected graces. I have learned to expect the unexpected with varying levels of faith and confidence since I turned my life and will over the power of God and the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.

    Are these extravagant expectations? I think not!!!

    -Anonymous


  • 08/10/2016 10:25 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I have been in the program for 41 years and have often been conflicted between what is happening outside the rooms and what happens inside. Chaos outside, rioting in the streets, anger, racial conflict, political hatred, gun violence and too much "stuff” happening not to mention it in the rooms at a meeting.

    But we don't. We practice the fifth tradition; our primary purpose remains carrying the message to the alcoholic who still suffers.

    Can you remember your first several meetings, sitting in the rooms in physical and emotional pain, wondering what these people were doing? What a different experience it would have been if folks were making political speeches to each other about the current presidential candidates or the latest liberal or conservative hot button issue?

    In the great wisdom of the program, we heard people speak of the importance of honesty, of the unmanageability of their lives, of working the steps and the importance of having a sponsor. We heard men and women speak of ravages alcohol had done to their personal lives, how we destroyed the trust of our spouses and children, of our professional colleagues and siblings, and destroyed our own sense of self-respect and integrity.

    What I needed when I came into my first few meetings was what I couldn’t get from a newspaper or NPR: I needed a place where I could face my shame and guilt; a place where people would laugh about things I cried about; a people who would love me when I hated myself; care for me when I loathed who I was; a program that addressed the corners of my life which I wanted to hide; and offer me the light of hope in my life of darkness. By their talking about things they had done, the secrets of my own life had a new light shone on them and I had to own and takes responsibility of my life.

    AA dropped a life-line to me while the rest of the world was busy with other things…important things but extraneous to what was my greatest problem. While I was busy talking about political solutions to the world’s problems, my alcoholism was destroying my home, my health and my professional standing in the community.

    What I needed was someone to help me separate the important from the busy. Of course what is happening in the streets is important but that wasn’t my greatest need and problem. I needed help to see what I could do something about and what I had to leave alone and let others solve. I thought I had to solve everything. The Serenity Prayer became an important part of those first few days, weeks and months. It still is.

    The traditions are a part of AA as much as the Steps and it is critical we practice them in times of social unrest. Talk about other issues over coffee…talk about the program in meetings.

    -Joe C

  • 08/05/2016 1:34 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Step One: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.

    By most accounts I was managing my life as a father, husband and parish priest fairly well. I made all the appointments on my calendar. I made sure that the laundry was done, my son was off to school with lunch or money for lunch. I preached faithful and fairly orthodox sermons each Sunday. Somehow, in spite of my drinking, I seemed to be managing just fine, thank you very much.

    Why, then, was I generally irritable and discontent? I managed to do all of the above fairly well, but there was a dimension lacking that I had found so palpable during seminary. I wasn’t enjoying my life very much. I had managed to get good grades, passed all seven areas of the General Ordination Exam with relative ease. It is easy now to recognize that my drinking was the problem. Until I managed to get my sorry self back into the program (Thanks Be To God!), I was existing. I was managing. I wasn’t really LIVING!

    When I did find my way back to the basements of churches (without my collar for nearly the first year) I saw people that were doing more than managing their lives. They were living them. The reality of that, as God’s hope for me and for everyone, was to really live our lives. I remember a young woman from one of the halfway houses saying in a meeting that until she had found the program and really started working the steps, especially Step One, that she “felt like an understudy in her own life.”

    The scales dropped from my eyes and I remembered Jesus saying in John’s Gospel, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (10:10) I was trying to manage life when God’s invitation was to live abundantly!

    Once I gave myself over to the will of God for my life and focused on ‘doing the next right thing’ and being true to the self that “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3), I was never going to live my life, much less really enjoy it.

    Little by slow, I gave up the management of my life to God and his purpose for me in any given circumstance. Lo and behold, I really started to enjoy my life without having to go to the effort of controlling people, places, things and events and managing the expectations of anyone other than God for me. I started to find freedom and peace that I hadn’t known in a long time.

    There are still plenty of rough patches and bumps, but hey, that’s life. A life that’s lived as opposed to one that I try and manage. I’ll take the former any day! 

    -Warren H.

  • 07/30/2016 7:50 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Although far removed from the Fifth Sunday in Lent, this last week in July gives me an annual chance to ponder anew the raising of Lazarus in the eleventh chapter of John.

    I have always loved this story, and found great joy in preaching on friendships tried, expectations challenged, reliance on God – all leading up to the triumphant “Lazarus, come out!” All very well and good, and let’s get on to Holy Week. What I didn’t yet know was the best part of the story was yet to come.

    Some of the circumstances of my life, partly growing up gay in the 1960s in the suburbs of the Midwest, formed me as a chameleon. Early on, I became deft at wearing whatever guise I thought might be expected of me, changing masks when it seemed desirous or necessary.

    One of the masks I tried on late in life was a social life of recreational drug use. It was like finding a ticket to an amusement park I never knew existed. Of course, amusement park life and real life could never meet. Now there were two complete sets of masks.

    And I learned, as many of us have learned, it was fun --- until it wasn’t. Fun to habit to problem to utter chaos. I struggled to solve my addiction on my own before anyone else found out. After all, it was my fault, right?

    As the unmanageability of my life skyrocketed, my energies were directed at keeping those two sets of masks apart, with increasingly less success. And then it happened, my worlds collided, and I hit a bruising and humiliating bottom.

    The days immediately after were the darkest I had ever known, culminating in dragging my frightened, defeated self into my Bishop’s office saying, “help.” Slowly, help arrived. Often from the people I had hurt the most.

    And this, of course is the point of the Lazarus story I had previously overlooked, and now live by. After Lazarus is alive, but not yet living, Jesus turns to the crowd saying, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Take all those masks off of him, and let him begin to live as the person God made.

    And from that day to this, through the grace of God, and with the Steps and Fellowships, I try to practice resurrection, to live unbound by the masks of self. And this new life is often not what I want, certainly not what I had planned. But, day by day, if I pay attention, it is the life that I need. Thanks be to God!

    Paul J.


  • 07/22/2016 12:45 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t afraid. I was afraid I wouldn’t fit in. I was afraid I wasn’t good enough. I was afraid I’d fail. I was afraid I couldn’t do it perfectly. I was afraid there was something fundamentally wrong with me that wasn’t wrong with other people and I would never be able to live comfortably in the world.

    Then I learned that fundamental thing was a God sized hole in my soul. There was treatment for that, and treatment for the other thing, the alcoholism, the insidious unscrupulous disease that thrived on fear and self-loathing.

    My alcoholism is arrested and abstinence has been possible only through the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. Admitting powerlessness over alcohol and all mind altering substances, giving my life to God daily, taking a thorough inventory and giving it away, praying for removal of my defects of character that stand in the way of my usefulness to my brothers and sisters in the world, trying not to engage in behavior that impedes my spiritual growth or is hurtful to me or those around me, checking in with myself every day that I’m on the right path, maintaining that relationship with God and helping others, that’s my treatment.

    I used to think the fear would go away, or the self-loathing. I’d get rid of that stuff for good and skip down the road of happy destiny. After years of experience, the truth is the fear doesn’t go away and often times the self-loathing and feelings of unworthiness continue to percolate just beneath the surface. Only now I see the fear as a little child, and sometimes my terrified adolescent self that only wants to keep me safe. If she can keep me from taking too many risks, stepping out into the unknown with no circus net to cradle our fall because she thinks, inevitably we will fall, then she can keep us safe and sound, and we will never experience grief or loss or pain or rejection. Sometimes, she’s really loud and persistent, and before too long I look at my life and realize I’m holding myself back from experiencing the fullness of life because I got too comfortable in a job I didn’t like, or stayed too long in a relationship that was destructive.  All tangled up in that mess is fear, feelings of unworthiness, and not being capable. But I have these tools, this fellowship, and these people-mostly women-that I can come to with my desire for change and my fear of change, and tell them what’s going on. I talk about it, out loud, in a group full of women, who share their fears and feelings of unworthiness. These women have walked the path ahead of me and moved the big boulders out of the way. They stand in the light and wave me on saying, “This way. It’s ok. It’s safe. It’s super scary but it’s safe, too. Cause we’re here.” And the fundamental truth, underneath all of it, is that we are God’s beloved. That is the fundamental truth of who we are. We are not our fear, or unworthiness, or our character defects, or our limitations. We are God’s beloved.

    -Holly C. 


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