Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Airy somethings.

Writing is such an odd business. On some days, I feel as if I am wading through mud. My addled brain has nothing of use in it. I write because I must write; it’s a job, and waiting for inspiration is no good at all.

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On some days, my fingers move and my mind is leaping about, but I don’t really achieve anything. I’m just spinning my wheels.

And, on some glorious days, it all falls into place. The words are there, waiting for me. It’s as if someone has given me a Christmas present.

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I have absolutely no idea where the good stuff comes from. It feels as if it has nothing to do with me, that I can’t even take credit for it. I am merely transcribing.

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And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

I have so much airy nothing. Sometimes it stays that way. Sometimes it does have a habitation, and a name.

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Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Embrace the Rain.

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I think again about choices. It’s pouring with dreary old rain; the sky is like dirty washing-up water. Even Scotland’s great beauty cannot survive this weather. The place looks defeated and drowned. The field is muddy and filthy and its usual feeling of hidden magic is muted.

I could fight the rain. I could hunch my shoulders and get furious and moan about the horrid Scottish summer. We quite often have summers like this – relentless wet and a paltry ten degrees. Spring and autumn are the seasons of sunshine and beauty. I never understand why people come to Scotland in August; it is our cruellest month.

Even though I know this, I could let it infuriate me. I could think of all those happy people in the south, who have brightness and lightness and reasonable temperatures.

On some days, I do. Today, as I run up and down to the mare to put the rug on, take it off, and then return to put it on again, I decide I am going to take the second choice. I’m going to accept the rain. I’m going to embrace the rain. I put my hat on and make my peace with the fact that I am going to get wet, and that I shall be slightly damp for the rest of the day.

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Even as I write that, I laugh to myself. Slightly damp really isn’t the end of the world, is it? If you asked yourself – What is the worst thing that can happen? – and the answer came that you might get slightly damp, you really would think that you could deal with that. In a world of problems, that is a very, very small glitch.

Slightly damp is a killer when it goes along with an existential chorus of other damps. If the sorrows are coming not in single spies but in battalions, and then it rains on top of all that, it can seem as if nothing will ever come to any good. It is a temporal stamp on the passport of despair. Everything has gone to hell, and even the weather is against you.

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Today, I’m not doing cartwheels, but I’m not down-hearted. The rain and I are old friends. It is what makes the grass grow and the trees thrive. I would not be without it.

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The mare, catching my mood, lifts her head and gives an enchanting whicker, as I go down to put her raincoat back on. Sometimes, when the weather comes, she shuts down and goes into bare-bones survival mode. In that mood, she has little use for humans. I am merely the bringer of hay and the putter-on of rugs. Today, however, she is light and bright. She is pleased to see me. She rests her head on my chest and lets me scratch her sweet spots. I chat to her for a while and she blinks her eyes. When I go to leave, she follows me, so I return and give her some more love. It’s just rain, she says; I’m still here.

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PS. Particularly lovely comments yesterday. Thank you so much for them. My secret wish is that, at least once a week, this blog might prove useful. I sometimes laugh at myself for this, and think it grandiose. Sometimes I say to myself: you don’t have to tell them everything. Take a step back, I say; make it light and objective and not so searching and serious. Protect yourself, I say, because revelation makes you vulnerable. But the part that wishes to be useful knows that revelation does the trick, because I think that humans crave communion and connection. Every time a Dear Reader says ‘I’m so glad I’m not the only one’, I feel as if a light has gone on or a happy klaxon has sounded. Conversation is always better if it has an ounce of confession in it. One can build the castle walls and hide behind them and that’s fine, but I think that it is better to take a risk, to lower the drawbridge and come out into the open. Here I am, with all my frailties and flaws, and there you are, too.

PPS. I’m doing a new thing with the pictures, putting them into the post rather than leaving them until the end. Can’t work out if this is better, or worse. Today’s pictures are obviously not of today, because it was too wet for the camera. They are of sunnier times.

Monday, 27 July 2015

One day, I’ll get the hang of it.

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A joke amount of work today. My fingers were flying. Sometimes, when I have a lot to do and deadlines to meet and pressure is mounting, I take tension into the very act of writing. My shoulders go high and tight and I forget to breathe and I frown and frown at the demanding screen. Today, I took a deep breath and sat back and very consciously did the thing in a state of physical ease. And out came the words, without rush or fret or forcing – as if they had been there all along, waiting.

As I worked the red mare, I thought some thoughts about life. Much of the time, I concentrate so hard on her that I don’t contemplate anything else, but sometimes she puts me in philosophical mood. I thought about the waste of emotional energy. Even though I know, from endless experience, that people are never thinking what you think they are thinking, I still fall into the elephant trap of putting notions into their unknown heads. I grow convinced that someone is cross with me, or disapproving of me, or upset with me. I have done something BAD, and they are furious or disappointed about it. Even though I know better, I create an entire mini-drama in someone else’s mind, when in fact they are almost certainly thinking about something quite else, like what to cook for supper or whether they are going to get that report in on time or what is the answer to the Universal Why.

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This is the most stupid of stupid wastes. Even if they were thinking what I think they are thinking, my chewing over it like a mangy old dog with a ratty bone is not going to achieve a single thing. As it is, they are surely not thinking half the disobliging thoughts I impute to them, and the entire shooting match is utterly pointless.

Theory and practice, I think, and the gaps in between. I know what is true and I know what I should do and I understand about the waste, yet still I fall back into bad mental habits.

I returned to my best and sternest rule. This is the giving of two discrete choices. You can, I say to myself, as if I were a slightly dim child, go on obsessing about things you know are pretty much sure not to be happening, because you’ve gone down the rabbit hole for whatever reason, or you can just stop and do something more useful.

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I did something more useful.

The mare did her new, floaty canter. I ran up to HorseBack and did my work there. I galloped back to my desk and wrote hundreds and hundreds of words. I got things done, instead of working myself into a state about things which are only spectres in my fevered mind.

Life, I think. One day I will get the hang of it.

One day, it will be all cantering with no reins.

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Thursday, 23 July 2015

A guy with a boat.

Today, I met a guy with a boat.

This kind of thing sometimes happens at HorseBack. My friend The Marine says, as I’m leaving, ‘Oh, there’s a guy with a boat coming.’

I know better than to ask what guy and what boat.

This morning, I get a message saying: ‘The boat arrives in fifteen minutes.’

I drop everything and drive down the valley.

There is the boat.

She’s not just any old boat. She is a boat. Boat is not a good enough word, and all the other words don’t do her justice. I don’t think she is a vessel, or a craft. Actually, the word that sounds best for her is skiff, because that gives a sense of her sleek, athletic, cutting self, but a skiff is a small rowing boat for one person.

This is the biggest ocean-going rowing boat in the world.

The guy with the boat is a veteran of the Royal Navy. He smashed up his leg so badly that his femur was poking out of his hip. He had two years lying in a room to think, as he put it, about what would really make him happy in his life. Quite soon after he got up, he went down to a harbour near Edinburgh and saw an ocean-going rowing boat, and that was it, for him.

So now he has Avalon, and she’s already broken the Indian Ocean World Record, the fleet, flying darling, and now she’s going from Thurso to the Faroe Islands to raise money for HorseBack.

My goodness, the Interesting People.

The sun shone and I was so happy about the boat, and the guy, that when I went down to do the mare, rather later than usual, I stood with her in the field for about ten minutes, just scratching her ears and thinking about men and boats. She liked this plan very much. Partly because it gave her time to put in some practice for the Standing Still Olympics and partly because she really does like having her ears scratched.

We did some gentle work and then we did some more standing. There are days when she is antic and bright, days when all her thoroughbred blood runs through her, days when she is high and comical, days when she is dedicated and active. Some days she is a dancer, some days an explorer, some days a dressage diva, some days a dowager duchess.

Today, she was all Zen Mistress. The sun was glancing about and a quick, dry wind was blowing in from the east, but she had, at the heart of her, a low, spreading calm. It is a peace that comes up from deep within her, and ripples out in waves, something so actual and visceral that I can feel it flowing from her body to mine. When she is like this, she gives me the gift of time. She anchors me in the moment. Most days, I am thinking always an hour ahead. When I am doing anything, I am thinking about the next thing, and the thing after that. It’s a terrible habit, and I’m going to try to train myself out of it.

When the duchess is in her Zen mode, she stops the world. I actually think: it does not matter if I die now, because everything is here, in this moment. All joy and goodness and peace and love is here. All life is here.

I don’t think they mention that in Horse and Hound.

 

Today’s pictures:

This morning.

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Wednesday, 22 July 2015

In which I am ridiculously interested.

Two of the things I love most in the world are people who are really, really good at their jobs, and people who can talk fascinating talk for sustained amounts of time. Today, I was lucky enough to meet a gentleman who combined both.

When I go up to HorseBack for the work I do there, I usually gallop in, have a quick chat, take some photographs, and tear back to my desk. The writing of their Facebook page and the editing and collating of the photographs takes quite a long time, and I do also have a day job, so the whole shooting match is done at a fast clip.

Today, I met a Royal Marine who so was absurdly interesting that I sat in a chair for an hour and a half without blinking. As well as being a Marine, he is a sportsman, a sporting coach, a mathematician, and no mean psychologist. He understands the body, and he understands the mind. He is also a polymath. He was injured, and he was bored with not being able to be an active Marine, so he put himself on a reading programme. I suspect, from what he said, that he was always something of a polymath, but he is now the fully fledged article.

Our conversation did have a point. He wanted to ask me some questions about writing. But it opened out like a flower in springtime, and, before we knew it, we were off to the races. (You can see that I am so excited that I am mixing my metaphors and similes like a crazy horse.)

What I love most about really good talk is that galvanising sense of excitement that comes when you are up against someone who is better than you. You have to raise your game. Every neurone and synapse in my brain was firing on all cylinders. I drew on everything I knew and everything I thought. At the same time, I was concentrating on listening well. This kind of chat can be like a ping-pong match, but if you are too carried away with the balls whistling back and forth over the net, you can miss the good stuff. So for quite long periods, I sat back, opened up my body (I have a theory that body language is important for good listening), rested my zipping mind, and just absorbed all the interesting things the gentleman was saying.

He has a fascinating idea. He thinks everyone has one most telling flaw. Humans are composed of many flaws, but when the spiral comes – some kind of negative behaviour, bad thinking, a cracked plate state of mind – there is usually a definitive trigger which derives from this one most important flaw. If you identify that, he thinks, then you may liberate yourself.

I particularly love this because it goes along with one of the most interesting sentences I ever heard about working with horses. Like so many interesting sentences, it is very simple and very profound at the same time. Ray Hunt, who is the godfather of the horsemanship I follow, would often do clinics with problem horses. He bucks out of nowhere, a horse’s human would say; she bolts out of the blue; he suddenly rears for no reason. Hunt would always ask the same question. ‘What happened before what happened happened?’

It’s so clever because it’s all about listening to your horse, and not blaming externals or superficialities or human projections. Nothing, with a horse, ever comes out of the blue. If you go back and see what happened before the buck or the bolt or the rear, there is your answer, shining with truth. You fix that, not the subsequent behaviour, and all manner of things will be well.

(My mare’s flaw was that she would get in a state, lose confidence in herself, forget her focus, and have no trust in me. So I worked on the trust, and the focus, and made myself into the human she needed, and this built up her own confidence and sense of self, and now we canter round the Scottish fields with me waving my arms in the air. She did not need technical fixes; she needed a profound shift in perception. That is why she can carry herself kindly in a steady gait on a loose rein. Although, having said all that, I see it was not really her flaw, it was mine.)

My interesting gentleman has the same idea about human beings. I love it. When I have finished my work, I am going to look for my defining flaw. I have so many that it shall be like rummaging through the Cupboard of Doom. But I’ll find it. I have my mission, and I choose to accept it.

 

Today’s pictures:

Just time for three today. The Interesting Gentleman, learning to ride Western, and my two raving beauties:

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Tuesday, 21 July 2015

In which a thought is lost.

I had such a profound thought when I was riding the red mare this morning that I practically fell off with delight. Oh, I thought, there is something lovely for the Dear Readers. The poor things, they have to put up with such a lot of nonsense and finally I have something for them which is both beautiful and useful. I practically am William Morris.

I raced home, and dutifully did my professional work first. There is a lot to do and I’m bashing on at a rate of knots and a rather terrifying amount is riding on the thing.

The work was good. I did good work yesterday too. This is a vast relief, since I spent all last week doing perfectly rotten work, spinning my wheels and feeling like a feckless failure. But this week I am back in the zone and I have hope in my heart.

It also went fast. There are days when it is worth spending hours and there are days when you must know when to stop. Sometimes, with writing as with horsing, you should stop on a good note.

Ah, I thought. Now I can get to the blog. I can write the Profound Thought, and all manner of things will be well.

I pulled up the new screen and sat, eagerly, with my fingers poised joyfully over the keyboard.

I opened the cupboard of doom that is my brain.

NOTHING.

I mean, seriously, not one thing.

I scrabbled about for a bit, in the exact same way that I scrabble in my literal cupboards of doom.

Nope. Not there.

A vague, flickering thought started to rise to the surface. It was something to do with happiness, and beauty, and the small things (you know by now that pretty much everything with me is about the small things). It was about noticing. I stretched out for it, and, with a blue kingfisher flash, it was gone.

Oh bugger, I thought. The poor Dear Readers. How will I break it to them?

I am a shocking loser of things. I lose my car keys, my wallet, my MOT certificate, my National Insurance Number, my raison d’être. I have a horrible suspicion that the wise old shrinks would say this is a grave reflection on the cracks in my psyche. Every day, I tell myself: now, here is the special place where you must always put your keys. That way, I say, in my stern, grown-up voice, you will always know where to find them. You will not have to waste fifteen minutes each morning, retracing your steps and scrubbling through pockets filled with wisps of hay and rolled up coils of binder twine and crumbly dog treats. You will not have to curse like a drunken sailor on shore leave.

Am I capable of putting those keys in their special place so they are always to hand? No, I am not.

It seems I am also a loser of Profound Thoughts. This is a slight pity, because thoughts are my business.

Someone I love once told me a ravishing story. He had the great good fortune to spend some time with the Dalai Lama. Apparently, the Dalai Lama is followed wherever he goes by two smiling scribes, who write down every word he says, so all the Lama wisdom and goodness may be preserved for posterity. According to my Best Beloved, the Dalai Lama made a slightly naughty joke. It was very funny, but it was not filled with wisdom and was not exactly a thought for the ages. The scribes looked up, a little nervous and doubtful, their pens hovering over the page. The Dalai Lama roared with laughter and waved his hand and said, in his lilting voice, ‘Write it down, write it down.’

I quite often hear this voice in my head. Write it down, write it down. I need scribes. I imagine two dutiful recorders, panting after the mare and me as we canter round the green Scottish fields. WRITE IT DOWN, WRITE IT DOWN, I shall yell, as the mare executes her perfect, dowager duchess self-carriage whilst I wave my arms in the air like a loon.

I wonder if there are any nice young people who might like a summer job?

 

Today’s pictures:

I have not been able to put up sunny pictures for such a long time, because there has been no sun. But today, at last, I could give you this, one of my favourite sights in the world:

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And this, after she did her perfect canter:

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I was so carried away with the horse that I forgot to take any actual pictures of actual Scotland, so here are a few from the last couple of weeks:

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Friday, 17 July 2015

The rain wins.

The rain won.

I did call those damn Perspective Police, but they’ve now buggered off because they have a better invitation. I did look at the beauty, and it did soothe my jangled nerves, but it did not last. And now a host of frets and angsts and shadow fears swarm about my head like angry bees and I can’t drive them off.

Write it down, write it down, say the voices in my head. The only way to vanquish frailty is to admit to frailty.

I like to give you a happy ending. I was grumpy, but look – no hands – the sun came out again. I was in a state, but I talked myself down from the ceiling. Look what an ordinary cussed human can do.

But sometimes, the jangles won’t be denied. All the little pinpricks with which I can normally deal suddenly seem insurmountable. Things which I know how to do somehow become impossible. I know, for instance, that people are never thinking what you think they are thinking, especially when you think that thinking is of the mean and derisive kind. I KNOW THAT. And yet, I sent a very slightly gushing message to someone yesterday and they have not replied and I am completely convinced that they think I am a ghastly person who sends stupid messages and that they are hoping radio silence might put me in my place. The man who was supposed to come and top the fields has not pitched up and has not called and even though my rational mind says he is busy, my inner critics, who have been at the gin, insist that he didn’t come because he was so horrified that anyone could let their docks get so out of hand that he has probably LEFT THE COUNTRY. Oh, and that he’s even now in some charming tavern laughing about my ineptitude with all his new foreign friends.

You are forty-eight years old, say the stern voices; you really should know better than this.

Oh well, say the whimsical voices, every day can’t be Doris Day.

Write it down, write it down, say the voices of sanity. Admit your flaws. Everyone has a shitty day from time to time, for no discernible reason. Everyone has an entirely irrational moment when they feel useless and pointless and feckless and are convinced they must go into the garden to eat worms. Everyone needs to have a little wail, from time to time, no matter how lucky they are.

The critical voices, high as a kite on Gordon’s, are longing for me to press publish, so that everyone can point and mock.

Don’t do it, say the terrified voices. You don’t have to chronicle every single moment of crazed angst. Keep your secret shames to yourself, for once.

Do it, says the small, hopeful voice, so that you know you are not the only one. You really don’t have to be a poster girl your whole life. Sometimes, the rain does win, but that does not mean the whole game is lost.

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Into every life, a little rain must fall.

It is ten degrees, and the sky is the colour of lost hope. So much water is pouring out of it that I start to suspect that something has gone wrong with nature. It’s the kind of rain that should be a brief storm, it is so intense, but it keeps on rolling, as if it has taken a bet. The hills have disappeared into the smoky cloud, and even the sheep look despairing.

Down in the field, the horses do the stoical, flat thing that they do in the weather. They close in on themselves, and have no use for humans. It is purely atavistic; they are in survival mode. Water lies on the fields, dirty and reproachful, and the two mares stand under their favourite tree, but even its majestic green arms cannot protect them. I bless the new rug technology, but the wet still runs down their dear faces and into their ears. (I laugh a hollow laugh at the vastly expensive shelter I built for the weather. They only use it to get out of the sun and away from the flies.)

I too have rug technology, but despite a laughably ‘waterproof’ coat, a hat and sturdy gumboots, after half an hour the rain has got me. It sneaks down my neck, finds its way down my back, trickles sullenly into those stomping boots. I have to accept the wetness. There is no fighting it.

I gain some small consolation from putting out the sweet-smelling, dry hay and mixing up an extra special breakfast for the poor, drowned girls, rich with meadow chaff and herbs. I stand and talk to them as they eat. They cheer up and come out of their shells and flicker their ears at me, and I leave them a little brighter than when I found them.

All the same, this relentless downpour seeps into my soul and leaves me with a humming spiritual ache. I am generally stoical about the weather, but it’s been so rotten for so long, and everything I own, including my house and my car, has turned into a festival of mud. It knocks over my defences and makes me dwell on the sad things, rather than determinedly looking for the silver linings.

Then, of course, I feel cross with myself, because people have so many burdens to carry, and it’s just a bit of mud and wet. I go to the shop, to get some bread and coffee and ham. I see a mother and daughter. The mother is perhaps fifty, rather elegant and smartly dressed. (I look down ruefully at my filthy jeans.) The daughter is about twenty-five, and has some kind of severe mental impairment. She talks loudly, in the simple language of an infant, and stays very close to her mother.

I look again at the mother, with her bright, put-together surface, and feel a moment of awe. Her child will always be a child. She must have to look after her all the time. I wonder if she ever gets a holiday, or can go away for a day. I think of the enduring and unconditional nature of love, of the battling human heart, which does not quail from difficulty. Perhaps that mother loves that daughter even more, because she was not like the other children in the playground. But all the same, there might have been expectations, hopes, dreams, which had to be adjusted. Humans are very wonderful, I think.

As they leave the shop, the daughter turns around to say something to the lady at the till. The speech is so blurred that I cannot understand it. But the lady at the till, who seems to know the girl well, gets every word and chats back, and laughs. The daughter smiles a smile so dazzling that it lights up the gloomy day.

Never assume, I think.

I think of a woman I know on the internet. One of the things I love about the blog, and about the fine side of social media, is that I make quite profound connections with people I shall probably never meet. When people get sneery about virtual life, as opposed to the vaunted real life, I wonder at how little they know of the internet. The kindness of strangers lives there. Those strangers become known; small redoubts of common interests, thoughts, feelings, sympathies, jokes, generosities are set up.

This woman is dealing, with enormous courage and elegance and grace, with one of the greatest tragedies in life: the slow end of her Best Beloved. She writes about it a little, in brief, potent bulletins of sadness, but she will also write of small pleasures – the beauty of her landscape, the making of a cake, the antics of her chickens. I think of her great grief, and the dauntless bravery with which she faces it.

And all I have to deal with is a wet, gloomy day. I hear the knocking at the door as the Perspective Police demand to be let in. It’s just a little bit of rain.

As I think this, my spirits do not lift straight away. One can know a thing intellectually, and not quite feel it in the gut. I understand that there are people out there, brave men and women, who are fighting battles I can hardly comprehend. I understand that I have very little of which to complain. Yet, the cross voices still persist, shouting defiantly in my ear. They are on a roll, and will not be turned away so easily.

I go out again, into the rain. On days like this, the very land seems drowned, as if the elements have defeated it. I want to take a picture of it, to show the gloom. As I begin to focus the camera, I find not gloom, but beauty. The raindrops dance off the puddles like little firework displays. Tiny beads of water cling to singing green leaves like diamonds. All the greens are so green. If it were not for the rain, I think, there would not be this lush, verdant glory. I imagine the relentless nature of the desert spaces, where rain is hardly known. I think of the people of California, who are running out of water.

I stare at the beauty. There it is, in the small things, on this dark day.

I feel better. The oppression lifts.

I go inside, laughing at my own absurdity. The Beloved Cousin rings up, always a moment for celebration and delight. She makes me laugh more than anyone I know. And England take a wicket.

It’s just a little bit of rain.

 

Today’s pictures:

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As I finished this, I thought – I’ll just get on the Google and see if there are any nice poems about rain. The only line I could think of was that enchanting one from ee cummings – ‘Nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.’ Which of course is not about rain at all.

The first poem I found was this one. It is by Longfellow:

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains,and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains,and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart, and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

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