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God’s Eyes

Copyright ©1994, 1996 by Paula Naomi Friedman. All rights reserved.

Even in the birthmothers’ groups, I have been told “You had some choice.” I was neither impoverished nor a frightened teenager, after all, but a highly educated radical—“running around with those other tie-dyed, fanatic, family-dumping spongers through the streets—”

“But, hey, it wasn’t really like that,” I’d tell—whom? the groups? my kid? Myself, more likely. ” My ‘choice’ wasn’t ‘free,’ and the baby wasn’t some glitch I just tossed—”

Only, if I were to tell my son this, he would shake his head, with what I’d wish still to believe spontaneous sincerity, “No, no, I never—” and, glancing about, politely change the subject. Yet if we still could speak, I’d recount my half of what we well understood, in our silent tears and hugs, those first weeks—or would if I’d only the pristine voice of someone never trapped by the inhibitions of her times.

For, while I may have been politically or intellectually advanced, by the mid-1960s I was still in the sort of extreme self-hatred common to “fifties repression.” I had grown up in Washington, D.C., a middle-class misfit in that first Cold War generation. It was a world where little girls had to be round with yellow curls, and to compete in sports and over boys; there was no place for anyone different. Short, thin, dark, last chosen, easily made to cry, I stood alone year after year in the playground, “unpopular.”

Fleeing to college didn’t change much; I was too socially and sexually naive. Seeking philosophical truths, I didn’t know to put this more attractively as “‘truths’ of the, you know, ‘universe’ and, as it were, language”—or, in general, to repackage my style; when I finally found a peer group, I threw out everything to adapt. I learned to find “the parents” despicable and at fault, to drop earlier interests, and to doubt—the groping sex and competitive class debates precisely targeting the natural and the curious—my body and mind. What I could not learn was to cover emotion, and so, too thin to appeal to many men, too obvious in love to keep them, I suffered a series of unrequited loves and was suspended—not for having missed classes in fear of bodily and intellectual embarrassment but for wearing jeans, going stockingless to dinner, expressing the wrong opinions—a so-called “nervous breakdown.” Sent back to what no longer seemed my home, required to see a psychiatrist, I returned to that Ivy university a brittle, cigarette-addicted woman, sexual nerve-endings dulled, who had “gone all the way.”

It’s not that there were no beautiful days or brilliant teachings. But what I, and many others, experienced was well expressed by a slogan of late-sixties Berkeley, “Oppression means to think ‘What’s wrong is wrong in me.’” This may seem seriocomic amid today’s horror and starkly worsened economic suffering; our insistence that internalized oppression might be basic must seem damned dumb. But was it? One can still read Fanon.

“Actually, I’m glad you don’t understand,” I have told my son, of that forced self-destruction. For what was wrong, in that period when even those too philosophically sophisticated to swallow popular Freudianisms were swallowed by them, was seen as deeply wrong indeed. What was wrong had to be some underlying twist or dearth in our basic human feelings, mind, or, above all, sexuality. We did one another in. It was a venerated professor who slighted my provincially dressed presentations for the same answers from a long-braided bohemian, but it was we who took seriously the writers who denounced “aggressive/possessive” women or found frigidity in whoever didn’t “come” as “came” the characters of D.H. Lawrence. It was the closeted young man I adored who, one New York night, took my tremorous hand but soon, unable to enter, blamed our failure on my “unconscious anger” and “castrating vagina” ; it was I who, the following year, followed the theories denouncing (in a time when disability rights would only have met laughs) my love for a scarred man as necessarily perverted. And it was I who questioned my closeness with the gutsy younger woman or the flamboyant, small-chinned singer, and listened to those suggesting psychotherapy when in fact I was too gangly and Jewish, my typing too slow, to get hired.

But these were our times, and “again,” (I wouldn’t tell the child, he needn’t know all this), “these experiences were standard.” The webs of self-condemnations, the equation of failure or weakness with “regressed personality,” of sexual or economic “success” with maturity, and maturity with “the capacity to really love” meant few people could have considered themselves whole, and not believed “I must change what’s wrong in me before I can—really—judge, live, love.”

We fell for this who in other areas knew better—who questioned segregation, bomb shelters, national security, for instance, and saw past the commonplaces, religious to relativist, of the times. We questioned, but we failed to see certain evident discriminations or formulate obvious challenges—observing, for example, the teleological absurdity and daily drudgery of parenthood yet ignoring the related denigration of life—children, old people, the mother-infant bond.

When the world’s inside out, “It took,” I might really say to this witty, grown, politically conscious son, “little intellectual slippage to fall into mirror-land.”

Then one day—summer of 1965, 50,000 troops going off to Vietnam, and in Berkeley I had been working (because, however trivial “meaningful” activity or dubious my inner motives, it was necessary to counter massacre) with something called the Citizens’ Committee Against the War—I answered the door to an older, dark-eyed man from another country.
He was radical beyond my experience. He respected and cared for people in a way I’d never known. I came to love him. One afternoon—he had been away—he visited unexpectedly.

Afraid that trying to hide response must seem defensive, I offered myself. (“I want you.” Did I believe something wrong in my love, to risk—to give up—so much on those three words?) But he reached out his hand—“It’s all right.”

Only, it wasn’t—because my offer was sexual but the love was deeper. I didn’t know if he acceded from kindness, but I sensed something and, between this hesitance and the old body-doubting fear not to open, I held back, said “Wait” (a strange—laughable?—request, even today, in such circumstances, but then self-perceived as unspeakable, unwomanly). Sensitive, not like men of this country, he stopped. I never learned what he thought. Much later he said he had missed me and ” There are no judges. But also you must let me be my way.”

The next weeks, waiting, I broke into ricocheting bits. “Let’s just be natural,” he had told me; I came to think it my sexual inhibitedness that had failed him. Something must have, surely, since he did not return yet could only have shown such care if he loved—unless his was an all-encompassing love beyond my comprehension. Not to judge meant to trust in his return, to make no judgment of what was true, no decision what to do. Any judgment came of a system of rational artifice, suspicion and doubts of love from precisely that life-destroying system we opposed.

It was not, finally, only the one afternoon, the one man, but the shadows of my whole past led me, the next three weeks, through the two surging crests of stunned belief—the first, that even the hesitance of my body and proclamation of desire were meant to entice and sacrifice the beloved to those (parts of “myself,” the superego “parents”, as it were) who judged—but the second, that I’d not such an inner demand for sacrifice but rather clung like a child to love for some (interiorized) parent and thus, in a sort of transference, to the unreal needs and unattainable loves defined by elders’ judgments and words. My one hope was to regrow a truer self, experience what I’d never known, that I might find new ways to care, to—nonjudgingly, maturely, really and all-encompassingly—love.

But I can’t further explain how that not uncommon experience of loss and the ideas of that period led to this conclusion, or how, for so many of us, evolving external events and concepts—spontaneity, play, distrust of systemic judgments—cross-fertilized (abetted by the culture’s hidden demand to “learn lessons” ) internal query and change. What is important is that interwoven with the confusion and denial were truths.

My son would have appeared immediately to understand this, those first weeks, but not today. How can one era know the cultural mazes of another—but also there was his need, after our re-bonding, to separate. And, I think, the fear that there might have been only some casual “summer of love” came to shadow his at first exhilirated words, “I used to think—Berkeley, 1967, maybe the radical scene was involved.” So that I want to say “Yes, you were borne, child, on something very deep.”

In any case, it’s not to that gently sardonic young man I’d say “The quest for meaning, universal love, and peace may be old, but to meld this search with the climb from under psychological oppression began, for so many of us, what was (as far as it went) revolution; our antiwar acts also sought new identity, new forms. It was not that we joined the Movement ‘to work out [supposed] pathologies,’ but rather our involvement in the ever-growing need for peace of a country at war, our search for new ways to care in a society of frozen compassion, forced us to evolve—strand by strand, and often threaded with mistakes—larger tissues of structure and self.”

But this now seems clichéd. It was too fragile then.

To “use my words for others, not to express false ‘personal problems’ ,” I returned to antiwar work through underground reporting. At that time, this meant the Berkeley Barb—no focus of compassion, but one of only four antiwar papers, and not yet the exploiter of sex it would become. It was a base from which to reach the people exploring new ways, and to meet the urgent need—every day in the papers were the photographs—to oppose the war, to save lives.

I was writing the events column (“Sat 3 pm Lincoln Brig dinn; Fri 8 pm Avalon, Jeff Air” —Barb tending to tight spacing) and reporting on the peace movement. As spring went on, amid rumors that Johnson would soon bomb Hanoi, we began to hear of a demonstration planned for the Redwood City napalm plant, “far more than civil disobedience.” By mid-May, however, I had nearly given up seeking leads on the “Redwood City thing” and, as the midnight issue deadline neared, turned to phone about a “first anniversary picnic” of the Vietnam Day Committee. But I could not reach that once-crucial organization’s headquarters.

The editor, Max, tossed me another number. “He’ll know.”

“’A picnic—we’re about to bomb Hanoi, and they’ll end the war with their picnic.” This,” I may yet tell my son, “is how I remember your father’s voice on the phone.”

“‘But do you care what we’re doing to the Vietnamese? Why aren’t you covering Redwood City—if you really want to stop the war?’

“‘You know about Redwood City? I’ve been trying—’

“‘Yes. If anyone’s actually interested. I’ve got lots of stuff. Give me an hour or two, I’ll—’
“‘We’re on deadline. Get here in fifteen minutes—if you really want to end the war.’”

He’d been drinking; when he arrived, he staggered around the room. I said “You want some coffee?” and he said “Yeh I should drink coffee,” and then he put some clips and photos on the table and, after awhile, a jar of some sort of jelly—“Guess what?”

I jumped, and he said “That scares you? They have to live with napalm dropping from the sky.”

It was three days later we went down to Redwood City and San Jose to look at the bomb-storage sites, two days afterward that he unveiled his “napalm escort vehicle” with its little red fire-extinguishers and wooden placard, “Caution: Napalm Bombs Ahead,” and the same week—“This was in our days,” I told the child—we went to bed. With love, on my part—and over the next month we found we could have arguments without making the other go away. But there were tacit limits; I had to avoid judging, never ask “false needs” nor fall into “unreal closeness,” and he could not drop his self-image of focused challenge against the war. And so we never discussed that “System’s” self that is biography; everything was of the moment, only the body and emotions connected.

“But they did,” I’d say; “Dear child, they did.”

After some weeks, we began to open more—and of course at that point he was gone. Twice in the next weeks, I stood on the sidelines as he drove the “escort vehicle” up to a Berkeley rally, trailed by an unsuspecting weapons truck, while the crowd cheered his daring, funny antiwar actions. By then, this country had bombed Hanoi and Haiphong, and that day the pregnancy been confirmed.

“Therapeutic” abortions existed—one had only to adjust; I had still the requisite contacts and self-doubts. My struggle for renewal precluded asking parental help, and, like most middle-class radicals, I was ignorant about Welfare. Meanwhile, there had been threatening phonecalls and my fear, termed “paranoid” by Barb coworkers (COINTELPRO was still unknown), clearly meant I was still trapped in “self”-protective closure and judgment and must thus question “my” decisions. Yet finally the outcome was never really in question; it came down to life, to giving (even though to have a man’s baby would seem, in many systems, symbolic possession), to love for the growing life within.

I would have the child. I would give up the child. (I’d known a few who had, just as I’d known those who had aborted; it was what one did, and went on.) Neither I nor anyone else could regard this matter as so important as the struggle against the war.

Around this time, someone came to the Barb with word of a demonstration planned for the military base at Port Chicago. This was Tom, who would soon show what it is to risk one’s life from love, and who would know to reach through fear and anger, to listen and be vulnerable, to speak of his need for me, so that I came to see I could love, had always loved and been whole, and to glimpse the strength of a world where people trust their own love’s possibilities.

Once my son asked, because I had mentioned the event several times, “What happened at Port Chicago?” but I could only relate the episode, not its crucial effects; (words, in those first weeks, emerged slowly from shared depths).

The demonstration began in early August with a march to the Port Chicago/Concord Naval Weapons Station, shipping point for the bulk of American weapons to Vietnam. There, protestors would block the weapons trucks, however briefly—by this nonviolent civil disobedience focusing attention on the war. Tom was among the leaders even though, like many of us, he questioned the tightly structured limits of the action. I had begun to know him well—this big, gruff, army veteran who was always aiding people, who had promised to help me through my pregnancy, who intuited the core of issues—and to whom, only partly from having lived in Korea, the Vietnamese were not vague victims but persons who must be saved. During long talks, I had tried to explain my changes, he to recount a lonely past. “We all need to be like children,” he would say. “Children are curious about everything, they care about everyone.”

Outside the base that first night, across from what was called Main Gate, few remained. We slept fitfully. Only with dawn came the trucks, and—as one after another protestor stepped out to nonviolently halt their onrushing approach—a new, “impossible” form of community, a love for, and through, each other. I understood this, when Tom put his hand on one brave woman’s shoulder; I felt his care for her, our love for her and one another—even perhaps for those lounging Marines across the road, certainly even for the distant, unknown people in Vietnam.

But after Tom was arrested, I—pregnant, afraid, trying not to judge but still skeptical of strict civil disobedience—only carried the tapes and photos to the press.

In the next days, a separation began between those arrested and those not, between those constantly on the lines—as what became a vigil continued—and “new people.” Out there only occasional nights, I became distanced from Tom.

Meanwhile, over several days the vigilers’ numbers shrank, and the danger from the Marine guards, sheriff’s deputies, and local hecklers grew.

So we came to “that night,” I told my son, “August 16-17, 1966.”

A few well-known activists had responded, in Washington, to subpoena by the House Unamerican Activities Committee with widely publicized agit-prop. A rally had been called in Berkeley to back them, and that hot night the crowd in the stifling auditorium quickly moved also to support the vigil. Two young ABC television reporters were there, and people were encouraged by the media presence, the challenge to HUAC, the intense commitment at Port Chicago; at the speakers’ crescendoing calls, they swarmed outside, moving by carloads toward the vigil in the night.

I didn’t go in the van with Tom. By then, I didn’t dare; it was “their scene,” they’d been “out there.” Instead, I guided a bunch of “new people” to the base.

Suddenly, Tom was running toward me; we held each other, across from Main Gate on the roadside strip of grass.

But it was only for a moment, and soon he moved off. In spite of his doubts, “If we keep coming back and stopping the weapons,” he had begun to insist, “more people will see it’s possible—they’ll see they can care, and will come—and we can close this base and we can stop this war”; with the crowds—and publicity to bring more—finally arrived, it was necessary to act. Besides, the sudden upsurge had maddened the hecklers, and “Tom, we need you over here,” some vigiler cried out.

Without glancing back, he went loping up the slope to the crest of the road. Soon I could see him standing there with several others, by the triangle of dirt formed by what was called the Overpass Road turnoff. Here, the weapons trucks slowed to enter the base, and here, clearly, people planned to stop them. As I walked hesitantly up the hill, an older pacifist shouted “You know the scene. Tell any new people the rule—if someone goes out to stop a truck and is attacked, no one is to try to protect them, it’ll only make things worse.”
I nodded, and recalled I must not judge.

There was a long wait. Near the triangle of ground, Tom and the other vigil veterans—the fragile-looking legal secretary Pamela, the tough farm mother Jo, the Barb’s cynical photographer Eliot, one or two others—stood apart, beside the two young men who planned to stop the night’s trucks; their quiet voices now and then rose as they planned tactics. Nearby, the television crew sat, smoking cigarettes. Across the way, Marines and police lounged in taut silence. Only occasionally Eliot would wander over to where I waited, isolated between the “in” group and the line of vigilers stretching down to the massed “new people” across from Main Gate.

Sometime after midnight, someone pointed. Five yellow lights were approaching—a truck, coming in from Concord. Behind it, another five lights. Both vehicles were moving fast. Very fast.

As the first rushed up the hill, still accelerating, the two young men raced out to meet it—and jumped back; it was coming too fast. In a moment, it had made its turn and rushed on, napalm bombs gleaming, into the base. Then—again, too fast—the second truck appeared.

Someone, in the television lights, was running toward it. In that moment, I saw it was Tom, his arms lifted, and that the person would be killed. And if I ran out, I and the baby might also die—or I might confuse his timing, increase his danger, and was I trying to possess him?
The road at my feet in the light shone white. Something, the truck, was passing. If I took one step, he, someone (—I couldn’t see, was it Tom? I’d not liked how the person held his arms—) might be killed, I might be hurt, the baby, these people, everyone might be hurt—and he might not want me there, it would intrude upon his scene, his courage—he was the one who cared, who could love; I’d only make things worse. . . I don’t recall the exact thoughts, but then the truck had passed.

The demonstrator had not been killed, but the Marines had pulled him down, were striking him, and if I took one step -

Someone—Pamela—had raced forward and was tearing at the nearest Marines, breaking through their lines.

As she and two others brought Tom back, in the white television lights the people’s hands were raised in V-signs and their voices sang “We Shall Overcome.” “Now I am dead,” I thought. “Now I shall never overcome.”

Later—Pamela and Tom were still by the turnoff, each insisting on stopping the next truck—I said “I’ll stop the next one” but no one heard. As I turned away, Eliot came over; together we walked down the hill “to find a ride before,” as he expressed it, “someone gets himself killed.”

There was a long wait, standing around with the newcomers by the food table, before Eliot wandered back, saying “I’ve found a car; let’s go.” I nodded, glancing up. Beyond him, down the road, were five yellow lights.

“Truck,” I said. “Truck, Eliot, truck.”

He was trying to put film into his camera. The lights kept growing nearer; he said “Run; go put your arms around him or something—run.”

I did (I’ll always know I didn’t run out before that truck). Then Tom and Pamela and Jo were moving toward it, and I could see Marines immediately grabbing the women and throwing them back. For a second the load of bomb-crates blocked the light, then it was past. The scene had repeated. Tom lay cordoned off by Marines.

But this time it was like a dance, my feet could move, and I ran across the road.

Only, for a long time there was no way through. Once a Marine grabbed me and Jo and pushed us toward the base. But we fought, my sandal strap broke, the Marine—he was very young—let go. I kicked off my shoes and ran back towards Tom. But no way opened; for so long we swayed there, lines in silent confrontation; then suddenly two Marines stood in the light, one was black and one was white, and then there was a space. I ran to Tom.
I leaned over him—“They’ll have to hit me first,” I thought, but told him only “We’re here.” I heard him say “I’m alright.” I knew he mustn’t move his injured leg, yet I feared the Marines’ return.

But they had pulled back, the demonstrators had got through.

Everything was safe. And then abruptly the security guard’s halfton truck rolled toward us from the base. But no one expected danger, everyone jumped aside; only I, standing by Tom’s head, was still in its way. I didn’t see how I could help him—hold onto the hood and push him sideways with my feet, possibly—but somehow I would; I stood between him and the little truck, while its headlights approached within inches, and then it stopped. “My feet,” (as I’ve said, too often, of this), “took root.”

(Sure must have—she hasn’t left the ’60s since, one might say, and some have. But it was to the changes and—though I did not understand—the child, I have clung.)

We were still in the wonder of reunion when I told my son, in less detail, of that night. But it was not solely the one night (and the earlier morning’s “impossible” community of love) that soon formed for me the crucial metaphor of “getting through” —of fighting past the bars of one’s own and others’ fears, shames, guilts, denials, to the love and strength in everyone—a metaphor for both personal or intimate love and a more loving, “order”-less society. This metaphor—rather, this new comprehension—came, too, or even mostly, from recognizing the deep response of my love when Tom, over the next two months, would say he needed me, as well as from the love for the baby growing in my womb.

And what became clear during this time (even as Tom, caught up in the vigil where I could no longer go, slowly left me), the message of this metaphor, was that my—everyone’s—love had always been whole and real and simply love. There was nothing wrong or unreal in feelings or self. The feared aggression was a way to fight for people (even words or judgments might be tools), to struggle through barriers (even those of words, of judgments, of denial) to help where one may care. The feared empathy for a man who is vulnerable (it was still the wake of the 1950s, the moment before “women’s liberation,” and this idea novel) was simply tender response, was even desire to renew the wholeness and strength in the beloved and receive his giving love. The terrifying “possessiveness” was only the struggle of concern. The deepest need—in a person laughing, in a person weeping, in a lost beloved, in a calling child—was the same; the cry to be loved and the murmur of love’s offer were one voice, “child’s need” and ” giving, mature” love not distinct, for each yearned, in one’s depths, to give love; this deepest need, the love for the love, in everyone yearned for this same love in each.

But in this truth lay also the possibility of peaceful anarchy, the natural “good life” —for to know one’s depths are love, and one’s worth thus unbreachable, is to step beyond fear into revolutionary hope, reaching out with curiosity and courage to care, no longer held back by barriers of doubt or interdiction, by the guilts or shames from any eyes, denials of any systems, but letting love lead—even through actual lines of cops, of Marines, of those who kill—together in the struggle to create a world of peace and the possible dream.

I know—again what once seemed liberating sounds parody or trite. There is no way now to make intellectually convincing the wonder, the awareness (unexpected, for the struggle then was against oppression, not for—or from—philosophical “answers” ) that everything—the beautiful, the good, the natural—could merge in the love that was most deep. Especially when these newly opened eyes could be blind to what was clear.

For, while mine may have been a homespun “woman’s definition of love,” (influenced, as well, two years before the women’s movement, by Helen Lynd’s Shame and the Search for Identity), I had not yet enough seen through the dominant climax-oriented version, with its insistence on the emotional primacy of lovemaking and its tacit paradigm of maturity as the “couple” with kids. I could not fully believe the deepest love was equally the agape, the heroic, even the bond (I could not see, child,) between parent and newborn that—growing, speaking in my soul but the words uncomprehended—hovered those months when the baby’s heart met mine and perhaps I cried his cries and dreamed his dreams and (as later in the time of our re-bonding) it was not only hope from new concepts brought euphoric joy.
This is, of course, also the love that bears the faith to raise a child.

But early in 1967, six months after Port Chicago, eighteen months after Watts, one week after the first Be-In, when the baby was born I, like my “vanguard” peers, still thought love for a child must be secondary and a baby needed the love of a two-parent home. When I held my newborn close, feeling nothing but tenderness, decision had already been made; besides, the mental struggle against the years’ losses and against the sorrow yet to come occluded the simple recognition I’ll be giving my baby into the unknown.

And so it was remainders of ignorance and shreds of loss—not simply circumstance, not only the insecurity of “How could I raise such a wonderful child?” or folklore of the perfect, carefully selected, adoptive parents—made the decision; the hope, the belief, was also too frail and new.

“I remember,” I have told this child, “how you flew into the doctor’s hands. Three times, I held you. One day Tom sat beside us, showing me the way to make silk god’s-eyes. How tiny you looked in that yellow-tiled nursery when I left.”

The radios were playing “Strawberry Fields Forever” ; then it was “Somebody to Love.” At the agency I wouldn’t sign until they brought “the baby,” and I rocked him—bigger, older, different. When he cried, the worker lifted him out of my incompetent hands. . .with which I signed the papers, thinking everyone unnecessarily emotional, and, through the next months, wove the little god’s-eyes, like booties to protect a child-idea.

Afterwards I lived two years “as if” (something like the Movement’s as if to create a better world by believing it)—“as if” there would be response, “as if” would come the loving need, as if by acting “as if” with love I might again care, by reaching find “someone out there.” I marched with 100,000 in the April Mobilization, leafleted the docking Enterprise, organized Barb workers, helped to build the Peace and Freedom Party, stood before the cops at Stop the Draft Week, at People’s Park. . .. And there were efforts toward two shaggy men; there were an agit-prop, a fledgling women’s group, a magazine. But the crest was over, and perhaps it was as if I could never have been giving enough, no matter how much I gave, and, like so many—and this is one reason our revolution ebbed too soon—had given everything away.

By the end of another decade there would be another love, another child; I put the god’s-eyes in the trunk. My son’s new parents would indeed be parents—loving, doting, protecting him in the sensitivity of a good childhood. The truths—the trust that one can love, the recognition that love and our trust in it may heal the world—would hold firm. And certainly the self-acceptance and internal changes, the loves of those days, the care and heroism of Port Chicago, “revolutionary hope” itself, and the social progress of those times were crucially important and deep.

Only, in clearing out the layers of false voices and destructive systems of this false society—in finding in the world and self what was loving, liberating, life-protective, motherly, and coming to brief revolutionary (so to speak) fruition—somehow that theoretical-minded, “giving” young woman I was had made a big mistake—I had thrown out the baby with the bath water.

“The changes and commitment of ‘those days’ were real,” I would conclude. “Yet the loss and yearning, unrecognized in that culture and veiled as mere curiosity or aimless seeking even in our dreams, lingered, colored the world; and it was only when you found me—you, son who’d the courage to dare the impossible search—that fear’s occlusions could lift and the joy of our reunion spring forth, for the necessary time, from the heart’s deepest need, the love that is the depth and hope of human life.”

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