“Why me, Daddy?”

Today, me, my wife and our two children attended a conference for families dealing with children afflicted with Type 1 Diabetes. We attended because my seven year old son has been a Type 1 diabetic for close to two years.

My Son - only a few weeks after we discovered he was diabetic.

While the kids took advantage of the rare opportunity to play with others with similar challenges, my wife and I attended some excellent sessions. I was especially excited by one that was given by a University of Alberta researcher doing fascinating work on islet cell transplantation (very hopeful work!).

In contrast to the rational tone struck in the researcher’s session, some of the others – especially the Keynote – were much more emotional. I was expecting this. After all, coping with diabetes is very emotional business. Even after two years, I still have moments of extreme anger, sadness, helplessness and frustration around my son’s diabetes. Worrying that he could go to sleep and not wake up (i.e. go into comma) due to severe hypoglycemia is not fun. Neither is knowing that high blood sugar levels could eventually add up to major damage to my son’s vision or kidneys or heart… among other things.

I hate diabetes and I hate it even more that my son has it. Today I learned that I am not alone in that hatred.

However, today I also learned how prolifically my being an atheist sets me apart from how people who believe in God view their child’s affliction.

I do not ask “Why him?”. Not ever.

But that very question was asked (or at least implied) by several people over the course of the day. It started with the Keynote speaker who frequently invoked God in trying to give comfort to us. “God has a plan” he’d say. “Your child’s diabetes is God’s way of strengthening your character” he’d say.

His speech was followed by a very helpful Q&A session where a young father asked, “How do you answer your child when he says, ‘Why me’?

And all the God-talk began again, and all I could think was, “Why is this question even being asked?”.

The question made me realize how my atheism so markedly sets me apart from those who believe in God or who are ‘spiritual’. To me, the question was non-sensical – but it certainly was not non-sensical to the people doing the asking and answering. To them, it was quite important.

For me, the answer to the question is simply and solely mathematical. Here is how I would have answered my fellow father…

“The reason our sons have diabetes is that one in four hundred children get diabetes and, unfortunately, our children drew the short stick in the statistical lottery. Our sons becoming diabetic is no different from the fact that one in eight women get breast cancer, or that one in four men are bald by the time they are 30. There is no ‘why me?’ to these statistics – they simply describe the fact that shit happens in predictable frequencies within the population.”

For me, this statistical explanation is enough. And, if you ask me, it’s a far more comforting way of thinking compared to trying to understand why God would cause or permit this sort of suffering to be inflicted on a child. Most importantly, the answer satisfies my son – especially when I can attach it to the fact that he’s very fortunate not to have been born 100 years ago, before the discovery of insulin therapy.

That aside, I can totally understand why a religious parent would have trouble coming up with an answer to ‘why me?’. I think it’s because deep down, they themselves subconsciously know that the answers a belief in God requires (e.g. “Diabetes is God’s gift to you” etc) are far from comforting.

In fact, those kinds of answers do nothing less than to paint a picture of a cruel, twisted God who inflicts pain and suffering on innocent pre-schoolers who do not have the mental capacity to even begin appreciating the ‘gift’ their God has so graciously provided.

No wonder these parents don’t know how to answer the question. Neither would I.


  1. Marylynne says:

    When we were teenagers, my brother once said to me, “So there’s some omnipotent higher being that either allows or causes bad things to happen, and that’s supposed to be COMFORTING? I’m way more comforted by the fact that the universe doesn’t care about us and things happen for no reason.”

    Both of my girls have health issues and I’m in the same place. Why me is a meaningless question. And it is bizarre and irritating how many people feel compelled to say “They are with you for a reason!”

    Another “benefit” of no faith is that I can feel the normal human emotions I feel with twisting them or feeling guilty. I feel mad or sad, and don’t have to feel guilty for not being grateful or try not to be angry. No, this sucks. Now, what’s the next step?

  2. Wonderfully reasoned statement of the realities of life. It really is the luck of the draw genetically and environmentally in how ones life starts. (We at least have control over our environments to some degree once become adult). Life is a numbers gain. Most humans want to believe we are so different than the rest of the animal kingdom. I’m sorry to hear about your son, but as you so correctly put it, you can be thankful for the fruits of science – medicine. Someday hopefully all the resources, money, and energy that humanity pours into religion, a completely wasteful activity now that we are in the age of reason, can be applied to helping the less fortunate by using science and technology to raise people’s standard of living and life experience. Just because natural selection determijes our biology doesn’t mean our societies need to live by “survival of the fittest mantra”. We can help one another. Your thoughts on your misfortune will help those who read your words.
    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Great article.

    It reminded me of when I was growing up. I am one of 7 kids and I was the one who always had some accident (broken collarbone, smashed teeth on concrete, took a chainsaw to the face, etc.)

    During one incident I was crying and I said to my mom, “Mom, why do these things always happen to me?”

    Without missing a beat my uber religious mother said, “Because God knows you can handle it better than your brothers and sisters.”

    This was a satisfying answer to hurt, God-believing, 11 year-old and perhaps just what I needed at the time. But to a non-believing 40 something, the answer sounds pretty cruel.


    You took a chainsaw to the face??!! OUCH!!


    Yeah, that was an unfortunate accident. On the plus side, there was no real damage aside from a scar bisecting my nose from the eye to the nostril & it makes for an entertaining story.

  4. Keeper says:

    “I can totally understand why a religious parent would have trouble coming up with an answer to ‘why me?’. I think it’s because deep down, they themselves subconsciously know that the answers a belief in God requires (e.g. “Diabetes is God’s gift to you” etc) are far from comforting.”

    My friend has had a horrible life, and it’s mostly been her parents inflicting hardship on her from the time she started hitting puberty. She turned to religion to help her get through it, and when she was young it worked.

    As she’s gotten older, she’s had to confront your very point. The answers to her questions of “Why did my Dad do that and why did Mom hate me for it? Why did he get cancer? etc,” have led her to the conclusion that her god is cruel.

    The problem is that she continues to believe in him and worship him. Despite the obvious cruelty, lack of comfort, and understanding that the guy’s basically a cosmic dick, she goes right along believing. It is terrible to watch.

  5. Thanks for your comments Marylynne, Cents, Heidi & Keeper.

    Perry, why is it that, just when I think I know all the interesting things there are to know about you, you go and blow my mind again. Not sure I know anyone who’s had a chainsaw to their face besides you! 😉

  6. Wonderful article, and I am personally glad for your son that he has you to explain this stuff. I have had to do a lot of god-ignoring on chronic illness forums when I’m seeking hard answers on something and am told to pray on it. I very much understand the need for people in chronic pain and illness to seek out some kind of “tangible” (in their minds) reason for it, and I couldn’t agree more that the truth is far more comforting.

    My “reasons” for being the way I am include “The RNG hates me,” “I turned 30 and my warranty expired,” and so forth. The absurdity of life may be a kick in the teeth, but since it brings wonderful things as well as pain and disease, I happily accept it over magic.

    40 Year Old Atheist

    @ZenMonkey: Thanks very much for your comment. I’m sorry you have suffered as you have, but am glad to know we have a connection in terms of how we views our challenges.

    And I love the “I turned 30″ comment. :)

  7. Our 8-year old son was dx with Type 1 almost one year ago, and we talk about the “why me” pretty regularly. His understanding of the biology behind his disease, I feel, is more comforting that the idea that a god has has singled him out to pick on. We are deeply grateful to all of the people who are working toward the cure, and we support JDRF as much as we can. Go, Smart Humans!

  8. hyphenate says:

    When I was a child of 12, I found out I was adopted. As I was adopted within a family (my adoptive father was my bio mother’s brother), I at least had the opportunity to observe some of the behavior of my bio mother, but almost everything I observed was, in my eyes, negative. She had heart trouble in her 40s, as well as back trouble, smoking, alcoholism, addiction to caffeine and promiscuity. As I grew up, I set some goals for myself–avoid too much caffeine, drink only in moderation (if at all), don’t smoke, and don’t be promiscuous. I thought it was these factors which contributed to her heart problems, and I so wanted to avoid being like her in my health.

    Making a long story shorter, I managed to achieve my goals, at the very least. However, when I hit 43, I had a couple of heart attacks. I ended up with three angioplasties overall, with two stents placed in my heart. So while I managed to avoid the “sins” of my mother, I inherited her genes, too. High cholesterol, high blood pressure, and eventual diabetes. We can only control external influences totally, while internally, the cards are often stacked against us right from birth. I have been fortunate to some extent–in my time period, at least there are minimally invasive procedures which work well, and are well tolerated. I’ve just hit the 11 year mark since my heart problems. I still have diabetes, but most everything else is controlled. We just simply (as you said above) have to be grateful that we weren’t born in a past era–the gains we have made in medicine and health have been amazing.

  9. Thanks for sharing this part of your story with us.

    I think it’s difficult for someone who thinks the world and his/her circumstances were created with a specific purpose to see any event and not take it personally. Especially Christians who believe that even if no one else existed on the earth, Jesus the son od God would have died just for them.

    Everything is self-centered and intensely individualistic. So asking “why me?” is perfectly understandable if the person expects each moment and each happening to be especially crafted because of them and their special puepose. Of course, I see this as unbelievably arrogant, but I used to feel the same way they do.

    For the skeptic and atheist, there is no “the world revolves around me” attitude required, so I think it’s easier to see things as just coincidences or statistical happenings. We find peace in anonymity and chance, while others find peace in someone coddling and caring for them.

    40 Year Old Atheist

    Awesome, awesome comment, Godless Girl. Thanks for stopping by.

  10. You know, when my son was little, he heard somebody say that if he were the only person on earth Jesus would have still died on the cross for him. His response was “no, he wouldn’t. I wouldn’t have put him up there.”

    Do these people ever stop and think about anything they say?

    40 Year Old Atheist

    Kids are a lot smarter than many theists. Just a week ago or so, Christopher told me he thought religion was a myth. Why? Because it didn’t know about dinosaurs.

  11. JulietEcho says:

    (reposting my comment from Friendly Atheist)

    The variation I was raised to believe was that, having free will, Satan and demons and humans can all cause horrible things to happen by sinful or evil actions (or maybe even thoughts?) but *because of God’s over-arching plan* good can be harvested from the tragedy/evil.

    I don’t think this is better (or not much better) than less nuanced views – just offering some extra information on the kind of theology behind the ideas.

    On one hand, I don’t blame people for coping with difficulty and tragedy in ways that help them. On the other, I can’t imagine finding the “good will come of this” or “everything happens for a reason” platitudes reassuring or comforting at all. If anything, I suppose I can take “something good can come of this” in the sense that humans can take action to cure diseases, predict natural disasters, etc. and improve chances that future generations of humans won’t have so many bad things to face.

    I think that’s the humanist version of a similar idea – the big difference is that there isn’t a giant asshole with superpowers with a bunch of apologetic followers involved, claiming that he “works in mysterious ways” and has “blessed” them with what should be recognized as horrible and should spur human action to cure/help/prevent and not prayers and reassurances about making us “better people.” You know what would make us better people? Facing the harsh realities that challenge our survival and fighting tooth and nail to improve the quality of life for all people.

  12. This kind of attitude drives me crazy. Somehow, religion — in particular, it seems to me, Christianity — muddles up the definitions of “good” and “bad” to the point where believers seem almost like abuse victims, going back to the abuser because “he did it because he loves me” or some similar excuse.

    I actually saw a really great… well, really awful example of this just this morning. I don’t know if I should say you’d “like” to see it, but you might find it interesting. I wrote about it on my blog here.

  13. Bridget says:

    Dearest Author,

    My heart goes out to you. I wish I had beautiful words, and lovely sentiments to make these situations easier to bear. But I do not have them.

    I am so sorry. I truly admire your strength and fortitude to do something positive with these experiences, particularly by sharing them here on your blog, as well as on Twitter.

    Prior to being diagnosed with a (very treatable!) mental illness, I was affected (and still am to some extent-but am working on it!) by much of the same behavior you describe here.

    My experiences involved a mother who is part of the “Catholic Charismatic Movement”. They began when I was 13 years old.

    Sadly, after the loss of my father at age 18 from cancer, I was quite vulnerable and found myself taken in by the “emotional high” I got as a result of fundamentalist Christianity. In reality this was masking symptoms of my illness which soon escalated into full blown mania.

    I was often told by fundamentalist Christians I was possessed by demons. They prayed “over” me. I was told If I just prayed enough, my depression would be “taken from me, by God”. I pretended to learn to speak in tongues. I was pushed over by a large man in a church after he prayed for me. All that happened was I fell on the ground and stumbled over some large object. But, I still felt the same. I was told to pray more, and that I just wasn’t praying enough, or in the correct manner.

    During this time I was also instructed to see a “spiritual advisor” in the Catholic Church where I was raised. I saw a Deacon. This was a man who I now know meets the psychiatric criteria for a paraphelia known as “Frotteurism”. On one occasion, he went to hug me getting so close that he either blew in my ear or bit it, but denied doing so when confronted (characteristic of this disorder).

    After an investigation into misconduct with females, per the usual MO of the Church, he was moved to another parish. At his “new” church, he was later fired for the same conduct.

    The net effect of this was that I never felt quite good enough because no matter how hard I prayed and prayed and sought God’s will, my illness never went away. In fact, it may have caused even more harm. This lead me, an eighteen year old, to assume I had failed. At that point I had two problems: An untreated mental illness and the feeling that somehow, I was to blame for all of it.

    Although this was many years ago, this experience affects my interpretation of nearly everything “religious”. I am glad I escaped this crazy, crazy world and was able to get the proper medical care and counsel that I desperately needed.

    Wow. I think I just told “my story”. I have never written about it, or connected the dots as I have done here.

    In any event, may you always know you are not alone.

    Best regards and continued success in your efforts.

    With gratitude,

    40 Year Old Atheist


    What an amazing and thoughtful comment.

    First, thank you for your supportive words. I truly appreciate them. :)

    And thank you so much for sharing your story. I know it must have been difficult to put it into words but I’m so glad you did! Thanks again. :)

  14. Bridget.
    I just wanted to thank you for sharing your moving life experience with the rest of us. I am very happy to know that you finally received the medical treatment you needed.
    Science may not have all the answers but I know that religion has none. It only provides a placebo to its followers. But it is quite a costly pill paid for over the centuries and continuing to this day by all of humanity. Think of what all the money that continues to be spent on Churches, and Church people and other the other religious artifacts could do for world hunger. We needed religion before 1859, but not after Darwin provided us the explanation of evolution by Natural Selection. Religion should have ended soon after but in many ways it has gotten worse or at least more viral. Richard Dawkins appropriately called this mental effect “The God Delusion”.

  15. how about I believe in WHATEVER I want and you have nothing to say!

    let me show you the end results of this particular *ONE-DIMENSIONAL SCIENTIFIC MODE*
    of thinking that is called *CRITICAL THINKING*, which is completely divorced from
    any human objectives…

    this style has been perfected by dawkins, pz, randi and the other *NEW ATHEISTS*
    THE BOOBQUAKE – 911!
    hey, atheists don’t even BELIEVE IN BOOBIES!!!
    they thought BOOBIES had no effect… WRONG!

    see, I just want to make it clear to the rest of you:

    jen is unable to see that there is a CONFLICT BETWEEN EROS & SCIENCE….



    see how we take a term and convert it into its AUTHENTIC POLITICAL DIMENSION – THAT
    OF LIBERATION – not just merely harmless expression…

    Visit for the BOOBQUAKE:


  16. Everyone, meet my resident nutbar commenter, Dave Mabus aka Dennis Markuze. Dave/Dennis likes to visit atheist blogs and spout incoherent babble.

    Let me know if you want me to delete this comment or if you think he brings entertainment value to the discussion.


    I can’t help but notice that if you rearrange his letters and add an “s,” you get dumbass. Just saying. Doesn’t matter to me whether you leave the comment or not, though.

    40 Year Old Atheist

    @Heidi: Nicely done!


    Wow. His cast-iron logic certainly swayed my thinking. Not.

  17. Doesn’t bother me. I just ignore nutters.

  18. nolongercatholic says:

    Thanks for this. :) I commented a bit over at Friendly Atheist. I have 2 children with type 1.

    I do remember asking the “why my child” question (internally, never out loud) when each was diagnosed. But that was a very brief phase of my “mourning,” more an expression of sadness than anything else, I think. Intellectually, I always knew that the answer was “due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors, not fully understood by science just yet.”

    Keep up the good work.
    (And feel free to delete long-winded ramblings 😉 )

  19. I have thought about this ‘question’ a lot, too. I have a child with DS and I know the day is coming when her younger sister figures-out that something is ‘wrong’ with her older sister and asks me, “Why?” Just Because is the only answer I can give her.

    More specifically, just this morning I was thinking about this inevitable conversation in relation to our religious beliefs. I think that I will tell my younger daughter, “Some people think that Bad Things have to be someone’s fault.” If they’re not your own fault then they must be someone else’s fault, e.g. the Devil. I hope this explanation isn’t too judgmental as I don’t want her to get in trouble with the rest of society. But I think it’s true nonetheless.

  20. Unfortunately if you really think about (and it does take some thinking) “luck of the draw” is also dependent on a leap of faith. You have to believe in chance. You have to believe in randomness. You have to believe there is nothing else at work here. And while it doesn’t seem so on the surface, if you examine it closely, that is *just* as much a “belief” as believing there is something “other than chance” at work. I am not defending the religious perspective. I am not religious myself… but something many atheists and agnostics do not often notice, is that their belief in science and mathematics and statistics and chaos and randomness, etc… that too is a set of beliefs and assumptions about how the world ultimately works. Science throughout the ages has constantly proven itself wrong, which is really funny since most people think science is about proving things. Theories are created and accepted, and then later discarded when new/different evidence arises. It is not the stale platform from which to form truths about how the world “really” works…at least not as much as we tend to think it is. It is all opinion as well. Opinion + reasoning + experiments is still just opinion if you look hard at it.

    Anyway, I personally found a whole different way to think about the problem of “why do bad things happen to good people” and for me, it’s both logically satisfying – in that it doesn’t require a huge leap of faith – and emotionally satisfying in that it is comforting to think about when dealing with a hardship.

    So here it is. I believe life is interesting.

    Given that life is interesting… it only makes sense that there would be conflict and hardship in our world. Look at any good drama on TV. Is there not some form of conflict or hardship being explored? Look at the nightly news. It’s jam packed with all those “bad things happening to good people” or BTHTGP for short. We are fascinated by BTHTGP. We love BTHTGP. If we took away BTHTGP we’d just about die. Consider taking away your TV shows or your books or magazines or all forms of gossip and news that contain BTHTGP. Most people would revolt!

    Truth is we love BTHTGP. No, we hate it when it happens to US. But we love it in general and that’s why it exists. And even when it does happen to us – you have to admit, those horrible times in your life… at the very least, they were interesting times. You might have learned something. You might have learned something about yourself. Maybe you were just entertainment for the guy next to you. Who knows.

    I am not saying we are all sadistic psychopaths hoping our neighbor gets hit by lightening just so we can talk about it with other neighbors. I am just saying – bad things happen because fundamentally, underneath it all life IS interesting. And for it to be truly interesting, there must be drama. There is death. There is change. There is struggle. There are challenges. This is why BTHTGP. In my opinion. :)


    One more thing – I also believe, and this is the comforting part of my belief here, that you are presented with challenges and hardships to grow as a spirit. Life is an experience. And in that experience of a challenge or hardship you are pushed to grow. You may not accept the challenge. You may shrink from it. But if you do accept the challenge, you will certainly grow in some way. We’ve all had bad things happen to them. For me, my first and most formative BTHTGP was my dad dying when I was just 8 years old. He was the love of my life and then he was gone. Wow that sucked. And I looked all over the fields of philosophy and religion and science for the answer to why this happened. The only answer that stuck with me was the idea that life is interesting *and* that each challenge is an opportunity to grow as a spirit. I don’t know if I can define what that means exactly, “grow as a spirit” but I think most people intuitively know what I mean even without me being able to define that. The challenge set before you is a big one. But perhaps take the perspective of “what can I learn from this?” or “how could I use what I am learning to benefit other people?” Use the experience to grow and stretch yourself. I think that perspective, while still *just* an opinion and perspective, could actually be more helpful to you during this time than just chalking it up to “luck of the draw”.

  21. Ingrid, I read what you wrote and not sure I follow where you are coming from. Are you saying there is a force in nature called “interesting” that requires “drama”. That this is what causes events both good and bad to occur? Is this “interesting” force due to a being or is it some other unknown force that science does not know exists. Why do you believe this and what is your evidence for such a force/being besides your belief that the world needs to be intresting?

  22. Ingrid,

    No offense, but your theory just sounds like rationalizing to me. It’s similar to Karma but not much better.

    What I really dislike about it is how it has the same implications as a belief in God does. With religion, people tend to think bad stuff has a godly purpose. With your “force” thing, it similarly makes it somehow *good* that bad things happen to good people, thereby removing responsibility for trying to eliminate the bad.

    I’m not even going to touch how badly you’ve mischaracterized science.

  23. Indrid,

    Reading your second comment makes me ask just one thing:

    Why do you feel there needs to be a REASON for everything? It really implies that there is some intelligent future-thinking force in nature. You may be an atheist, but that doesn’t seem to have made you immune to supernatural thinking.

    In my world, things happen (cause) and then there is a response (effect). Whatever meaning we choose to get from these things is just an aftereffect and is in no way connected with some sort of cosmic plan for our lives.

  24. Yeah, IMO saying belief in religion is equivalent to belief in science is like saying believing in Santa Claus is the same as believing in your own existence.

    It does take a ‘leap of faith’ to believe that you actually exist and that you are not living inside a supercomputer or someone’s dream.

    This just isn’t the same kind of ‘leap of faith’ required to believe in a story or concepts for which there is no proof.

    An interesting concept you have proposed, but where’s the proof? What proof is there that we have a Spirit?

  25. This sounds a lot like someone who thinks we are all living in a scripted play. Which is a lot like “my god’s plan” without calling the Force of Interesting and Drama “god.”

    And it does not take a leap of faith to determine that if there are ten kids circling nine chairs, one kid will still be standing when the music stops. Thus, each kid has a one in ten chance of getting “out” that round.

  26. Bridget says:

    Dear Author,

    I did not read anything here since I wrote. But now that I have, it strikes me that I am, once again crying as I always do, because I am so grateful that people talk about this and have dialog. I know it may sound very naive and simplistic, but I have so much respect for people who talk openly with each other about their beliefs.
    I don’t really know why I am so moved by this, but I am. So, once again..thank you.
    Best regards,


    It doesn’t sound naive or simplistic at all. It sounds like you found a place you need to be. :-) Check the blogroll in the right hand sidebar above. There are quite a few atheist blogs you might want to check out in addition to this one. And welcome to the godless party. 😉

  27. Bridget says:


    OK, now here is where I really get angry. I’m saying this ahead of time because this entry is not going to be pretty.

    “Ingrid”-did you even READ the initial entry from the author?

    Here’s the thing-and this is where it makes absolutely no sense to even have a “discussion” with an individual who actively suggests another belief system (hers).

    -swearing begins here————–>>>>>>

    For fuck’s sake-what do you need a road sign? Here is a person who poured out their guts about an illness of a CHILD he loves and “Ingrid” suggests using this as an opportunity to learn something? WHAT? Are you NOT reading what the author is writing? He is saying NO, I DO NOT SEE IT THAT WAY. I don’t even know where to start with you. You DO NOT get to tell people what is or is not a “big challenge set before you” in their lives.

    I really-and I mean this…there is no humane, sensitive, loving human being who would EVER make a comment like that. I don’t care if you mean well or if you don’t. But you don’t. And don’t no bullshit. You do NOT mean well. You made this entry to argue a point. YOUR point. What a disgrace.

    It really would have been better just to come out and say “Fuck you author”. Why beat around the bush? Because what you write is the exact same thing.

    A fundamental skill in human relationships-or even social bonding is empathy. That means you take five seconds of the space in your own whatever-it-is-you-use, and you entertain the idea that someone might have a different idea, particularly when they just WROTE IT.

    I don’t care. I’m going after these people WITH my emotions.

    You do not get to get away with beating around the bush with the candy coated jargon by telling my friend what to do or believe when it comes to his family or loved ones. I have his back, and you better never EVER visit this site again.

    I will advocate for those unheard. The writer was unheard, by you, “Ingrid” and although no one by any means needs to speak for another, fuck you. I’m doing it anyway because …because… THAT is my choice.

    No. This is NOT ok. This IS NOT OK anymore.

    THIS is the kind of stuff that breaks my heart. If there is “hell”, this is “hell”. And “I’d rather be in hell than anywhere you are, Ingrid”! (William Faulkner said all of it except the “Ingrid” part which I added and NOT for emphasis, but because it’s true).

    Rant complete.

    But she BETTER not come back here.


  1. […] "Why me, daddy?" An atheist father responds. […]

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