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Indelible Memories of Love

The Experience of Being Part of the Christmas Choir 2007

On Friday, December 14, there were announcements in the ladies and men’s darshan lines calling for those who would like to take part in the Christmas choir both as singers and instrumentalists. They were to assemble on the ground floor level of the double-decker building the next day at 4.30pm, for registration and choir practice information.

Ladies and gentlemen from 58 different countries turned up to register and at the end of the session over 800 devotees had put their names down to be part of the choir. Mrs Sylvia Alden, was the choir director - a veteran in the job of quite a few Christmas Choirs - and welcomed everyone with an informative but loving address, gently reminding them that they were there to sing to the Lord, not to worry about how professional they may be but just to open their hearts and sing their love for Him.

Some people expressed concern that with so many people from diverse countries it might not be possible to mould everyone into a choir singing together in one language. This was understandable. But after eight days of practicing intensely for an hour and a half twice a day, the unbelievable happened; the sceptics were proved wrong. On December 24, at 4.30pm in the afternoon, musicians and singers from all the 58 countries came together as one and sang with intense joy and devotion to Swami. They performed with so much love that many of the participants had tears in their eyes as they sang.

Unity is Divinity

Ms. Roxana Guadamus from Costa Rica, who was part of the choir, was moved. Sharing her miraculous experience and feelings, she said,

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Ms. Roxana Guadamus
 

“I come from Central America and it is my first time in Prashanti Nilayam, and I have to tell you that it has been the most wonderful experience in my life. I felt a great sense of inner transformation from the time I stepped into this Land of Peace. During the daily choir practice sessions we shared love with so many people of different nationalities.

"There was such unity that made us all tune together in one voice to sing to our Lord. So much Love I used to experience in those practice sessions that tears would fill my eyes while singing. Love for Him would just ooze out from Him from within. The experience on December 24, when we were in front of Swami singing for Him, was indescribable. I realize this opportunity was unique because we were singing for God Himself and it was only His Grace that gave us that precious opportunity.

“And I would also like to tell you how I came to know of Him. It was through a miracle, which He calls as His ‘visiting card’. It was 10 years ago. In 1997, my husband and I were keen to have a baby, but four years passed and nothing happened. Then, we visited a doctor, and he had a big photograph of Swami in his office. When we enquired, he told us His Name was Sai Baba and that He is a spiritual Teacher who lives in India , and can do miracles.

“We were actually captivated by His Form and the stories we heard about Him. After we left the clinic, as we were driving in the car, we were surrounded by a wonderful fragrance. It was something that I had never smelt before, and I was really astonished. With that sweet smell started permeating me from head to feet, I started crying because of the emotion that overpowered me so deeply. Nine months after that, we had our first son – truly, a gift from Swami. After that we learnt a lot more about Him and soon took active part in the Sai Organization. Now, ten years later, we had the opportunity to be in Prasanthi, His Abode of Supreme Peace. We are so grateful to Him."

Behind the Scene, His Presence was Felt

Oh what a wonderful blessing to be given the opportunity to sing before the Lord – something that will stay with all who took part for ever. But getting there was a lot of hard work. But as the days went by, it seemed to get easier by His Grace; it didn’t feel like work, it was just joy. The musicians started the day as a group at 7.30 am each morning and practised until 10.00 am to fine tune their performance.

The choir started practice each morning at 10.30 am and went through to 12.00 pm – sometimes they stayed another half an hour more as they worked hard to achieve perfection with some of the trickier songs. They then met again at 4.30 pm, and went through until 6.00 pm, with the tenors and sopranos sometimes staying on until 8.00 pm to get it absolutely right. Towards the end, the session was filled with such love and unity that everyone looked forward to it eagerly.

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The sopranos get some coaching
Mrs. Sylvia Alden replies to questions

The combination of professional and non-professional musicians working closely together was a beautiful experience - as well as a steep learning curve for both parties - and with the Lord’s Grace it all came together beautifully. All the participants missed most afternoon darshans, and the musicians missed morning darshan each day for eight days. But ask anyone how they felt about this and each one will say, “I could feel Swami was in the hall with me at every practice session. He was there and here with us.”

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A view of the men,
with the musicans in the foreground
Mrs. Sylvia Alden lets Peter, a composer of one of the the songs, demonstrate how it goes

 

Singing For God, The Joy of Man's Desire

In spite of it being an eclectic crowd comprising of many countries and different cultures, there was no disharmony at any point during the whole period of practice sessions. They felt they were in the Divine Presence of God and this brought about tremendous unity and mutual love among them. And this is probably the reason why Swami was so involved when they sang on that Holy evening of December 24. The Lord gently kept time as He keenly listened to their soulful renderings .

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The children's choir sit in the middle, with the
ladies and gents on either side
Everyone was so thrilled on
that blessed day itself

They sang all the eleven melodies they had practised and the Lord seemed very pleased. In fact, after their songs, He asked them to continue, now with Bhajans. And while this was going on, Swami beckoned the cello player from Switzerland and surprised her with a gift. He waved His hand and out came a gold chain and pendant. He gently placed it around her neck. It was truly a joy to behold her at this moment – she was shining and in so much bliss that it is hard to describe.

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Mrs. Sylvia Alden conducts and keeps time
The male musicans performing before Swami

Wells of Divine Bliss

What was really striking was the fact that many of the choir participants were visitors to Prasanthi Nilayam for the very first time. And how was their maiden experience? H2H caught up with two such newcomers and here is what they shared:

Isobelle from Belgium said,

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Ms. Isobelle

 

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"My experience in the Christmas Choir touched my heart. I was able to sing with people from 58 countries. Normally I would play piano, but this time I came without my instrument. I was so happy to sing with such a large and diverse group because, as waters mingling in a stream, people can become One by singing together.

“The words of the songs were so moving that sometimes I would choke with emotion. The leader of the choir too was wonderful who shared her love so well and infused us with enthusiasm everyday. In the end it was like a choir of angels with much finesse, fervour and great beauty.

“Ten years ago I had a beautiful experience of hearing Swami’s sweet voice as I read one of His books. I had never heard Him speak before and later when I listened to Him from a video, it was the same scintillating expression and love-filled voice that I had heard. Being in Prasanthi, in His Presence during Christmas, was such a great opportunity.”

Our Love For Baba and His Love For us

A first timer from Poland was a young gentleman, Conrad, who said

“This is my first time in Puttaparthi and in the Christmas Choir. To take part in it was an incredible experience. The most precious moment was when we were singing in front of Baba – this was absolutely amazing and wonderful. We could feel His love flowing around us and everywhere else. We just knew and felt that He is everywhere, all around us and around everything.

“The Christmas Choir was something that I believe can only happen here. People from so many different nationalities managed to understand each other. We had to practice and learn eleven songs with so many of us not understanding English. We were able to learn and understand everything we needed to. I will never forget this programme. Our love for Baba and His love for us was an experience never to be forgotten. Swami has shown us how He is and how He acts so we can do our best and do good things in the world by helping other people who are in need.”

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Mr. Conrad

When We Become His Hollow Flutes...

If all the participants were little flowers of different hues and sizes, Mrs. Sylvia Alden, was the gardener grooming them, while His love was the string that bound everyone tightly together. How Sylvia got involved with the Christmas Choirs is a fascinating story which actually dates back nearly two decades.

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Mrs. Sylvia Alden
 

“I was here in Prasanthi in the eighties and someone came up to me and said that I should help in the choir as they cannot do it this time,” Sylvia recalls. “Well I am not a musician. I do love music but I have no formal training in music. She said I should just get up and wave my hands in the air! I thought, well, I think I can do that.

“It was in the Poornachandra Hall and if I remember rightly I directed two songs. I sat down and a man got up. I think he directed one song and then Swami said to the boys ‘Look at this. He’s directing the director’. It kind of grew from that.

“People would come from all countries to join the Christmas choir – the usual format was to have a study circle, sing Christmas Carols and people would tell their stories. There was one famous time, maybe in 1986, Swami came in when we were practicing and everyone wanted to stop and look at the Lord; but Swami said, “No, don’t stop, continue”. So ever since then we always tried to maintain discipline and continued singing even if we were graced with His visit.

“One year we staged a drama and it was called ‘The Wizard of Love’. It was a very professional performance. I think Swami was showing just what He can do with nothing. If I was trained in anyway it would be a different story, but I am not trained and what Swami did with me is pure testament to just what He can do if one throws up their hands and says ‘I am nothing’ and really mean it. It is wonderful what He does to show His Majesty, His Mercy and His extreme Grace.

More Precious Than Silver

“In August of 1990, Swami told me to come back in December as He said He had a lot of work for me to do and I have clear recollection of that as at that time I was a kindergarten teacher, so I brought my autoharp, stickers for the children and some music. I ended up with the adult choir and they wanted stickers too! One of the songs I was listening to at that time was “Lord You Are” and I just changed the words to “Sai You Are” and we sang those words on the Christmas morning.

"Swami came through the silver doors of the Mandir balcony and He was absolutely so resplendent and beautiful - He was not just my dear Swami but He was the Lord of the Universe. And how He shone! Just to sing 'You are more precious than silver, more valuable than diamonds' in front of Him that blessed morning was thrilling. I don’t think the memory of seeing Him at that time will ever leave me.

“It is delightful as Swami seems to allow us to play our way to our spiritual goal. We pray our way home but He lets us play our way home – not childish but childlike, with all the wonder which brings out this miracle every year.”

The Joy of Singing for Sai

Francis Sosa from El Salvador was one such who was touched by the ‘Miracle of love’ of the Christmas Choir 2007. She said,

“Singing for Swami for the first time is something that I could have never imagined, it is something special and I wish it for everyone.

"Fortunately, I was born into a family which was in the Sai Organisation, and therefore, I went to Bal Vikas and am now in the Youth Group. By His Grace, I received a Diploma in Human Values and I am studying to be a Teacher. Swami has been taking me on the best path all my life.

"I wish to continue to serve children always and transform them through human values. They are the most precious thing in the world for me. And I am ever so grateful to Swami for giving me a Sai-filled family and such beautiful opportunities."

 

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Ms. Francis Sosa

Let Your Light Shine... Wherever You Are

Just like Francis Sosa, Sylvia too loved to be with the children and mould them. And the Lord blessed her with ample opportunities in the years to come.

“I had the children’s choir for the next couple of years,” Sylvia recalls. “That was fun, though a little bit lacking in discipline at times because children are children. We sang in the Poornachandra Auditorium in front of Swami. Someone from Australia had made little bulbs from batteries and masking tape, and the children just touched the wire to the bottom of the battery, waved their lights around, and sang “This Little Light of Mine”. It was beautiful.

“After the programme, Swami came into the hall and spoke to the guests. He would ask them where they came from and other questions - He is so gracious like He doesn’t know! People would answer ‘I come from Australia’, ‘I am from Germany’ and so on.

"Swami then looked at me and asked me the same question. I said, 'Oh Swami, this body comes from America, but I come from You!' And then He looked at His gentlemen guests sitting there and went 'Haa!' I was bold enough to say that. Swami seemed to let me be His dearest friend and have that freedom.

Cloves of Love

“So that was the children’s choir and soon we got into a routine of doing the Adult choir too. One time when I took the programme to Him, He said, ‘Oh, you’ve done this for Me for six years’. At this point, I want to tell you something that is so precious to me.

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“Many times I have offered cloves to Swami. During Darshans in the early nineties, Swami would throw sweets from trays held by people. All who receive these gifts touched by Him would feel so lucky. And so, I had a tray for the ladies and one for the gents so that all members in the choir could get some sweets blessed by Him, and then I had one big tray that had cashews, almonds, raisins, cloves and chocolates. But I didn’t know that you had to take the little buds off the cloves when you present it to Him. When Swami came, He gently took a clove, made certain that He had eye contact with me, and then very carefully took the bud off. I realised that is what I am supposed to do. And then He smiled and put the clove in His mouth. I was of course thrilled.

“In the past few years I have offered Him cloves with the buds off and I did it again this Christmas (2007) when I had made a little kerchief and put the cloves on it to make it easier for Him to pick and put it in His mouth.

“I don’t know how to explain it but He has given us everything, more than we can ever imagine. Someone asked me, ‘Who is Swami?’ I said, ‘I have no idea who He is or what He is. All I know is that since He has entered my life in this form I have made a 180 degree turn, and now my life is full of joy!’ For me, He is all that there ever has been or ever will be. We always want to give Him something, so when He takes that clove, which has in it my heart, mind and everything, it is such a blessing. I feel so fulfilled.

Sai is the Dance, the Dancer and The One Who Teaches the Steps

“He used to sometimes call me ‘Singer’, or ‘Dancer’, and once, in the eighties, when I got up to direct the children’s choir in Whitefield, He asked, ‘Do you want to dance?’ I looked at Him and replied, “I beg Your pardon?” During the Sixtieth Birthday He had given me an orange sari – the colour of His Robe – when I put it on, I looked rather like a large wrinkled pumpkin. He again asked, ‘Do you want to dance?’ I said, ‘Swami, if You want me to dance then I will’, and I could see the college boys sitting behind Him trying hard to cover up their giggles, though some did escape. But now I do realise that what He meant then was not to move my body around; instead He was asking me, ‘I’ll play the tune and will you dance to it?’ And that has been my joy, especially as I look at my life and see how He has moved me, this nothing, from place to place and made music through me.

“Even this year, before I managed to mould people from 58 countries into a performance in nine days, I prayed: ‘Please Swami, don’t let them see me, let them only see Your Light, and feel Your Love’. And it is He who keeps sending people who have such a yearning to love Him and that is how the whole programme materialised.”

From Different Countries and Languages, They Sang with One Voice and One Heart

Truly, every member of the choir was one who longed to please His Lord with his or her little offering rendered soulfully. Arvie Maharaj from New Zealand was one such and this is how he narrated his experience. He said,

“It was my first time in the Choir and actually I had no special expectations, but little did I know what an amazing experience it was going to be. When I walked in for the first time to the practice session, I was absolutely blown away to find over 700 people sitting from all over the world, from 58 countries.

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Mr. Arvie Maharaj
"That in itself was extraordinary. And I was surprised that we were attempting so many songs together in such a short span of time, one song itself would be great. And we really did sing them on Christmas evening.

“It actually took me back five years when I came with a New Zealand Youth group with Ms. Mata Betty as our group leader. She used to compose songs on Swami and we were lucky to sing those songs to Swami inside the interview room! We sang six or seven songs sitting right in front of Him and this was an experience which I thought I would never experience again, but when we sang to Him on this Christmas evening (2007) it all came back.

"I could feel the love pouring out as our hearts unfolded. All 700 plus choir members singing in a united voice and the lyrics of all the songs so beautiful and full of meaning. We felt each word that we sang and it was absolutely incredible watching Swami sitting there listening to us. I remember Him relaxed and enjoying the programme, and at the end of it Swami actually asked for more. Fortunately, we had six bhajans ready to sing for Him before He left. It was an experience that will be with me for the rest of my life and even though this was my first Choir in Prasanthi, it won’t be the last.”

The Magnetic Magic of Music

Mrs. Sylvia Alden, the Choir conductor, always emphasised that all the participants ruminate on the meaning of each word they sing and express their true feelings. Talking about the choice of songs for the choir, she says,

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Mrs. Sylvia Alden receives guidance from Swami

“We can sing Christmas carols and some of the old ones are beautiful, but it is so wonderful to sing songs of love and gratitude to Him as these opens up everyone’s hearts. Music is magic; it doesn’t have to be professional, though it helps. But what is important is just to open our hearts to Him. That is so wonderful. When we sing ‘Glory to God and He is here! He is here! He is here!’ What more powerful words could He allow us to sing to Him!

“The choir turns out to be for me, and I am sure for many others, a life changing experience, because for eight and a half days we focus purely on Swami. Everybody sits cramped on the hard concrete floor, with little or no conveniences. And the Russians this year had all the English text of the lyrics translated into Russian, so they knew the meaning. Then they learned the English words phonetically and sang confidently with others with great joy. It was absolutely humbling to see people who have no knowledge of English sing with the same passion and perfection.”

All was Orange in Sai's Orange

It might be interesting here to know what a lady Russian devotee, who was part of the Choir for the first time, said after their performance.

“This is my first visit to Puttaparthi and my novel Christmas Choir experience. In the 1960s, in the days of the former Soviet Union , there was a popular song which was often translated on radio and TV as “Orange Sky, Orange Sea, Orange Mothers Singing Orange Songs to the Orange Children”. It makes me feel that the author of this song was probably familiar with Swami at that time.

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“When I joined the Christmas Choir, I found the practise sessions so filled with sacred vibrations - I was careful not even to sneeze or make any kind of noise. I was fully aware of Swami’s Compassion and Love. And finally singing to Baba was an experience I will never forget.

"We, Russians, who did not know English, translated the English words of the songs into Russian, so that we could understand and feel what we were singing. And we spent a lot of time learning to sing and pronounce the English words which we accomplished very well in the end.

“I am grateful to all saintly people, to all those who pleaded for this Avatar to come to this world and to His parents, especially His Mother Easwaramma. In the orthodox religion, there is the prayer, which is chanted by women to God’s Mother Maria: ‘God’s Mother, fill me with Your Grace’.

"Baba exemplifies from His own life how one should live by tirelessly and selflessly serving others. I thought I worked hard until I met the woman devotees of Bhagavan Baba.”

Instruments of Love

Mrs. Sylvia Alden was surely an inspiration for all the participants of the choir and seeing her they felt how one could really become a conduit of His love. Narrating a touching incident that demonstrated this, Sylvia says,

“One day I had one man come up to me and said, 'No English'. I replied, 'Sai Ram'. He then pointed to his eyes said, I see Baba in you' I replied that I saw Baba in him too, but he emphatically repeated, 'No! I see Baba in you!' So that was the answer to my prayer. He saw Swami’s light, not this old lady! And to be the pitcher that holds that life giving water is so fulfilling. I have people say to me, ‘You are doing this because of past karma’. I say, ‘No way, it’s only Grace, His Grace!’

Amazing Grace

“The recent choir, therefore, was a miracle; in fact, it was a series of miracles. The story of the cello player is fascinating. 2006 was the first year we did ‘O Christe Dominu Jesu’, and I prayed to Swami and said, ‘Swami, we really need the deep rich cello sound for this song. Please arrange for a player’. So this year (2007) I started asking Swami inside, ‘Is a cello player coming?’

"Then one evening I went home and found a note on my apartment door from a lady saying that a cello player was coming from Switzerland even though she had to pay for an extra seat on the plane for her cello. I said, ‘Wonderful Swami, thank you so much for the cello’. So she came and met me and said, ‘You know Sylvia, I think I’ve landed in the wrong choir’. I said, ‘Why is that Dorothy?’ And she said, ‘Well, I received an email from the director of the California choir that she wanted me to play cello for her’. I said, “No Dorothy, I have prayed for you for two years, I think you are in the right choir’. And she happily played for us. At the end of our performance, Swami surprised all of us. He called her to Him, made a pendant from thin air and gave it to her. My goodness, her face was glowing! There was light coming from her. Swami was so pleased and she was so happy that, later she came up to me and said, ‘I think I’m in the right choir, may I play again next year?’

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Swami makes a chain for the cellist
Inexplicable joy!

“And when I think of the professionals, Stan, the lead violinist, comes to mind first. He is an exceedingly competent musician not only for theory but from the heart. We have done this together for 5 years now and when I mentioned something about professionalism to him, he said, ‘Sylvia, what is professionalism? It is nothing; it’s what’s in the heart!’

Let us now hear from one of the musicians Mr. Brian Anderson from the USA:

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Mr. Brian Anderson

 

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“I really love to make music for Swami, and so I eagerly looked forward to being in the Overseas Devotees’ Christmas Choir. Singing and playing in front of Swami on Christmas Eve was an amazing experience, but I would also like to mention the intense but wonderful practice sessions held over the nine days.

"We had to miss many Darshan sessions, but all the rehearsals and practice sessions were done in such a spirit of love and unity that it was really wonderful. If there were any disagreements, it was resolved with a spirit of tolerance, forbearance and love. It was obvious that Swami was guiding the whole process. There was so much love in the rehearsal hall. It was my first time as a musician in the Christmas Choir and it is something I will never forget.

The Mantra of His Name

Just a single opportunity to perform before the Lord leaves one with memories that can energize one for an entire life time. Narrating the experience of another gentleman, Sylvia says,

“One thing I must tell you; once I was in Salt Lake City, USA, and I had been invited to an open meeting to talk about Swami. I started with ‘I am here to talk to you about Sri Sathya Sai Baba’, and a person sitting in the front row burst into tears. He was openly sobbing so profusely, and I silently prayed to Swami not to let me say anything that causes pain to this man. Later I went to him and said, ‘I saw you were weeping; if I said anything that offended you, please accept my apologies’. Very slowly but clearly he said, ‘You don’t understand!’ And I said, ‘Please tell me’. Then he replied, ‘To be allowed to say that Name – you don’t understand how powerful it is!’ And truly, he was right. To say the name Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba is not only a mantra, it is the mantra of all mantras. It is the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bible, the Koran and all there is to me. And I am grateful to be allowed to say it.”

He Responds to Every Whisper of the Soul

The precious gift of Sai to millions of devotees all over the world – each one experiencing Him in a unique and personal way – is truly a mystery His Love that one can never fathom. One can only experience, enjoy and elevate oneself. Luis Sosa, a 26 year old from El Salvador, sharing his coveted association with Sai, said,

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Mr. Luis Sosa

“I have had the blessing of being in Sai’s fold all of my life. I was in Bal Vikas for a long time, then I joined the Youth Group, afterwards I became Youth President for 5 years. It was a very gratifying experience because to help people in Swami’s Name is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I saw this responsibility as a gift from God to serve Him and myself. Now, I am the President of a Sai Centre in El Salvador and I am so grateful to Him for all that He has given to me.

“With His Grace El Salvador is working very hard in the area of community Service. We have one Clinic in the Sai Centre of Gerardo Barrios that works all Saturdays and is helping those who are most in need. But this is my first time in Puttaparthi and I could see God in Human Form and experience the Love that emanates from His Physical Proximity - Love that I could feel in every Darshan.

“On the first day during Darshan, I saw a sevadal and asked Swami mentally that I wanted to be a sevadal, but that seemed impossible as that chance is given only to Indians. But He, in His Omniscience and Omnipresence heard me, and I could serve as an overseas' sevadal during the Christmas Celebrations. I know He always listens to everything that we pray for and that we don’t need an intermediary to communicate with Him. We simply need to keep our hearts pure, and talk to Him, and know that He is always listening. I pray to Swami to make us His instruments so that we can give His Love to everyone around us. I am so grateful to Swami for this unique opportunity to be in Prasanthi with Him.”

If we were to describe the feelings of all the choir participants of Christmas 2007 in two phrases – it would be ‘Heartfelt Gratitude’ and ‘Immense Love’. For, there is nothing else available in Prasanthi, than this Eternal and Inexhaustible Reservoir of Pure Love who can transmute ordinary beings into lighthouses without even speaking a word. His Presence is enough. His Glance can convert dust into diamonds.

- Heart2Heart Team

 


Dear Reader, did this article inspire you in any way? Would you like to share you feelings with us? Please write to us at [email protected] mentioning your name and country. Thank you for your time.


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Vol 6 Issue 02 - FEBRUARY 2008
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