Looking For Burt’s…Ummmm…You Know…

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I’m not sure how the conversation began.  It was last  Sunday morning, and everyone was milling around the kitchen. Hot cinnamon rolls were on the island, and we were all standing around munching our breakfast and drinking coffee.  The conversation  was loud and funny.  All of the kids are home now, and the house feels two sizes smaller.  Two sizes too small.  The conversation eventually deteriorated.  At times, we seem to have a pervasive middle-school mentally in our home, and we began to recall when we first came face to face with the REAL, biological difference between girls and boys.

A vivid memory flooded back.  Burt Reynolds flashed into my head, and when I say flashed, I mean FLASHED.  I recalled a time years ago with my friend Stacy as we sat on the pink shag carpet of her bedroom with the door closed looking at a really hairy man.  I laughed as I told the kids about that long-ago day.  Stacy and I knew that her mom had a Playgirl magazine hidden in her room.  Our mothers were friends, and we had overheard their discussion of said magazine as they sat in the kitchen drinking coffee.

That picture scared the hell out of my friend and I!  Who would EVER want to touch something that looked like THAT?  This was during the era of Bigfoot, and I remember thinking that he wasn’t too far removed from his woods-dwelling brother.  We looked at the picture, and collapsed into giggles.  We snapped the magazine shut, took a few more quick peeks, and slipped it back into her mom’s room.

Of course, my feelings about men have changed over the years.  🙂  I can now see the appeal, hair and all.  Although, in real life I would certainly find it laughable to see a toupee-wearing man stretched out on a bear skin rug.  It made me smile to see this picture once again and to recall that time of innocence.  It was a time before boyfriends and broken hearts.  It was a Wonder Years memory that warmed me to remember.

Radiating Anger

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I am too easily influenced by the emotions of those around me.  I seem to feel the pain others experience on a gut or a spiritual level.  I’m sure a lot of people do that, but sometimes I wish I could be more aloof to the feelings of those around me.  I wish I could have more of a “not MY problem” mentality.

As much as I love my job, working for local government is challenging on even the best days.  The general public doesn’t understand allocation of funds.  They don’t understand that if we spend in one area (because grant funds were received) that those funds can’t be used to save jobs in another area that is undergoing budget restraints.  It is often frustrating to be accused of wasting taxpayers money  instead of being thanked for writing a compelling grant narrative that resulted in a grant award for our community.  Stimulus money was being thrown around right and left.  Shouldn’t we have tried to get as much of that as possible to flow into our community?  Of course we should, but now that the projects are underway, the perception is that we’re wasting taxpayer dollars to fund them.  What the public doesn’t understand is that those grant funds MUST be used in a certain way and for certain projects.  It’s not a blank check.  It’s not fun money.  Grant funds were awarded for a specific projects.

The people in my department are some of the most conscientious, intelligent, talented, hard-working people I have ever known.  A great team has been assembled.  Years of planning, pushing, politics, and a tremendous amount of work are culminating into an economic building boom in our community right in the midst of a “mini-depression.”  Our unemployment rates are among the lowest in the state.  Our local businesses are seeing steady improvements in their sales.  They are hiring additional staff.

You would think that our community would be proud, right?  Wrong.  While our local economy has been booming, our City budget has not kept up pace.  City Council has refused to increase taxes even as expense are on the rise.  During the first wave, all non-essential staff was let go.  As positions became vacant due to retirement, they were not filled.  The work was absorbed by others.  That was last year.

This year, all non-union workers were told that there would be no pay increases  until further notice, not even the increase we had been promised six months ago.  We were also required to “donate” three days back to the budget.  That meant we had to take three unpaid days of leave.  That’s OK.  I didn’t hear any complaints.  We were all happy to still have jobs.

Still…City Council would not consider a modest increase in taxes.  Still…costs continued to rise.  Our elected officials were listening to their constituents.  No more taxes!!!  (Oh, and City services?  Please continue those without interruption.)  Everyone worked harder.  I’m here.  I can attest to the truth of that.  We all worked harder, longer hours, with more responsibilities, and of course, the promise of no financial incentive as a reward for the increase in those duties and responsibilities.

It looked like it was working.  “See?  We didn’t raise taxes.  We trimmed the fat.  Those under-worked, over-paid city staffers are finally pulling their weight!”  Still…City Council was advised that if there was not an increase in taxes, the budget would continue to be in the red.  But why would City Council listen to the finance department staff?  They listened to their constituents.  “No more taxes!”

It’s that time of year again.  Budget hearings have been going on this past month.  There wasn’t much more “fat” to be trimmed from City staff.  More cuts would be forthcoming, though.  Should garbage service be privatized?  Sure!  What about EMT Service?  HUH????  Well, wait a minute.  We can’t cut firefighters’ jobs.  They are heroes.  Why not take the money from that economic development project?  Well, you can’t.  Those are grant funds.  So what!

I have twice had to cross picket lines to get to my office.  It has been hellish these past few weeks, and it all came to a head last night.  The final vote on the privatization of EMT service was going before City Council.  A dozen firefighters were potentially going to lose their jobs.  Emotions were running high.  Police protection was requested to bring a routine economic development matter to Council.

More picket lines.  Red in the face yelling.  Gavels pounding.  TV cameras all around.  Some of the nicest people I know being harassed, threatened, and criticized.  None of it was said to me.  I am hurting because I have watched human beings FORGET that they are dealing with other human beings.  Who tells someone that they hope they have a heart attack as they leave the building?  This was said to such a gentle, kind-hearted woman.  She is overweight and terribly self-conscious.  I hurt for how those words must have stung her.  It was proclaimed that others would burn in hell or rot in hell.  Take your pick.

Today an angst-filled group was once again hanging around in the lobby of City Hall.  As I crossed the foyer, I smiled at the group of people standing there, and said “Good morning.”  I received a scowl in return and heard colorful, muttered comments as I passed by.  What did I do?  I had nothing to do with this decision.  I made no recommendations regarding this matter.  They hate me anyway.

I felt the weight of their anger pressing down on me.  At lunchtime, once again, I sought the peace of the river.  I sat there in my car, my beloved old car.  I sipped a Pepsi, and dipped my fries in ketchup.  The world is a mean place.  People are just mean.  I wished for a place far away…a safe place.

When I got back to the office, I spoke to someone who was there last night.  I said that I was sorry.  I said, “My heart hurts to see such anger and meanness,” and I gave her a hug.  As I walked back down to my office, I passed others in the hall.  Everyone wore a haggard, haunted look on their faces.  There is a black cloud hanging over City Hall today.

Life Raft

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Last night, T told me to get ready.  We were going out for dinner.  He said with a silly smile that  I needed some red meat.  Double entendra.  Em didn’t have plans, so the girls could stay home by themselves.  I agreed that it sounded like a good idea.  It had been a hard day.  I didn’t feel like cooking.  The girls seemed happy at the thought of having us out of the house for a while.  They were both occupied with their own things, and seemed to be looking forward to an evening of quiet….without Mom and Dad hanging around the house.  While I didn’t feel much like going out, the thought of a juicy steak at one of our favorite spots perked me up a little.

I had been a slob all day.  We were heading out for a late dinner by the time I got myself cleaned up and looking presentable.  It was nice, though, because the Saturday night rush had already passed by the time we got there.  We went to a local favorite.  It’s a cozy, intimate place, and has a beautiful evening view of the runway lights at our local (tiny) airport.  To top it all off, the food is always wonderful.  We enjoyed a cocktail and conversation while we waited for our food.  I could already see that this was a good idea as I began to feel myself begin to relax for the first time all day.  My friend T.  There he was across the table, always knowing what is best for me even before I know it myself.

As soon as my tension began to subside, deep, deep fatigue began to set in. The adrenaline had been replaced with exhaustion.  T asked where I wanted to go after dinner, but all I really wanted to do was to go home and go to bed.  He tried to entice me with a drive down by the river to look at Christmas lights.  Maybe we could stop for martinis?  “No, please.  All I want to do is go to bed.”  I can’t ever remember feeling so wilted.  We drove home after dinner, and I immediately got ready for bed.

He was there in bed with me, and I’m not sure where I was.  Yes, I was in bed, but I seemed to be floating.  I rolled over, laid my head on T’s chest, and hung on for dear life.  The headache was back, and I felt like I was swirling and spinning.  I was hot and cold at the same time.  I was sweating and shivering.  Images and emotions flashed at me in my half-sleep.  At some point, I fell asleep.

Around 2:30 a.m., I woke up.  I was tangled in the covers, and my hair felt damp and stringy.  I wanted to get out of bed.  I wanted to wander around the house.  I wanted to stand and look out of a window.  It was December 11.  I picked up my phone to confirm the date.  There it was, taunting me in the darkness, December 11.  I laid there, forcing myself to stay in bed when all I wanted to do was flee.  I’m not sure where I wanted to go, but I didn’t want to be there in the quiet darkness with my thoughts.  If I got up, though, it would be the actions of a crazy woman.  “Normal” people don’t wander around the house in the middle of the night.  I flung my leg across T and grabbed his arm.  Once again, I hung on until sleep came.

This morning when I woke up, it felt like I had won a battle.  I had been victorious.  I hadn’t cried.  I hadn’t wandered around the house thinking and thinking.  I had CHOSEN not to do the things that would feed the fires of grief.  Instead of floundering around in the water, I had held onto my life raft.

Today was another sad December 11th.  My mom has been moved from the hospital to a skilled nursing unit.  It’s depressing, even though the facility is nice.  She lays behind a curtain on her half of the room.  This is what her life has been reduced to, a room,  a bed behind a curtain.  As I watched her laying there, mumbling in and out of sleep, I wished for my dad once again. To see her like this would have made him so sad.  If Dad were alive, he would have been able to keep her at home. He would have been able to care for her in a way that I am not able.  My children, my job, my responsibilities have not allowed me to become the full-time caregiver my dad once had been for her.

I sat with her in the darkened room.  I wondered what her mind was thinking as she slept.  I hoped that the thoughts in her dreams were better than the reality of what her life has become.  I hoped that she was remembering the things that once made her life worth living.  We didn’t talk at all today.  She drifted in and out, and I sat in a chair…watching and thinking.  We had once been a little family, Mom and Dad, and me.  Those days have passed.  So many things have passed.   Too many.

I drove by the old house on my way home from the hospital.  I had to stop and go inside.  For just a moment, I stood there in what was once a living room.  Think of that word!  Living room.  It was once a place where people lived.  It had once been full of life, love, family, and conversation.  I gently touched the place where I had found my dad two years ago.  I touched that spot, but I remembered other times, happier times, and I was thankful that this is where he had taken his last breathe, in the living room, in a place he loved, in the comfort of his own home.

 

 

A Good Cry

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It’s in there, but I am holding it back.  I really want to get through the next few days without tears.  I’m not sure why, or what, but I think if I can remain stoic through this weekend, I will be proving something to myself.

I woke up after a restless night’s sleep with a monstrous headache.  Lola was standing by the edge of my bed asking if she could go outside and play with the neighbor kids.  I raised my head up to look at the clock on the bedside table.  Ugh!  It was much earlier than I had intended on getting up.  T, who is an early riser, was already up and gone.  Bless his heart.  He was doing the weekly grocery shopping.

I sat up groggily, hair wild, head pounding, and tried to figure out what I needed to do first.  I threw on a robe, and proceeded to help Lola dress in warm clothes to play outside in the 1/2 inch of snow.  I remember those days of childhood.  Even a sprinkling of snow was too good to miss out on when it’s Saturday morning and the neighborhood kids were ready to play!

Once she was out the door, I popped the first handful of many ibuprofen I would be taking today.  I poured a cup of coffee and tried to figure out what was wrong with me.  I felt miserable, but I didn’t have time to dwell on that.  I had promised Em to go with her to see our “Hairapist.”  We love the woman who does our hair.  Not only does she help us look our best, she has become a close friend over the years.  In fact, she and I are planning a weekend trip in January.  I didn’t dare have a bite to eat.  This headache was one of those debilitating, make you sick, kind of headaches.  I threw on some clothes, put my crazy hair up into a ponytail, and slipped on some sunglasses.

I walked into the Hairapist with Em, and visited for a while before heading out to get us all mochas for our visit.  That’s when the first wave hit.  As soon as I was alone in the car, I felt like crying.  I looked at myself in the mirror and saw the tears begin to well up in my eyes.  I wanted to be home.  I wanted to be in bed with the covers pulled up over my head.  I wanted a friend.  I needed a hug.  I wanted my head to stop hurting.  I wanted the stress and the worry to go away.  I looked back at the poor, pained woman in the mirror, and I said, “Buck up, baby.  No tears for you.”  I bought the mochas and headed back.  The visit really did do me good.  The mocha revived me, and the friendship of women (stylist and my daughter) was exactly what I needed.  I popped a few more ibuprofen along the way, and the pain began to become manageable.

It was noon, and I still had not eaten.  I still couldn’t.  Our next stop was the hospital, and knowing what waited there drowned out my appetite.  I am tired of long corridors and medical staff.  I’m tired seeing so many people who are going through terrible times in their lives.  I’m tired of the haunted looks on so many of the faces I pass by.  It is Christmastime, and once again, I find myself in sterile hospital corridors instead of celebrating the warmth of the season.  I am tired, so damn tired.

T has been wonderful to me this past week.  Knowing that he cares even when he isn’t along for the ride does help.  I called him to give him an update on my mom’s condition, and he answered the phone, “Hi, precious….”  Two words, and they lifted a load of pain.

Em and I stopped for a bite to eat on the way home.  We had a chance to talk, to eat, even to laugh.  She is going through a hard time with the approach of December 11th, too.  Tomorrow.  Tomorrow.  Tomorrow.  It will be here, and then it will be over for another year.  Until then, I will hold my breath and my tears.  December 11th won’t take anything else from me without a fight.

I’m finally home.  It’s Saturday, and it was more exhausting than a day at work.  I wanted to lay across my bed and have a good cry.  I felt the tears building up behind my eyes, in my throat, and down across my chest.  I didn’t do it, though.  Not this time, and hopefully, I won’t ever again.  The tears exhaust me, and I need my strength.  The tears weaken me, and I need my strength.  I refuse to give another ounce of myself over to this grief.  I need my strength.

Instead of tears, I will write.  I will release the grief in a way that does not sap me of energy, but instead, strengthens my resolve.  I’m snuggled up under the ugly blanket made by my great-grandmother years ago.  I have a cup of coffee next to me.  T had a pot waiting for us when we got back home.  I’m safe, and I’m comfortable now.  Right now, I have all that I need.

Disappointment

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Disappointment.  How to get over it?  How do we move on from situations that disappoint us?  I often struggle with that question.  Over and over in our lives, we are confronted with disappointments.  How do with deal with it?  How do we move on and let go?

Some disappointments are quite insignificant.  For example, today I really wanted a Big Mac.  By the time I got around to getting my lunch, it was well past lunchtime, and I was really hungry.  I was looking forward to my sloppy burger.  I sat in a long, long line at the drive-up window waiting for my turn to order.  I didn’t mind the wait.  I was having an enjoyable conversation on the phone with my son.  I didn’t allow impatience to sneak in.  Finally, I had my food, and I pulled into a parking space to quickly eat before returning to the office.  I pulled my fries out of the bag, and they looked terrible.  They were too dark (which is odd for the crazily regimented McDonalds.)  OK, it wasn’t the fries I had been craving anyway, so I set them aside and grabbed my Big Mac.  I instantly knew that this wasn’t good.  Thunk, thunk…the bun was as hard as a rock, and it was cold, too.  Yes, I was disappointed, but I dealt with it.  In case you’re wondering, and T was wondering, I ate it anyway. Obviously, I’ve learned how to deal with the everyday, minor disappointments pretty well.

It is the larger disappointments that I’m not so good at dealing with, facing, letting go, or getting past.  How do we deal with the things in life that don’t go our way even if we have put our heart, our soul, and a vast amount of energy into it?   How do we deal with disappointment over something that didn’t go as we had envisioned?  How do we deal with tragic loss?   I’m not good at all in dealing with the larger disappointments life throws my way, and that bothers me.

December 11 is a fine example of ME hanging onto, not being able to let go of a disappointment.  My superstition, hatred, and fear of November is another example.  Believe me there are a host of other disappointments, but this isn’t about MY LIST of disappointments or regrets.  What this is about is the fact that it’s finally sinking in that I need to learn how to LET GO of disappointment instead of replaying it over and over in my mind…looking for a way I could have changed the outcome.

I have decided to face this head on.  I am going to begin dealing with the subject of disappointment just like I would deal with a challenge that I might face at work.  I am going to begin by educating myself on the mechanics of disappointment.  What is a common reaction?  What is unusual?  What is normal behavior, and what is over the top?  Once I identify where I fall on the scale of what is considered “normal,” then I will educate myself on what to do about it.

I don’t want to become cynical.  I don’t want to be a grouch or a recluse.  I want to learn how to LET GO of the disappointment in a healthy and constructive way.  I don’t want to be a Pollyanna, either.  While I know that there are lessons to learn from many of our disappointments, I now realize that some things are simply not fair.   That’s life!   Those are the ones that are difficult to let go of and move on from.  When life treats me unfairly, it makes me angry.  An angry person is not who or what I want to be.  The disappointments we all face are often not our choice, but how we deal with them is well within our control.  Now…I just need to figure out how to do that!

 

“We would never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world,”

~  Helen Keller

Sanctuary

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Sanctuary – A place of refuge or safety

 

 

Those of you who have read the blog for a while might remember that I moved offices several months ago.  I was a little apprehensive about the move.  I had really liked  my office.  I was happily settled there, but the move would make it easier for me to supervise staff and would save me many trips down the hall each day.  To complicate matters, I would be locating to an office I had formerly occupied.  I had worked in that old office during some of the worst days of my life, but I couldn’t really say, “Oh, I don’t want to move to that office.  It holds too many memories from a very difficult time in my personal life.”  Yeah, I didn’t think that would go over too well.  While they might think I’m a little quirky at work, they don’t actually think I am insane.  (I think!)

The office suite had been completely remodeled with new paint and new carpet.  It was now a tranquil color, instead of the former industrial blue.  It had always been a very bright and  sunny space.  I followed the advice of Seasweetie and placed a bowl of fresh lemon on my desk.  I don’t remember why, but I believe it was to improve the feng shui in the new space.  Below is a picture I took on move-in day.  There are the lemons in the little orange bowl I bought to add a little more color to the space.  The lemons are gone now, after growing a lovely crop of fuzzy mold.  I still have the bowl, though, and it’s usually filled with Hershey’s Miniatures.  🙂

 

 

The office has turned out to be a wonderful, calm, peaceful, place of comfort.  I have accomplished some of my best work in that space, and it has been interesting to come back to the same space under different circumstances.  There are four of us who share the suite of offices.  It doesn’t allow the same amount of privacy as my former office, but I find that I enjoy the company.  While I could close my door if I chose, I rarely do.  The only time the door is shut is if I am on a conference call or working on something that needs complete concentration.  (What I mean is that I have to shut it to force myself to concentrate and not allow the ADD to kick in and make my mind wander.)

One man and three women share the four offices and common reception area.  In the six months since we became office mates, we have formed sort of an alliance.  We chat back and forth through our doors.  We pooled our funds and set up a pretty nifty coffee station in the reception area complete with top shelf coffee and a variety of creamers.  We’ve brought in plants and hung pictures.  Never once has an unkind been word been spoken among the four of us.  This pleasant companionship has come to mean a great deal to me.

It’s been interesting to watch as our friendships have transitioned from the friendship of co-workers to real friendship.  What has even been more interesting is the fact that other people in our building have begun to notice.  Our office suite has become known as a sanctuary.  People often comment on it and stop in to sit in the reception area and relax for a few minutes.  The politics, alliances, manipulation, and undermining that go on in other areas, just don’t exist in our little suite.  Instead, we have created a pleasant, welcoming, and productive place to work.

This week  someone gave me a gift card for Chick-fil-A.  (YUM!)  Today the gentleman in our little group asked if anyone wanted to go with him to shop during lunch.  He needed help choosing a Christmas gift for his wife.  We all said that shopping sounded like fun, and I offered to buy everyone lunch with my gift card.  So the four of us took off for the mall during our lunch hour.  As we sat eating lunch, I realized what a curious group we made.  One man in his 30’s, a young woman in her late 20’s, and two older (ahem, one of them would be me!) women sharing lunch at the mall.  It was so enjoyable, and I realized how blessed I am not only to have a job that I love, but to be able to work with people I truly like.

Life can be difficult, painful, crazy, and confusing sometimes.  Right now, my life seems to be a mixture of all of those things.  Today,  I was thankful for these good people who are a part of my life.  Their kindness and friendship are blessings.  Months ago, I worried about sharing office space, making a move, having another change in my life, but it turned out to be such a good thing for me.  The space we share has become my sanctuary from all the craziness in my life.  In that place, and with these people, I am able to find moments of peace.

I wasn’t able to spend time shopping with them.  I had an enjoyable lunch, though, and then I headed over to the hospital to check on my mom.  The situation is not good, and there isn’t a thing anyone can do (or will do) to make it better.  No, her leg wasn’t broken, but she has a torn meniscus.  Ordinarily, this could be repaired, but Mom isn’t healthy enough for surgery.  She is in a great deal of pain, but is only allowed a limited selection and amount of pain relieving drugs.  As a dialysis patient, medications can quickly become toxic.  The doctors are concerned that she will die if they were to perform surgery.  They are concerned that she will die if they give her enough medication to actually help with her pain.  What are they preserving?  Her quality of life is negligible at this point.  No matter what my personal feelings have been, past hurts and personality conflicts mean very little at this point.  It’s frustrating and painful to watch her go from one medical crisis to the next.  She has told me she wishes that she could just die.  What do I say to that?  I would be feeling exactly the same way if I were in her position.

I look back on the last two years, and I marvel at the sadness, the losses, and the changes.  But it is moments like today with my co-workers, that also show me that even during the worst of times, good things continue to come my way, too.  I have to be sure to keep my heart open.  I need to let the good in to help carry me through the bad.

A Heart Two Sizes Too Small

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I watched “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” tonight with Lola.  She has been singing the song from that movie all week long, and we finally decided to watch the DVD.

Fah who for-aze!
Dah who dor-aze!
Welcome Christmas,
Christmas Day.

I’ve seen the show many, many times, and I was only watching halfheartedly.  Something struck me as I listened to the words tonight.  When the Grinch witnesses the love and kindness of the people of Whoville,

“And what happened, then? Well, in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!”

It’s the same old story, and it’s a beautiful story.  It’s the same story that has been told over and over in so many ways, many versions, and in every language.  For as long as human beings have been telling stories, this basic theme has been a part of that tradition.  A troubled character is touched by love, and some momentous positive change occurs.  This type of story is  more than just a “good vs. evil” tale.  These stories are lessons.  They attempt to teach us that not only does GOOD win over evil, but that if we are good enough; we can actually change evil INTO GOOD.

Earlier as I was driving home from work, I was had been remembering a “friend” that I had once believed in, championed, supported, and defended.  It was a classic case of throwing good deeds out there one after another in an attempt to douse the flames of evil.  I had excused insensitive behavior over and over again.  I forgave lies and half-truths.  I had forgiven this person for horrible, hurtful things without even the decency of an apology.  I had let bygones be bygones even when no attempt had been made to rectify the misdeeds.   I thought I could teach kindness.  I thought I could show by example the true value of friendship.  I thought I could convert Bad to Good.  When that failed to happen, I blamed myself.  What had I done wrong?  Where had I gone wrong?  Why wasn’t my love, friendship, kindness good enough to make a difference?  I had failed.  I hadn’t forgiven enough.  I had stood up for myself too often.  I had put myself first instead of my “friend.”  I had failed.  This person never changed, just as everyone around me had warned.  In fact, the situation continued to worsen until I had finally had enough.  I walked away from the situation feeling defeated, battered, and beaten.  I had failed.

I thought about this “friend” once again as I watched The Grinch.  Again, I felt the sting of my failure.  No, I wasn’t able to bring the Good out from under all of the Bad.  Yes, I failed, but I also learned a valuable lesson.  It is not my job to try to change other people.  Some people move from person to person taking all that is offered until there is nothing left to give.  While that is a painful lesson to have learned the hard way, I wasn’t really the loser in the end.  In the end, this person is still messed up, while I have learned to acknowledge and cherish the real and honest goodness that already exists in the people who are a positive and giving part of my life.  Those are the people whose hearts are NOT “two sizes too small.”