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I have long felt that certain emotions are poison for the soul. Anger, hatred, jealousy, insecurity are but a few of these and I have talked of some of them elsewhere on this blog. However, this post intends to discuss another very malignant feeling, one that can actually exerts its toxin so far beyond its immediate sphere, that it often becomes impossible to check, or treat, its effects. I refer to bitterness that sort of corrosive, harmful bitterness that seeps through you and starts to be the bane of not just your mind and actions, but at a basic level, your very soul.

Some may feel it an exaggeration to credit bitterness with so much power. After all, we must all have fallen prey to one variation or other of this feeling when certain injustices (real or perceived) are meted out to us, by people or by life itself. However, I stick by what I assert. Bitterness is evil, it will hurt you far more than you may realise, it will spread through your life and lead to rot in otherwise perfectly healthy limbs of your “life tree”, until those branches that it has infected are good for nothing but destruction. I refer here to genuine bitterness, not a fit of pique or temporary upset or anger with a situation or person that hurt you or caused you grief or loss.

I sort of wonder why I choose to write this today, especially as I am actually finding this unexpectedly hard to do, unlike most of my other posts, where once I start, the flow of words is almost automatic. This is somehow different, maybe because I have very recently had to guard myself against the onslaught of resentment and bitterness at one of life’s latest curve balls thrown in my direction. Ok, let me be brutally honest. I did get angry, resentful and bitter for a while, a relatively short while I am proud to add, but still. The effects were almost instantaneous – that sense of loss of control, in turn causing mental stress, unhappiness and pointless regret on things ranging so far back, that I thought I had drawn a line under them a while ago. Thankfully, I checked myself before too long. Actually, I think it is more accurate to say, discussions with others near and dear to me reminded me of how unhealthy bitterness and resentment is, and that was probably my saving grace. I witness the effects of this sort of malignant bitterness at close quarters. I will not name names or relations, in fact, there is more than one person I have seen be a victim to such soul-destroying afflictions. They all teach me that it is essential to hone your “defense mechanism” against it and to ensure you are not corrupted by its effects.

It was an important lesson, a stark reminder of how, just as anger destroys the ability to reason, bitterness destroys the capacity to be happy in any meaningful way in your life. So how can you prevent feeling resentful, angry, hurt or bitter when something awful happens? I do not think you can, at least not momentarily, unless you are a truly exalted soul genuinely above any human vice. However, I firmly believe you can prevent these feelings before they deteriorate and spiral to a level that cannot be controlled. Ah yes, control – that is again the key. I found it very helpful to grasp my fear of losing control as one way to stop myself falling into the “bitterness trap”. See, the thing with feeling bitter is that you feel like that about one issue or a discrete range of problems that besets you, never imagining that this in turn is making you lose enjoyment in every other aspect of your life. And that to me is a real shame. No matter how bad things get, there is always hope and the world is subliminally beautiful and life is always worth living. By living I mean living with love and joy, not just empty meaningless existing. However, when your cup is already full of bitterness you simply cannot see the wood for the trees as such, that feeling becomes all-pervading and seriously impedes, if not utterly destroys, your capacity to enjoy other things, even if they are wholly unconnected to the situation or event that is the cause of your ill will. By consciously rising above it, just like you have to often force yourself to do with feelings of anger, you free yourself of its virulence.

It is the classic adage – you have to set yourself free from that vicious circle by genuinely recognising that bad things happen and we often experience things that are awful, hurtful, even belittling or crippling in any which way. If you can exercise your will and regain control of your being to the extent that you can abandon the bitterness without losing the experience and whatever it may teach you (good or bad), you will feel all the better of it. Good experiences will then be allowed to continue to filter into your life, in fact you can actively seek them out as you will not have abandoned positivity together with sweetness in your life, and then life will continue to demonstrate its numerous daily miracles to you. Oh, I have heard the counter arguments – you cannot help it, some things are so bad, you cannot control your reaction(s) to them. Yes, maybe, but I still maintain that you can, and should try to, control your long-term response to such events, situations or even people. After all, we are always co-conspirators in our destiny, that fine balance regulated by fate and free will. Maybe the tragedy that befell you was unavoidable and caused by some cosmic occurrence, but your reaction to it, is yours alone and you need to own it. It has always been my eventual realisation in the concept that by rising above my situation at any point, I get an empowering perspective and this allows me to look forward with hope and positivity, rather than backwards with regret and bitterness.

I would like to begin concluding with this wonderful short quote by Terry Brooks: “Hurt leads to bitterness, bitterness to anger, travel too far that road and the way is lost.”  Therefore, don’t lose the way, find yourself and a beautiful future for you and yours.

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It has been a while since posts but I have realised that writing is like that constant and true friend that no matter how long since your last conversation with them, you can pick straight up from where you left off and it was like it always was – uplifting and positive.

Back to the blog post now. I have been fermenting something in my mind of late. It was there, just lurking around the edges of my conscious thoughts, but still slightly out of reach, probably muddied by the confusion generally surrounding my “head space” of late due to stress. Today, like the sun shining through a previously cloudy and murky sky, it finally broke through! It was the realisation that tend to cling on to the negatives so easily, we crowd out any possible space for what we really need – the genuine “positives” in life. The things we all have, be they our health, our friends, our families, our homes or anything that is of honest and intrinsic value, generally divorced from a materialistic association.

Most of us do it unconsciously and would be horrified if we realised what we were really doing. We let hate, anger, grief, loss or a multitude of other unhealthy experiences or emotions “stick” to us, they were generally unavoidable when they happened to us but they made such an impact on us, we reacted to them so intensely, they became almost a part of us. We often think we have moved on, we congratulate ourselves for having coped with a really “bad” life event, we have our near and dear ones pat our back, telling us we are through the worst and that we should be proud of what we have overcome. Yes, we should be proud I suppose, as any step towards truly letting go of that which locks your genuine potential and thwarts your progress in life’s inexorable but exciting journey, should be celebrated and applauded.

However, have we really “let go” in the real sense? We may think we have, but how many times do we still re-visit those bad memories and even worse, do we actually let those hurtful past memories and experiences affect not just the present, but also pollute the future? It is like slow poison, it lingers in the veins and insidiously exerts its malignant effect on not just us, but those around us who care for and love us. I am not professing it is easy especially as we may often not even realise that something we believed long dead and buried still haunts us. Like with anything that is more introspective than solely reactive, we can only address it by being conscious that when we feel negative or react in an unreasonable manner to something that does not really justify such response, there may be an explanation for that connected to some previous event or experience. Your brain and heart may fight against this self-realisation, after all, acknowledging something often opens the floodgates to those hurtful traumas most of us work very hard to lock away as soon as we can. Only once you get past that natural “flight” mode (in a psychological rather than physical sense of course), can you start to constructively address what it is that truly plagues you.

Memories can often be like those niggling burrs, embedded somewhere in the recesses of your psyche, not constantly painful and thus requiring immediate removal, but just there; they flare into inflamed and “infected” state when prodded. The stimulus for this can be anything, it can be a current occurrence that just reminds us through often very indirect association of the often consciously forgotten past incident(s). The difficulty is with understanding this and then dissociating the past experience to whatever is happening currently so that in a truly clichéd sense “the past does not damage the present and future”. There is no universal method of doing this of course, different methods will work on different individuals, the “how” is not the main consideration, it is the eventual result of making this effort and successfully overcoming any crippling effects from the previous negative or traumatic experience.

However, if done properly, the effects are like amputating that rotten limb, you may feel like you have lost something, but if you had kept it, it was only going to keep spreading its poison until it destroyed the rest of you that was not gangrenous in the first place. Therefore, to constructively live a life and attain a future that is divorced from unhealthy association and unhampered by negativity going forward, reflect, analyse and honestly address what memories and feelings you want to take forward with you, and which ones you are best leaving behind.  You cannot wish away anything that happened to you, after all, every experience in your life, good or bad, shapes who you are and dictates your strength and character (again for the better or worse) but once you start exercising conscious choice, you can dictate what shape your present and future can take.

To remind me of this, I think about the wonderfully inspiring and indomitably spirited Helen Keller, who so beautifully encapsulated this theory:

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us. “

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This is my prayer for you,
I cannot promise it will be heard;
But at the very least it must,
Resonate somewhere in the cosmos.
That it will keep echoing until,
Someday when even a lingering refrain,
Finally reaches the Master of the universe;
Is the hope that keeps me pleading.
May you ever be safe,
From the ills without and within.
Rich be your whole life,
In the way that really counts.
With health and happiness and good sense,
For without those all wealth be meaningless.
There will be times both good and bad,
And may you always prevail through them,
Emerging not just older,
But wiser always for the future.
Know always that no matter where you go,
Or however grown up you get,
Your big sister will forever;
Keep you not just in her thoughts,
But in the discourse she has daily with God.

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The thought behind this piece has been fermenting in my mind for a while, but it has been given structure and form following a recent “comment exchange” with my dear friend and co-blogger, Tulika. Tulika- this one is for you, and whilst it will not come up to the high standard you set through your blog, I hope you enjoy some of the thoughts within it.

 The well known poem of “Footprints in the Sand” by Mary Stevenson has always been my favourite. Its very simplicity is amazing and no matter how many times I read it, it offers sound counsel in troubled times and strength when it is most needed. I am sure all know it – the lovely piece that describes the writer’s key life moments as sets of corresponding footsteps in the sand, mostly walking along with God. There are some points where there are two sets, hers and God’s, and then some points when there is only one set. It is these that the poet believes are her own steps. All the times that the steps are a singular set, she recalls are the low moments for her. As we are all won’t to do, she questions her Lord about why he abandoned her at those times. In it’s sublime climax she (and through her, we) are corrected by the ultimate sustainer, who explains that those prints at those times are His, as on each of those occasions, he was carrying her!

So it is with most of us. We are so quick to blame God for everything that goes “wrong” for us. God is an easy punching bag, we cannot physically see Him/Her, and even more importantly, He or She does not lash back at us in response. Oh, spare me those cautionary tales about a vengeful God who wreaks havoc on sinners. I have never subscribed to that theory and if you do, you may want to read no more of this piece. God is loving and forgiving, He loves us all, whether we acknowledge him or not and his capacity to love and forgive is, just like Him, unfettered and unlimited (I do not believe God is gender specific or even form-specific but for ease of reference, I shall continue to refer in the masculine).

Many will argue about the times that they have been afflicted with pain or tragedy in their lives. There rests the foundation for the belief that they were/ are punished for whatever wrong they may committed, whether comitted knowingly or not and regardless of whether they even acknowledge that to be an act/ acts to be deserving of retribution. I suggest the answer to that lies in the inexorable nature of your own actions, every action after all has a reaction. Oh, again, let me clarify – I do not believe that people always “deserve” what happens to them, no, that is too crude. Instead, I feel that there is a fine balance, constantly fluctuating and regulating itself, which combines a perfect symmetry of fate and action. It is too simplistic to believe that God sits there in literal judgement on each action and strikes down those who are guilty of some form of significant failing. Yes, I personally believe that there is a higher power who looks over us at all times, call that power what you will. The engineering of this incredible process is never visible unless you are willing to really see, not just look, and also agreeable to opening yourself up to faith and belief, unconstrained by requiring a physical manifestation, or “rational” explanation of each event or incident.

I do believe in fate, I feel that the vein of fate runs through all our paltry existence. I call it paltry as what is our life but a nano-second in the macrocosm of the universe. Therefore, whatever ills befall you, they are your lot to bear and it is how you face them that defines you as as a person. What I also firmly grasp on to, is that no matter how severe your suffering, God watches out for His own and if you have faith, it will see you through, in one way or other. I do not imply that your belief negates the suffering, no, the suffering is an essential component of almost all human existence, but that agony is made bearable and eventually relieved by a surrender to the supremacy of will beyond our comprehension. This is that moment when you understand that whilst you thought you were walking alone and bereft, you were infact being sustained by the creator, who never leaves you to suffer alone if you place your faith in Him.

It is this thought and this faith that always end up bringing me personal salvation, no matter how dire my straits are. This is no meaningless preaching without practice, it is my own experiences after I have crossed that metaphorical sandy stretch, which at the time felt worse than the most arid desert. I clung to my faith and He did carry me, safely delivering me to the “other” side and to sanity and hope and most importantly, to renewed happiness.

(more…)

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I believe the concept detailed below has been much explored and nothing I write here is new, so I shall not be surprised if most find this post quite uninspiring and trite, but as a lot of you will know by now, I often write to reason things out for my benefit, so please bear with it if you can.

We are all warriors and are constantly at war. Each new day brings a battle or continues one we already find ourselves in. No, I have not got so lost in my preferred realm of fantasy fiction that I am actually turning delusional. I also do not mean that we are in some parallel mediveal universe, garbed in chain mail, brandishing impressive weaponary and fighting legions of enemies. Yet, fight we do – not only amonst ourselves, but with our own selves, daily. I refer to the battle that rages internally in us all, where the evil within rears its head in many guises and many forms, and needs defeating, if it is not to defeat us.

This should be no surprise as it has been the subject of myths and sagas since time immemorial.  Many will disagree – those epic battles I allude to were fought between armies, both human or supernatural, often a combination of both. They were spectacular tales of individual and cohesive bravery, displays of inspiring feats and skills of reknown, even Gods joined in some of them, or indeed were the subject of and participants of, some of those wars. I am not convinced. Yes, of course some of those battles may have been fought in fact, and some cleary were historical events. However, the depiction of most mythical battles, to me, are symbolic and mainly intended to represent the eternal battle that rages between good and evil. This is extended to encompass not just the extrinsic conflict between these two elemental forces, in each age and each day, in the guise of the constant struggle we all undergo, with our own selves.

For is it not a war we fight daily and is there not evil, not just around us, but within us all to be defeated?  What else are our vices such as anger, jealousy, greed, and in some cases, hate, to name but a few, other than the soldiers of evil, the forces of what is “dark” not just in the universe, but residing within our own selves? Often, it is harder to fight those elements within us, than it is to face up to people, situations or fears that are around us. Do not mistake me – I do not subscibe to theory that all, or even most of mankind, is evil. Quite the contrary, I believe in the inherent goodness present in each soul, or at least the potential for it to be present. However, whether that righteousness manifests itself or comes to the fore, is a matter of free will and choice for each individual, shaped by many factors and perhaps, to some extent, dependant on the level of self realisation achieved through personal effort, and possibly even strife. Otherwise, that very purity or virtue can be masked, or even totally subsumed by its antithesis, which also co-exists in all of us, at least in the form of its potential. Put simply, there is great capacity within each of us to do  “good” but there is also the possibility of considerable “evil”. What path we eventually choose, is up to us.

Indeed, sometimes we may not make a conscious decision. The grasp of evil or malice is subtle but tencious nevertheless. We may find that the negativity in us gradually sneaks up on us, eventually corroding everything that was shining bright and pure within our soul, if unchecked. For example, what may start as a simple craving for material betterment could become greed if we are not self aware and contained. It must be universally acknowledged that greed is poisonous, it exerts its influence powerfully and can easily strip away a significant part of, if not all, of the sterling qualities within us such as the desire to share, be content, be selfless. The same could apply to any other failing or iniquity that we may, and have the potential to be, capable of.

How then, can we guard against these often unseen enemies? Are we simply hostage to good fortume or perhaps a higher power, to ensure we do not fall before these foes and emerge the survivor from their onslaught? I do not believe so, as the danger is the greatest for those unaware and also perhaps careless. I suspect the answer may lie in constant vigilance. Just as a sentry cannot afford to sleep on guard duty, we must train ourselves to self-inspect and remain guarded that those negativities do not creep up on us, finding us complacent and defenceless, thereby being able to overpower us. Once we are captured, escape is extremely difficult, if not outright impossible. By policing your own actions and more importantly, your thoughts, you win a major skirmish, if not the battle itself. Other things may help – surround yourself with people similarly self-aware and dedciated to staying on the “right” side. The sentry on duty, can after all, be relieved at least temporarily by a comrade, whom he can trust. This is because he knows that should danger strike whilst he slumbers, his companion will raise the alarm and rouse him. Similarly, practising the art of positive living or exploring spirituality in whatever guise that appeals to you, could help you identify in time if you are at risk of giving in to any corrupting influence, and could well help you arrest its progress before it is too late.

If all else fails, ask yourself whether what you are doing, or thinking, is the right thing to do. Your innermost soul will seldom lie to you, and if it does, the battle I have been rambling on about may perhaps be already lost! However, for most, it is never too late and hope is eternal, so I remain very postive that a lot of us can learn and train ourselves to master the art of this warfare and yes, even win.  As described by Sun Tzu,Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories” and also by the great Aristotle who said, “I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self“.

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Below is another article published on on-line entertainment site, Rangmunch TV, on 9 April 2012.

 
What can be highest aspiration for a human being? Wealth, fame, glory, happiness or love? Think beyond that, take your mind and imagination to a higher plane. It may not be the first thing one thinks of when asked the question I raised, but surely there can be no more lofty achievement on any level, than ultimate union – that with the divine or Almighty, whatever form or manifestation you worship Him/ Her in?
 
An aspiration to achieve God is the central tenet of possibly all spiritual learning and longing alike. If we take Hinduism for example, the four pillars underpinning life’s goals are those of “dharma” (duty or righteousness), “artha” (wealth), “kama” (desire) and finally, “moksha” (liberation). It is clear that the final objective automatically implies an eventual absorption within,or submission to, a higher power, as to be liberated not just from your physical body, but to fully free your entire spirit, you must be “released” from all mortal boundaries. The other three may also necessitate submission to God in one form or another to achieve, as many will seek to do their duty, obtain material riches or fulfil worldly desires by relying on prayer, religion or even simply by following some form of “karmic” (deeds oriented) ideology, all of which rely on some form or other of a belief system in a superior power.
 
 
What does this have to do with Devon ke Dev Mahadev, you may ask? To answer this, ask yourself what the show is really about. Yes, we can see that it is an epic love story, it is about mythology and some will say, even fiction; it teaches us moral lessons, it warns us not to be arrogant and to have faith. Indeed, it does all that and more, but its most subliminal symbolism lies in seeing beyond Sati’s love and desire to attain Mahadev, and to equate it to the potential for EVERY human to attain God.
 
 
After all, is that not what Sati is trying to do? She is human, she is limited by her mortality and spiritual constraints. That is why there is a lot of focus on the recent track about her “yogyata” or suitability to be a bride to the most powerful of all Gods. This can, and possibly has been, misunderstood by some.
 
That was not a male diety being patronising to his (now) human but destined consort. It is simply a stark realisation that a human being, even one who was once “divine”, such as Sati was, can be hemmed in by her mortal limitations. Sati is often described as being possessed of all qualities one can aspire to – she is righteous, dutiful, kind, beautiful, multi-talented, and loving. How can she be unsuitable? We are told she can, as her love is still egocentric, in the sense that she struggles due to her humanity to extend that to the level of universal love that Mahadev as God can dispense.
 
Mahadev himself understands that and knows that an attempt to unite with Sati whilst she is still trapped within those inevitable human desires and limitations, will lead to catastrophe for Sati herself.
 
 
 
We have here our epic love story as a more seemingly insurmountable obstacle is harder to imagine. If it was only opposition from Sati’s father, no matter how vehement, that would be an external hardship to overcome, but again we are reminded that it is the internal battles one must fight and win, that stand between us and God more stoutly than extrinsic factors. We also have here, the hope that there is potential for a human (Sati here but it could be anyone?) to shed their impediments through challenging but yet achievable, tests or exertions.
 
I draw the parallel here for the potential for each of us to therefore be able to aspire to what appears almost unachievable – union with the divinity, whence we all come from and back to which we must aspire to return to, if we are to be free for once and all from all pain, suffering and to be able to merge back to the cosmos and its creator. Think also on the suggestion that it is not only through the desire for God that you can be finally released of all “desire” or attachment in itself, thereby paving the way for your own“moksha” or true liberation. Such liberation does not necessarily have to be through death- you can attain this state whilst being part of the living macrocosm.
 
 
Thank you once again to Life OK, Nikhil Sinha and the entire team of Devon ke Dev Mahadev for bringing us this important message of spirituality and ultimate hope through their wonderful show, which masquerades as a mythological drama, but is far more than just that. Also, thank you to our wonderful on-screen Shiv and Sati, Mohit Rainaand Mouni Roy, for making us fall in love with them, and thus inspiring each of us in some way to try to seek our own God or divinity.
 

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Aashi – this one is specially for you. Aashi, one of the sweetest people I have come to know recently, raised a really good question, or questions really, whilst commenting on my “Glass Houses” post. She essentially asked how you deal with the pain of those who let you down or outright hurt you, behave in a way that breaches every acceptable remit of what trust implies – how can you forgive such betrayals, let alone forget? I expect we must extend this to include those who may not have in any way directly wronged you, but have merely drifted apart from you due to any number of potential factors and you thus view this as an abandonment. How do you deal with the loss of such relationships, without bitterness corroding he once happy memories you must have shared with them? I use the word relationships deliberately, as ended friendships can hurt or scar as much as any broken bond with a romantic partner, so the scope is wide but can include any person or persons you had a significant bond with.

This discussion reminded me of the phrase, “Friends can be for a reason, a season or a lifetime”. I used to struggle with grasping this concept as I suppose everyone I counted as a true friend, I assumed would be a “lifetime” influence or fixture. This cannot be so – thinking like this is another manifestation of attachment that binds us to people in a way that often overlooks our cosmic connection with them. We befriend or meet someone, or they us, we get on so well, they help us in ways that cannot be defined, we then start to believe they are an indispensable part of our existence, we form an attachment to them that transforms them often into a ‘human crutch” for us. We sub-consciously believe that we cannot do without their support, our well-being and success is somehow incomplete if they do not share it. We often give this the label of love, but true love should not be a slave to possession or reciprocity.

Anyone who has had an extremely close friendship or other relationship must have at some point experienced the pain and despair of it ending, or at least fracturing, so I hope that what I describe is something they can relate to. However, if we think about friends who are no longer friends, either due to some disconnect or discord, or simply due to time and distance or circumstance, as still having been our one-time teachers, that might help. They enable us to remember the lessons we learnt but not be corrupted by pointless pain or anger at their departure from our life. We do not hate our teachers, good or bad as they may have been, for having “left” after having imparted whatever lesson or knowledge that was their forte. In fact, in many cases, we owe them, and afford them heart-felt thanks for making us what we are. It is after all, the lessons we learn and how we learn them, that shapes the course our lives often take.

Think of your friends, both past and present, or any relationships really, in the same manner. You were meant to meet some people at a certain point in your life – you will not accept this if you do not subscribe to the inescapable theory of “karma”, but I cannot otherwise account for why we meet some people and not others, from the multitudes that prowl our universe. Why do some lives intersect with ours at any given point and why are we only meant to walk a certain distance with such companions, before their own paths diverge and they accompany us, or us them, no longer? Why, because it was fated to be and yes, our free will may, and will, impact on a lot of our actual interactions with the other “passengers” on this “journey”, but it will not affect the overall outcome or destination of our quest or theirs.

Put simply, accept that not everyone who means a lot to you at any given point in your life, will be a constant throughout your existence, or theirs. After all, change is the only constant in life. Just take from them and your relationship with them, whatever good you can extract, let any “bad” serve as an experience that helps the future and overall, let them go. Focussing on, and remaining affected by, the pain, anger, loss, grief, frustration or any other negative feeling you associate with them long after your relationship has played its course, only shackles you in a meaningless prison of your own making. As Ann Landers described: “Hanging onto resentment is letting someone you despise live rent-free in your head”.

However, I extend this slightly further – do not despise, despise implies hatred and continued negativity, any trace of this will continue to keep you chained to the very person or memories you need to part with, so do not hate, resent or stay angry. Simply understand that even any pain caused to you is a part of the full range of experiences we must undergo to have really “lived”. The feeling of release from letting go extends its benefit by causing an immediate lightness in your own spirit and being. It then sets you free to like, love or live again, and hopefully all three. Simply love, live and learn, it is a fluid process that only ends with life, and maybe not even then. I read a wonderful quote recently, source unknown – “If someone you love hurts you cry a river, build a bridge, and get over it”, which really struck a chord with me, I hope it does with you too.

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