I've always tried to be the kind of person who is willing to help others.
Part of that, I suppose, comes from when I was a kid, who craved friendship more than just about anything. Whenever someone was sad or upset, I did everything I could to reach out to them, even if I wasn't necessarily close with that person.
My thought process, in retrospect, probably had as much to do with a desire to help that person as it did the concept of someone actually being willing to give me the time of day.
For the most part, extending my hand in friendship has had good results, for me as well as for those whom I've been able to help. However, in recent years, I've also had to deal with being taken advantage of, or forgotten entirely, by people with whom I thought I had developed a bond.
I recall someone from long before I was married, who was going through a difficult time in her life when I met her. She had just come away from an abusive relationship, with a man she'd been with for several years. She needed a friend, and had to figure out who she was again.
Over the next couple of months, she seemed to cling to our budding friendship as if it was the only positive thing in her life. I, of course, ate it up, because this was someone who needed me, and I wanted to do anything I could to help her get back on her feet.
I tried to help her find a job or learn some type of skill, because she had largely sheltered herself from anything which didn't involve the guy she had been with. I wanted her to be a stronger person coming out of that relationship, than she was while she was in it.
Some readers who have gone through similar situations might be able to guess what happened next. My friend went back to the abusive guy, elated that life was back to normal for her. I never heard from her again.
I suppose some lessons have to be learned the hard way. That was certainly the case for me.
This is not the only occasion which has resulted in my being taken advantage of. It's just one of the times I remember most clearly, even several years after the fact.
At different times in my life, I've been lied to, or otherwise hurt, by someone who I thought held me in high esteem. While I'm not quite as starved for affection as I was in my younger days, it still hurts to find out you're not as important to someone as you thought you were.
So, what's the solution? Do I respond to these circumstances by closing myself off from the outside world, to minimize the risk of getting hurt by anyone? Do I stop trying to be a friend to those who need it, because they might stomp all over it, or refuse to let themselves be helped at all?
I don't want to do that. I would rather let myself be taken advantage of every now and then, if it means I'm also able to reach out to someone in genuine need.
That being said, hard lessons are taught to us for a reason. Perhaps, I should exercise more caution in my friendships, instead of flying blindly into a situation where someone says they need me.
I can't fix everyone's problems, and there's no rule saying I have to do so. Still, caring about people means occasionally being willing to try.
I know by adopting this mindset, I'm risking the idea of being taken advantage of again. But the alternative is not being willing to risk anything and not connecting with anyone, and that's not how I want to live my life.
Yes, the pain hurts. But, I'd rather feel pain every now and then and be able to help someone along the way, than to feel nothing at all.
Jason A. Smith covers crime and courts for the Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.