I have a poison ivy rash right now, possibly worse than I’ve ever had before. It’s waking me up from sleep several times a night. I’m using cold compresses and alternating lotions to treat it but may end up asking for a steroid to put me out of my misery.
As I was applying a coating of lotion in the bathroom yesterday morning, Henry stumbled in still wrapped in his blanket from sleep.
“What’s wrong with your arms?” he asked. I told him how I must have found the poison ivy in our yard.
“I feel really bad for you, Mom,” he said, then added, “Did he make it?”
He meaning God, of course. Did God make poison ivy? And the next logical question, Why?
Last night, the second time I woke up, I thought about shaving all my skin off with a razor. How much better it would feel to just strip it away, shimmy out of it the way a snake leaves behind its skin and comes out new again. Maybe the physicians haven’t tried this method yet and I will have discovered the best way to treat poison ivy rash, far superior to waiting it out for a week or three.
When pain is so intense or emotions so difficult to handle, some people cut themselves for relief, as if physically opening a wound can release all of that trauma.
I press the blisters gently and feel better for a second. And then I want to claw my arm off.
In my state of discomfort I told Henry yes, God made the poison ivy but to the “why” question I had no good answer. I said something about animals eating it. Henry turns seven tomorrow, and trying to dig into the question of suffering and freedom and all that seemed a little too deep at 7 in the morning with a nearly seven year old. It turns out there are many organisms – fungi and animals – that feed on poison ivy. It also turns out that humans are the only lucky species allergic to the oil it produces.
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” Genesis 1:29 Every seed-bearing plant except the damn poison ivy. That I reserve for the birds of the air and the deer of the forest and the fungi. You, dear child of God whom I love, will break out in blisters and rashes on contact with it.
Henry loves this world so much he got binoculars for his birthday to see it more clearly, more closely. But this world does not seem to love him back so much. Single mosquito bites swell to welts on his back and legs. A splinter forms a bubble of pus on his palm so tender he can’t use a pencil. Pebbles tumble into the interior of his mud boots and rub little sores into his feet. Gravity pulls him off his bike and onto asphalt and wouldn’t you know it our epidermal layer only can handle so much.
Why allergies? Why disease? Why sniffles? Why infection?
Every loving thing suffers and breaks. It’s the undeniable state of things. There are long philosophical and theological debates to try to answer the “why,” but Henry answered it simply.
“I feel really bad for you, Mom,” Henry said. Pain draws us to one another. It strips away the walls we build and forces vulnerability, forces us to choose between loving each other or denying each other comfort.
Just don’t hug me right now because it’s painful and kind of gross.