I wish I could say that this story about me accidentally hiding in a poison ivy patch is hyperbolic, but it’s not.
It is, however, a love story.
It all began one summer when I was a camp director at a camp in Ohio. I loved being a camp director. In particular, I loved designing camp curriculum, training counselors, and working with campers. It was one of the best jobs I ever had.
And the most exhausting.
Every week, by the end of a week of hiking, games, nature class, group meetings, and late night Capture the Flag under the stars, I (and all the rest of the staff) were exhausted. We were in desperate need of some quiet time.
So that’s why we would usually schedule a game of “Find the Counselor” towards the end of the week. The counselors would go hide in the woods somewhere, giving them some much needed peace and quiet, and the campers would buddy up and try to find the counselors. It was a win-win situation for everyone.
As camp director, I usually oversaw the whole game of “Find the Counselor”. But one week, I was especially exhausted, and so one of my counselors volunteered to oversee the game and let me go hide for a while.
Grateful for this opportunity, I hiked into the woods and soon found a lovely little leafy spot in which to hide.
I don’t know if I wasn’t particularly good at spotting poison ivy, or if I was just so tired I didn’t see it. Or maybe the surrounding plants camouflaged the poison ivy.
Whatever the case, I didn’t see any poison ivy in my chosen spot. But I must have sat right in the middle of a big patch because a few days later, I had the worst reaction to poison ivy (or anything) I have ever experienced in my life.
Let’s all get a clear idea of what poison ivy looks like.
I developed red, puffy blisters all over my legs. And I promise I tried not to scratch them, but I must have done so anyhow.
They started to spread everywhere, and soon I had huge poison ivy welts running up and down my legs, on my stomach and arms. The allergic reaction eventually made it onto my face and into one of my eyes.
It was the end of the summer, and it was hot and humid. I was absolutely miserable.
Luckily, camp had ended at this time, and I was staying at the home of my boyfriend’s (now husband’s) parents for a week until I went back to college.
I was so sick and and miserable from my allergic reaction that I don’t remember a lot from the week of “The Allergic Reaction from Hell”. But I do vividly remember sitting on the floor in the bathroom with John (then boyfriend, now husband) rubbing my blistered poison ivy legs with medicated cream because I was too miserable and loopy to do it myself.
And I also remember that was one of the moments that I knew I wanted to marry him.
There I was at one of my worst and grossest moments, with puffy, contagious blisters on my legs. And there he was taking care of me.
I’d rather you not hide in a poison ivy patch.
That is one of the things I appreciate most about John. When I am suffering, he does his best to take care of me and help me get better.
But it’s not just times of suffering that he’s there. He’s supportive during times of growth and adventure, too.
I have written in other blog posts about how I spent a semester in Guatemala doing student teaching.
What I didn’t mention in those posts is that I had only been dating John for a few months when I went to Guatemala for an entire semester. I had long dreamed of traveling to another country. John never complained about me leaving or tried to dissuade me from my adventure.
Instead, he wrote me letters most weeks while I was there. (This was the nineties, and the internet and email had not taken over the world yet). He also visited an elderly woman in a nursing home whom I had adopted as my “grandma” the semester before I left. Obviously couldn’t visit while I was living in another country, so John visited for me.
I never asked him to do so, but John decided that he would keep visiting her weekly while I was away so she wouldn’t be lonely.
It may seem like I am writing all of this to gush about my husband. And I do like gushing about him.
But the main reason I am writing about this is because I write about love on my blog. And John is one of the people who has taught me the most about love.
I take love to be showing kindness, compassion, and respect to ourselves and others. Through love, we heal the wounded and nurture the good.
On the one hand, I think we all have an idea of what love is. But on the other hand, I think we all, including myself, have so much to learn about love.
The reason love is so important is because love is like a magic elixir that helps us develop the seeds of goodness we all possess and also helps heal wounds that can stunt the growth of those seeds.
Love is the most natural and original way to deal with ourselves and others because it is an open, playful, and interdependent way of relating. Love is pure interdependence without exploitation.
Unfortunately, as we go through life, we often learn to relate to ourselves and one another out of fear, manipulation, power struggles, and domination.*
We learn to treat ourselves and people as objects to be used or vending machines from which to get stuff. And when we do this, we create a whole host of other problems personally, inter-personally, and politically. We see a lot of all these kinds of problems in the world today.
And I don’t think there are easy answers to these problems, but I do think that remembering how to love ourselves and each other helps us take an important step forward.
It occurred to me to write this post today because last week, within the span of three days, I somehow managed to roll my ankle, come down with a severe case of the flu, and develop yet another allergic reaction to poison ivy (apparently I am still figuring out what poison ivy looks like). Although, thankfully this time it is really mild and contained to one arm.
It’s been twenty-six years since that really bad poison ivy incident, and John is still here, showing me compassion and kindness, and thankfully I am on the mend. It got me thinking about what I have learned from him and all the other loving people in my life about love.
Learning to love ourselves and each other well is a long process, but one of the best places to start is to remember that we all suffer. So, let’s show ourselves and others compassion. We all have dreams and goals and passions. So, let’s respect our own and each other’s individuality. We all need people to help us on our journey. So, let’s show each other kindness.
Love is Stronger is the title of my blog, not because I think love takes away all of our problems, prevents anything bad from happening, or makes life easy and beautiful all the time.
This clearly isn’t true. My blog is called Love is Stronger because when we consistently practice love, it strengthens us take the next good step forward. That is why love is so powerful.
*The most important, loving thing we can do is to stick up for ourselves when we are being bullied and abused. You can read more about this here.
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My name is Shelly Johnson, and I am a writer and philosopher with a Ph.D. in philosophy. One of my primary personal and philosophical interests is how we can learn to love ourselves and each other better in order to cultivate personal and political resilience. I teach ethics and a variety of other courses at a local college. I am the author of the blog Love is Stronger. I am also the author of three logic and critical thinking books for high school and middle school: _Argument Builder_, _Discovery of Deduction_ (co-author), and _Everyday Debate_, published by Classical Academic Press. You can reach me at email@example.com.
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