Cherry Trees and Poison Ivy

Spring is out in earnest.  The early blooms have faded, and the New England countryside is a riot of color.  Flowering crabapples in white, pink, and red.   Puffy cherry blossoms, a dogwood fairyland on one of my favorite roads, and bright magenta flox.


(c) Kathleen Thompson

And poison ivy.

Poison ivy is growing in the grass.  It’s curling around trees.  It’s snaking across stone walls.  I am deathly allergic to poison ivy.  When I see it growing along the side of the road on my walk route, it makes my skin crawl.  Even though it’s nowhere near me, I  give it a wide berth as I walk past.

Isn’t life so like that?  The poison ivy mixed in with the beauty of spring.  The bad mixed with the good.  The poisonous marring perfection.

Rather than fight and rail against the injustice of it all, we are better off acknowledging that life is messy.  Imperfect.  Sometimes painful.   Just this week a friend’s uncle died and her son graduated from college.  Sadness mixed with celebration.  The way life is.  We don’t have to like it, but we do have to figure out how to love life in the midst of this less-than-perfect reality.  We have to acknowledge that the bad and good come wrapped in the same package.

We have to see the poison ivy in our life for what it is.  Poisonous.  Ignoring it can result in a nasty rash.  But it doesn’t have to consume all our attention.  We can deal with the poison ivy and focus on the beauty of life by looking at life through three perspectives.


See the present in all its fullness.  Everything there is to see.  The poison ivy takes up about .000001% of the ground space on my walk.  Yes it’s there, and something to notice.  It has power to torment me if I come into direct contact with it.  But it is not something to fixate on.  There is so much beauty to see and experience, that the poison ivy pales in comparison to what else I see around me.

The same is true of my life.  Something can happen during the day that is upsetting, or I may feel out of sorts after eating something for lunch.  But the rest of the day is beautiful, rich with color, taste, and experience.  Do I focus on the negative event, or see it in relation to the rest of the day?


Even if I do get a rash from poison ivy, it won’t last forever.  And poison ivy is only out for about 6 months of the year.  A longer view of the poison ivy situation helps me to put it into perspective.

A longer view of my life does the same.   Serious illness, marriage difficulty, job loss, death, or a wayward child is so painful.  When I am in the midst of something difficult, it feels as though it has always been and will always be so.  When I take the longer view, I get my perspective back.  At times like this, I read my journal to reinforce what I know to be true.  To remember the good times that may have only been a short time ago yet seem like they were a lifetime ago.  I recite past history of deliverance through difficulty to help me believe the same will be true in the present situation.


This perspective is similar to the short view, as it focuses on the present. The filter is different because it enables us to see past the offending item.   I wrote more about this perspective last fall in a blog post about fall foliage and power lines.

Although we can’t afford to do this with poison ivy, we can choose to filter out some of the negatives in our life by turning them into background noise.  Filtering works especially well with small annoyances, like someone cutting us off in traffic, or forgetting to put the toilet seat down, or leaving dirty dishes in the sink.  Filtering them out brings clarity and color to the beauty that is there.

What’s your perspective when you look at life?  Is it short?  Long?  Filtered?  Or it is razor-sharp focus on everything that is negative, ugly or poisonous?  If so, change your perspective.  Use the long, short, and filtered view to see the beauty that is there.  Life can be full, rich, and colorful.  It’s all a matter of perspective.

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  • Thank you Kathleen. That is a very helpful perspective – there will always be things in life that are not going the way i want. But what do I choose to focus on?

    • Are there any like that in your life right now, Sunil? And if so, what’s possibly offsetting that?