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The Tiniest Thing

With this, I preface my forthcoming little tale: the length of it shall likely far exceed its value. None the less, I will press on with it.

First off, two important details, gravely pertinent to the story. First, I love the woods. I’ve frolicked in them since a wee lad, often striking out into the woods to find a tree, climb it, and spend hours up in it eating cookies, reading comic books, and listening to my transistor radio. I’d run in the woods, with no path and no direction, as fast as my legs would carry me, ducking and dodging trees, vines, roots, and branches until one – or all – would catch me and throw me to the forest floor.

Secondly, I pretty much don’t bruise – it is just the genetic nature of my skin and body. I’ve fallen out of trees, jumped out of trees, and had trees falls on me and rarely ever bruise. I’ve had many nasty falls or bodily impacts which left minimal bruises at best. They do occur, but not often and certainly never commensurate with the force of the impact.

So a few Mondays ago I was off in the woods gathering bittersweet and other vines for my wife. I latched onto one really nice braid of bittersweet and I am pulling for all my worth, gaining little at a time. I gave one last massive yank and immediately felt a sharp jab – briar thorn for sure I thought. I cut the vine free and carried it back to the truck and once I dumped it in the bed, I looked at my forearm expecting a long scratch such as is common with briars.

Instead though, there was a reddened area about the size of a dime. The red area encircled a slightly raised whitish area, at the center of which was a small black spot. So instead of a scratch, I had managed to embed a thorn – nothing new there – happens almost every time I clear briars in the woods.

What was odd was the raised whitish area; it had the appearance of one of those moments when something that doesn’t belong there has taken up occupancy in your body – sort of barging in and displacing skin and tissue.

Whatever, it’s a mere thorn! I spent a several moments picking at it and trying to get a purchase on it so I could yank it. When I finally got it out, it was larger than I had expected, but again – just a thorn, albeit a big one. However here is where it gets weird.

The instant I removed it, a small fountain of blood literally spewed up and out of the tiny wound and sprayed a trail across half my forearm! It was like popping a cork on a champagne bottle. After that, it continued to leak for a while but life moved on and I forgot about it.

That night, I was doing something and happened to bump that part of my arm and it was a little sore. I rubbed it and to my surprise, I had a lump about the size of a grape under my skin. Not immediately under the skin like a blister, this was much deeper. And while the area was swollen, it was swollen over an area much larger than the lump I could feel inside. The next morning the grape-sized lump had bene reduced by more than half and much less uncomfortable, although still sore. Life moved on.

But several days later, I noticed a decent sized bruise on my arm in that spot. Not all colorful like people think of bruises, but for me, most astounding in that, as I prefaced, I don’t really bruise. I have been hit on the knee by an axe handle swung with maximum velocity and developed no visible bruise. But this little thorn, this small little bodily invader, left a nearly two-inch diameter visible bruise on me!

So there is my tale, as unusual and simplistic as it is. The anatomy of it suggests that the little thorn penetrated both deeply and precisely enough to find a major blood vessel and penetrate it, resulting in a pooling of blood inside my tissue. And the practicality of it is that perhaps it can serve as some sort of alert to all; a warning to take care when ripping or tugging anything near briars or thorns in general.

But perhaps, much like the thorn that took a short-lived residence in my forearm, there is a deeper meaning. That the balance of life for a full-sized man can be interrupted by something as insignificant as a thorn. Mind you, I never skipped a beat with this particular incident, it was no more than a mosquito bite, or less, in my life of assorted bumps, bangs, boo-boo’s, and bruises. But I found it revealing how much an impact this little thorn really had.

I recall once preparing for a weekend fishing trip on a Saturday night, tying rubber worm hooks onto a Montauk rig; it took two of us, one holding and one pulling with great force to set the knots because we were one-hundred pound test mono. Well, something slipped or broke and I was struck on the back of my left hand. Whatever hit me (likely the pliers) left a quarter-inch cut in the back of my hand. The impact is what really hurt – it was a helluva’ a wallop – the cut was minor and quickly dismissed with a wipe against my jeans.

The next morning, the morning of the fishing trip, I awoke to one hand swollen to the size of an ogre’s; specifically the hand that had been hit. The back of my had looked like I had a baked potato under the skin and my fingers were like sausages. We fished anyway, but it was difficult. I would normally use my left hand to hold the fishing pole and pull on it while cranking with the right hand. But I could not even grasp the pole with my left hand – I had to place the pole in the crook of my left elbow in order to pull in the fish. It worked, but with a fair amount of difficulty and discomfort.

The point is, much like the thorn, this was a small cut that nearly ruined my entire weekend. Sometimes the smallest things can wreak the greatest havoc with us – sort of a David versus Goliath lesson. Stop, if you will, for a moment and consider driving someplace you are looking forward to going; a dinner date, the movies, the beach, hiking…. whatever floats your personal boat. Like most all of us, you are driving on autopilot, looking more forward to the destination than the trip.

Suddenly a car shoots out of a parking lot, almost hitting you, and causes you to slam on the brakes. The car accelerates and disappears, your pulse rate begins to clow down again, and you resume the drive. A mere moment – less than a second or so – in the course of a much longer drive with nothing else noteworthy in its duration. Yet that instant has likely managed to alter your entire trip, if not your entire day. Panic, adrenaline, anger, perhaps even rage flood your body in the immediate aftermath.

You don’t want to feel this way – you were deeply entrenched in the anticipation of where you were heading and what you were going to do. But that briefest of moment, miniscule in the timeline of the whole day, has suddenly taken control of your mind and your mood. And made all the worse by the fact that nothing happened! No accident, no damage, no harm, and no foul. Just a quick jab of your car brakes and back on your way as if it never happened.

But it did. And you struggle to let go of it.

The merest of moments of time can overcome and devour the joy of an entire day… if we allow it. The trick is to figure out how to let go, to forget and to move on. The value of a day should not – cannot – be defined by a nonconsequential couple of seconds somewhere in the middle of that day. Life is not analogous to the “one bad apple can ruin the whole bunch”; especially when the “bad apple” is just a flash of anger or fear or embarrassment and there is no tangible or residual affect.

I don’t have a magic potion to resolve this for you – or myself. There is no one answer, perhaps no answer at all; at least one that solves every problem in our lives. But one thing I’ve learned well and hard in my life, is that to solve a problem you have to identify a problem. Step one of every solution begins with acknowledging the problem. That sounds like another Captain Obvious statement but sometimes problems are not always easy to recognize.

In the case of being cut off in traffic, one might immediately assume that the problem is poor drivers, idiots behind the wheel. But the fact is that their poor driving is not the real problem; it’s perfectly OK to have a flash of panic followed by anger after an adrenaline-laden moment such as a near accident. The real problem is not letting it go. But once you acknowledge this, it will make releasing that anger far simpler. And will be your days far more enjoyable. Give it a try the next time you are faced with an angry moment; with practice you will soon be leaving your anger in the rear view mirror. Stay well dear reader!!

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