During my childhood, I learned the doggerel in Cub Scouts: “Leaves of three, let them be!” Forewarned should be forearmed. However, experience always provides life’s best-learned lessons. During childhood, it took several close encounters with plants of the three-leafed variety before I learned the importance of leaving the leaves alone.
People react in various ways to poison ivy along with its relatives, poison oak and poison sumac. The toxic plants do not affect some people. Others get a mild rash. A few react violently.
Unfortunately, I am highly allergic to all plants with the first name “poison.” Just standing downwind of the toxic vines makes me itch.
During my boyhood, I could count on a bad case of poison ivy every summer. In the days before air conditioning, video games, cable television, or computers, we actually stayed outside during the day and most of the evening. The boys in the neighborhood often played in the woods across the street. Inevitably, I suffered from a brush with poison ivy or one of its noxious cousins.
For those who have never suffered from the malady, words do not suffice. The angry red rash causes an infernal itch. Scratching the inflammation aggravates the itch.
Back in the day before cortisone lotions and shots, Calamine Lotion provided the only temporary relief. However, it felt like fighting a forest fire with a water pistol. The creamy salve barely treated the symptoms. Time proved to be the only cure.
Despite medical advances during the past decades, prevention remains the best cure. Over the years, I have become quite adept at spotting “leaves of three” from a long distance. It doesn’t matter if the plant disguises itself as vine, shrub, or sapling.
During walks in the woods, I constantly scan the ground for any form of poison ivy. I keep a supply of herbicide on hand for any toxic plant that dares raise its ugly head in our yard.
In my spiritual journey, I have found that temptation shares many characteristics with poison ivy. Both can be beautiful to the eye and nonthreatening to the touch. Each easily blends with its background and gives no hint of potential harm.
It requires diligence and vigilance to note poison’s proximity. Sometimes it takes time before the consequences of our actions are revealed. The best antidote is to avoid what causes the ailment.
In 1749, Charles Wesley wrote the words of the hymn “I Want a Principle Within.” The first stanza declares: “I want a principle within of watchful, godly fear, a sensibility of sin, a pain to feel it near. I want the first approach to feel of pride or wrong desire, to catch the wandering of my will, and quench the kindling fire.”
When it comes to three-leafed plants and alluring temptation, the same principle applies: LEAVE THEM BE!