The Vines of Worry
I venture out to Long Island’s parks regularly, taking hikes on paths of gravel, dirt, leaves, and pine needles. I get my fill of bird songs and deer sightings, of fresh sea air and shade dappled with golden sunshine. Though rarely do I stray from the designated trails. In fact, I’ve certainly passed up many an enticing path for its narrowness and overgrowth—because that’s where the enemy hides, the very tiny eight-legged enemy: the tick.
Throughout Long Island, ticks are known to thrive in the woods, so much so that you will see several warning signs to stay on the trails throughout every park on the island, declaring threats of the overpopulated bugs and the tick-borne illnesses they spread. I grew up on Long Island, and so I grew up to be afraid of tall grass and brambly forest floors, to steer clear of them for the promises they make to my ankles to cover them in crawling brown dots, and for the risks those brown dots present to my immune system. When there are cattails or tree branches in my way on a path, I do not brush up against them and let them kiss my skin and catch my hair; I take them squeamishly and push them aside so I can get through with minimal contact, hoping it’ll be enough to avoid inviting the enemy onto my body. If I come across a charming field of knee-high flowers beckoning for feet to dance amongst them, I only allow my eyes to gulp the beauty. I don’t jump into their purple sea because I’m afraid of the itty bitty insects that must be lurking on their stems. There is so much missed adventure left behind at every overgrown path I passed up, so much joy thrown away every time I say no to a field of flowers.
When I think about it carefully, it’s funny. The fear of being bitten and infected with a disease that could conceivably take the opportunity for enjoying a hike in the woods away from me is the very thing that keeps me from enjoying a hike in the woods. I’m too concerned with preventing Lyme disease that I ruin every hike’s potential. It’s a classic case of being afraid to live because of being afraid to die.
But I still pull ticks from my skin, no matter how much I try to avoid them. And every time I do, I wish I would have adventured that brambly path and frolicked through that flower field, at least to make it worth it. Yet regret never makes a difference when it comes to the next opportunity. I always stick to the open trails; temptation is never enough to coax me off of them. I worry and worry and worry.
The thing is, Worry takes up a lot of space in a soul. It grows like a weed, even when sparsely fed, and it crowds out all the good stuff like Bliss and Hope. It wraps around anything it can and tightens like a vine, restricting proper growth, and then even if you can ever manage to kill it, those wounds will still stay carved in the places it once grew.
In many souls, Worry grows like a decoration on trellises of Excitement and dilapidated cottages of Dreams. The Worry can be chopped off and killed if need be, and the dirt silhouettes it leaves can be power-washed away within a hard day’s work.
But some terribly unfortunate souls provide the ideal living conditions for Worry. If and when it takes root, it thrives as an invasive species, and when it takes over, climbing up wide Oaks of Happiness and tall Pines of Confidence, the trees are strangled in its grasp and slowly succumb. The souls live their existences restrained and guided by the Vines of Worry. Control seems impossible to regain.
To those whose Worry grows this way, perhaps the Worry will win. Perhaps it will take down the trees, without even a shouted “Timber!” of warning. Perhaps one day you will feel a thunderous crack and a disquieting thump at the bottom of your soul, and you will know what just fell because the roots will rip viciously out and leave cavernous scars in you.
But there is where you plant the seed, a tiny one of Hope. The Worry fell with the old tree, and now is when you can start over fresh. Now is when you can plant a stronger tree and nourish it with proper care and attention. The Worry, hidden deep in the surrounding soil, as it is known to do, may find it again, but you will keep your shears close and tend to the tree routinely.
The ticks in the woods do not have to take adventure away. The Worry does not have to win.