Through North Carolina summers, our dog Lizzie became like a baboon. A West Highland White Terrier, one flea could turn her inside out. Bitten, Lizzie itched until flaming red streaks of agitated skin appeared on her butt where she ripped all her hair out. Bless her, her fiery ass running in the yard was a sight gag. We got her at the pet store at South Square Mall when she was the size of a beanie baby. I think Mom couldn’t bear the kennel she was in or the longing in her eyes so we took her home. We all loved her but Mom especially did and Lizzie “hot spot” Ketch needed it.
Last week, I met a man who used to make furniture. After his oil rags spontaneously combusted and burned down his business, he became a fulltime cowboy. I marveled at his nonchalance. Soothed by time and perspective, he told his story without a wrinkle of agitation and I wished his unconcern would rub off on me, an antidote to 2020’s upheaval. Bereft of timelines, due dates, conclusiveness, or any control, I’m rife with irritation, a need to scratch the ache away.
The earth is now a hot spot and growing rapidly, irrevocably hotter as we pick sides and cast blame. Scratching at a wound is easier than healing; a familiar war more comfortable than the unvisited province of acceptance, even peace. Are you like me? Are you quick to righteousness and disparagement of the world? Furious with the other side but slow to notice the discord in your own heart? It’s simpler to accuse than administer, I guess. Setting the whole thing on fire seems a viable option somedays. Makes me think of the burning bush. I’m not religious but it moves me that God came to Moses in a burning bush. Forest fires aid the Sequoia trees in dropping their seeds. A burn that births, a burn that portends, a burn that unseats old ways; that does sound divine.
“Agitation itself is dark” says spiritual writer Mark Nepo and I think he’s right. I can see how inflammation has cast shadows in my body, my heart and mind. Reactions of tolerance, thanks, and compassion are as available as fury, impatience, and defeat but heat speeds up the molecules to sense and react. A hot spot is just a series of unchaperoned decisions, not a foregone conclusion. “Agitation” comes from the Latin verb, agitare, which means to act or being active. The temptation to act, to solve, to scratch, to rip, to get to the bottom of yearning is so big these days. Quarantine is like a sweat lodge where you perspire plans - a burning bush, a hot spot - an inescapable confrontation with time itself, a chance for a truce with the itch of your own aliveness. May all that has been inhibited by this virus be kindling for transformation, the darkness of terror made light.