One of my frequent hikes begins at a trailhead near a lake. Frequent walks on the same path lead me to new discoveries, and the digital camera, a great addition to the writer’s toolbox, facilitates idea-capturing. With my smartphone’s recording and speech-to-text apps I can write while I stroll. If you hear me talking to myself in the woods don’t be alarmed.
Months ago only a few of these showy plants lined the bank of the lake, but the colony is spreading rapidly. I discovered the plant is creeping water primrose, and it occupies a spot on the North Carolina Noxious Weed list.
Creeping water primrose is a perennial native to Central or South America that grows to 3 feet tall with runners as long as 16 feet. A single plant can double its mass every 15 days, and new plants reproduce from fragmentation, roots and seeds making this a highly invasive plant. Some gardener no doubt introduced this intriguing specimen to a backyard pond upstream and nature took over.
The writer of Hebrews describes bitterness as an invasive plant.
See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; Hebrews 12:15 NASB
Roots start out small, harmless, and almost picturesque as this small beech tree illustrates.
Over time those roots spread and conquer. The soil around this mature beach supports little diversity of plant life, and the long tendrils make walking hazardous. That’s the danger in tolerating bitterness. In short time and with incredible stealth the sourness permeates every aspect of life.
Bitterness has many sources. Some folks have endured much adversity. Dreams remain unfulfilled. Right actions were rewarded with demotions rather than promotions. Hurt, unkindness and cruelty may have marked past relationships. Such a bombardment of hard knocks can create emotional calluses. The person raises a force-shield of toughness to cope.
Is bitterness really that bad? John Steinbeck writes in Travels with Charley, “A sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ.”
The problem with bitterness is the one who cultivates it is not the only one affected by it. Bitterness spreads, contaminates, consumes joy, and gives rise to a host of negative emotions. The very people who may help uproot the spreading fungus retreat out of self-preservation.
Austin Kleon in his book Show Your Work describes Vampire people, people who drain the energy and the happiness in the room by their negativity. Kleon writes, “If, after hanging with someone you feel worn out and depleted, that person is a vampire. If, after hanging out with someone you still feel full of energy, that person is not a vampire.”
The holidays are approaching with the mandatory gatherings of friends and family. Perhaps you sense dread rising as you think of the Vampire waiting to attack at those festive opportunities. Honestly, bitterness is a personal choice, and you probably won’t fix that person or change them at all.
Resolve instead to understand where and how they dwell. Put your best face forward and determine not to be infected.
The State Park service removed the creeping water primrose to halt its spread into the lake and the stream below.