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Does EVERYONE have allergies some time in life? I don’t remember having allergies until after I was married. When I was young, we lived in a forest. I spent lots of time outdoors—camping, hiking, swimming, playing. The local cement block plant spewed gray dust into the air. I sniffed a bit, but no big deal.
The first house my husband and I shared rested in a suburban neighborhood roughly between two airports (one military, one civilian) almost immediately beside a major highway and a block from a major city street. We could wipe black powdered residue from airline tires off our windows. To complicate matters at the time, Denver periodically endured some of the worst air quality in the nation due to temperature inversions and toxic emissions, creating a gaseous monster that was called the brown cloud. It looked like brown death devouring the city. First born children grew nervous. Suddenly I was sneezing and dripping and coughing. I went to the doctor to see what was wrong. He sighed wearily and told me I had allergies—probably a form of hay fever.
I suppose once your sensitive nasal membranes are annoyed, it’s easier for them to complain about a wide variety of irritants. Thus, I’m told many people who experience allergies to pollution eventually also develop allergies to seasonal triggers such as pollen or molds or perpetual catalysts such as dust. In my house, allergies are inevitable. The final product is misery. We moved away from Denver, but we acted too late. My fate was sealed.
Recently as my husband and I were walking our dogs on a county road, I stopped, alarmed. “Is that tree on fire?” I asked, pointing. “Nope,” my husband replied. “That’s pollen.” He was right. Later, looking out our front windows, I watched visible waves of pollen like bird formations swooping from tree to tree on the wind…and I sneezed.
Granted, few so-called hay fever sufferers reach life-threatening levels of reaction like people who are deathly allergic to certain drugs or foods or bee-stings can do. But we feel terrible and we’re crabby. I once had to teach a class with bits of tissue crammed up my nose because all the antihistamines on the market (over-the-counter and prescription) couldn’t rescue me from dripping. It was a humiliating experience. I love both spring and fall, and the tissue companies should send me Christmas cards to thank me for buying mass quantities of their products.
The good part about allergies is they’re humbling. It’s difficult to imagine you’re a superior human being when you have tissue in your nose. But you risk certain dangers—such as attempting to drive in dense traffic when your eyes are running and you’re trying desperately to reach something that can act as a tissue for your nose. Now that people are advised to sneeze into their elbows to avoid contaminating their hands, we allergy sufferers have to keep wet wipes at hand to clean off the elbows of our various outfits. I buy turmeric in pound bags so I can take a teaspoon daily, because that’s the only substance currently known to humankind that can help alleviate—not cure—my symptoms.
Of course, pollen and hay and dust aren’t the only irritants to which I tend to overreact. I’m also hyper-sensitive to deliberate ignorance, smug piety, cruelty, and lying and probably more I can’t justify. “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” And love. Apply love liberally—to yourself and those around you. The rest is a matter of tolerance.