It must have been on the hike at Caraway, a couple of miles through the woods with several friends gathered for a faculty retreat, that I picked up a chigger just behind my left knee. I’d almost forgotten how much they can itch.

As a boy growing up in rural Georgia, chiggers were the bane of my existence. When visiting my cousin Chuck, my Aunt Louise would paint our chigger bites with fingernail polish, believing that would suffocate them. Fortunately, I’ve managed to avoid the pests most of my adult life, even when picking blackberries.

Perhaps you’ve encountered one of those delightful critters, tiny red arachnids that hang around on grass or leaves until some unwary person comes by. When given the chance, they climb on and crawl down into a pore of the skin or at the base of a hair, where they release chemicals that dissolve surrounding tissue, which they suck up like microscopic vaccuum cleaners. The skin responds with a big pink bump that itches like crazy.

The tiny mites, called trombiculidae by zoologists, go by a variety of other names, including “red bugs” and “berry bugs,” often preceded by something profane. They’re not known for carrying diseases, but they’re incredibly irritating, just daring you not to respond with a scratch that inevitably makes things worse.

My itty-bitty hitchhiker reminds me of how easy it is to let small things get under our skin and irritate us, leading to frustrated responses that can cause a minor aggravation to become a much bigger problem.

When we can’t completely avoid the relational chiggers that come with life, we have to deal with them one way or the other. We can let trivial burrs become painful thorns, or we can learn to keep them in perspective: some itches just aren’t worth the temporary pleasure that comes with the scratch.

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