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Bedbug scare leads to lessons about what matters most


“Be careful what you wish for” is one lesson I learned from a recent retreat I attended to help recharge my psychological batteries for the work I do as a psycho-therapist.

Sometime during the program, we were asked to think about what we wanted most from God, the universe or ourselves. I wanted simplicity and immaculate organization—and I wanted it quickly.

Ironically, the thing that brought order to my chaos came home with me in the form of (drum roll, please) a bedbug.

Driving home on that beautiful September day, I was preoccupied with my legs, which were covered with itchy bites. I had already thought of the possibility of bedbugs and brought my luggage back in plastic bags.

But I wasn’t all that worried until my second night, when my husband began to have bites on his body, too.

An Internet search informed me you can see these bugs, so I began searching the room and found little live bugs (later deemed benign carpet beetles) and kept the poor buggers in the sink for observation. I determined the bedroom uninhabitable; I bathed myself in hydrogen peroxide and moved downstairs. Our bedroom quickly became a contamination zone.

I phoned a friend, who phoned a friend who secretly admitted to having had to face this problem herself. She advised I put all my belongings from the room, closet, etc., into black plastic garbage bags and bake them in the sun for the day. This task took many hours to accomplish, and, alas, after so many 100-degree days this year, this day was a perfect 75 degrees. It was not hot enough to heat the buggers to the deadly 140 degrees. What I had not realized is that my friend’s bedbug problem occurred in July, when it was hot outside.

So, I broke down and called in the exterminators—but not before I bought three bags of a bedbug-eliminating chemical and spread it around the room per instructions on the Internet.

When the exterminators arrived they laughed. I had spread so much poison that if I ever even had a bedbug, I eradicated it along with any other innocent living insect in my room.

I thought of my first lesson—be careful what you ask for—as I contemplated my “bedbug lesson”—call your exterminator first. Some have dogs who can sniff out the invasive insects, but they cannot do so if your room is covered in poison.

My life lesson was more universal. I realized I did not need all this stuff. And so I quickly became more organized when, after deeming my overwhelming amount of pointless stuff free and clear of bedbugs, I donated three truckloads to Goodwill.

I’m still purging my stuff. And I’m also realizing the many things that are so much more important than possessions. These include:

Time with loved ones. We can become so preoccupied with the loved ones who are not among us that we forget to enjoy the ones who are with us now.

If you don’t have enough loved ones—go find some. Everyone needs the pleasure and support of an intimate group of people with whom we can enjoy the fun, mutual support, and even trials and tribulations of life.

Memories. I’m often reminded of Victor Frankl, the psychiatrist who was a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. He spoke so fondly of his memories of his wife and how, even though he did not know that she had already been killed, beautiful memories of her brought him a small joy. While he had been stripped of every possession, those memories would be his to keep for the duration of his own life.

Connecting and learning from others. It’s so easy to ignore the fact that people are all around us and are all important. For example, the lady behind us in the grocery line, the clerk who rings up our stuff from CVS, even the anxious parent fussing with her kids— these are all important people.

My daughter said recently that she used to get mad at how chatty I was with these strangers. Now, a little older and maybe wiser, she says she understands that that simple kindness is a pleasant gift that gives in both directions. I enjoy little tidbits of conversation when we meet briefly as strangers and each depart with a smile.

Living in the moment. My grandmother used to ask, “Have you ever noticed how much time we spend picking things up and putting them down?”

With less stuff, I’m hoping more attention can be spent living in the moment. I would like to spend more time watching the sunset instead of folding an expensive blouse.

There is so much beauty in the universe, most of it free and right in front of us every moment. And it doesn’t create more clutter.

“A man is wealthy in the things he can live without,” Thoreau wrote in “Walden,” his famous book on simple living.

I can definitely live without bedbugs (and chiggers—I was pleased to learn later it was probably chiggers, not bedbugs, that had eaten me up). Still, I think I’ll keep those lessons that my hypothetical bedbug taught me. I started purging stuff, and I don’t plan to stop any time soon.

As my wise father-in-law recently said: “The most important things in life, my dear, are not things!”

Dr. Delise Dickard a licensed professional counselor, is the director of Riverside Counseling in Fredericksburg. She  welcomes reader comments and questions. For contact information, see river