July 28, 2017

Russ Smith

I was off in my own little world. It was the third straight day of blistering temperatures and I was done. I was hot…my clothes were sticking to me…I couldn’t remember the last time that I could breathe comfortably. The heat coming up from the asphalt as I walked across the large parking lot was making my shoes into their own little saunas. The sun beat down mercilessly, its light obscuring the oasis that was our office building. The hot, humid wind taunted with the undelivered promise of relief. It was a miserable day. Worse yet…it was only 7:45 in the morning. Thank you, summer in the Midwest.

As I took the long trek toward the office building, I began to think back to better days. Although I would only have to reminisce about a few months back, I needed something more extreme to break the oppressive heat. My quickly-baking mind thought back to my teenage years. In high school I lived in Gunnison, Colorado…which meant that I really did walk to school uphill, both ways, in the snow. Gunnison sits on the Western Slope of the Continental Divide, 7700 feet above sea level and gets an average of 45″ of snow yearly. I remember walking past the Gunnison Savings & Loan on those cold days during mid-1980s, seeing the digital display showing -15 degrees most winter mornings. I have long suspected that was the lowest temperature that it could display. I focused on how the freezing air forced me to breath (or attempt to breath) through my wide scarf while simultaneously taking a mental survey of whether or not I could feel my feet. I had long given up on my glasses, now tucked away in my coat pocket because they were coated in ice from my breath. I was deeply grateful to the person who had invented long underwear. I could almost feel the bite of the cold, like pins pressing through the tight weave of my coat and clothes. I would give any hot day straight up for an hour of that beautiful, exhilarating cold!

“Good morning!”

What? Who said that?

“It’s gonna be another scorcher!”

You’re kidding me. REALLY?! You woke me out of a perfect, frozen day-dream and bring me back to this promise of more heat…AND JUST TO REMIND ME THAT IT WAS GONNA GET HOTTER! REALLY?!!! Oh, nice…and we’re ONLY HALF-WAY TO THE BUILDING!!!!! Like a man awoken from a mirage while walking days out in the desert, my spirit was crushed. What made it worse was that I had to be cordial to the poor guy that had woken me out of it, right when I least felt like being cordial!

After the initial shock of the transition from my winter wonderland wore off, I came to realize the beauty of the human mind. Strange as it is to say, I had actually felt the relief the cold air on my skin and in my lungs, even though I hadn’t actually felt the cold itself. I had to laugh at myself. Here I was complaining about weather that I was going to leave to escape into a comfortable office. You’d think I was going to be spending the entire day in the heat and humidity! Oh, the trials and tribulations of the office worker in the “First World”. What about those construction workers laboring a few hundred yards from my ergonomic office chair? Would they prefer the air-conditioned comfort of my desk? Probably not. As much of a relief as my AC would be on a day like this, they get to be out and working in outdoors on the more temperate days of the year. It’s those men that I envy as I walk into my windowless office on those days.

I remembered a dear saint who has since gone on to dance with her Messiah. Ms. Zora was all of 5’0″…if that. A sweet, elderly woman with a dowager’s hump and tight perm of red hair. She was deep into her 70’s and could run circles around me (her pastor), who was in his late 20’s at the time. She had a massive garden that she tilled herself and tended with care every day. She desired no help…she was full of spunk and energy, as well as the determination she inherited from her share-farmer parents. Her favorite thing was a sultry Arkansas summer day out in the sun, eradicating the faint hope of weeds. I never understood her love of the long days of the Southern summer…she couldn’t fathom my delight when we had our highly unusual six-inch snowfall during my son’s first winter on earth. She would have loved a day like today…she would have shook her head at me as I turned the AC in the sanctuary from her customary 80-degrees. I can still hear her sprightly laughter as we talked about our loving wonder at the other’s temperature gauge.

I’m not sure what made that hot, miserable day more tolerable…the memory of a Colorado winter morning or the memory of a saintly widow who loved the heat. Either way, my spirit was refreshed. I wonder at the things that God brings to me along my journey to help me keep my perspective. I suppose that it is easier for me to tolerate the hot days knowing a blizzard is on its way! And it is easier to walk through something that is unpleasant to me knowing that it brings someone else joy…sort of like eating boiled okra. Although I still don’t understand that. Perspective is important.

But, seriously…the next time you see me zoned out and walking across the parking lot on a sweltering summer morning, please don’t wake me up. I can almost not feel my toes…and it’s wonderful.