So, here comes the heat.
I’ve spent the morning inside — thinking, reading, writing, and working (which, readers can well imagine, tend to overlap for me). As the air conditioner has whirred in the background, I’ve contemplated the escalating culture war, the coming fight over a Supreme Court appointment, the need to ramp up for local elections, the best way to handle my eldest child’s final years as a minor, the ways in which I might help to shore up the Church against modern tides, and whether it is more urgent for me to clear out the mess beneath our back deck or seal the wood of a gate I hung just before winter. And so on.
Contemplate. If I’m following my etymological resources correctly, that word means, basically, to create a temple — that is, to set aside space for observation of divine signs.
For a short break from the weighty matters of my augury, I left my temperate office and trod across the lawn to get the mail. Beyond the door is heat, and it’s the first time this year that the air really reminds an organism that the temperature can be a force. A thing. It is felt, not merely understood, and sometimes it requires action beyond thought.
Annually, around this time, one comes across an op-ed or blog post, somewhere, suggesting that air conditioning has played a role in the centralization of our federal government. As the story goes, the heat once drove politicians out of the Washington swamp. Technological advances not only in temperature control, but also in transportation and communication, have made it much more plausible to house a massive bureaucracy in a single place year round and to keep the string pullers at their instruments.
Another image comes to mind of Southern belles of old striving to stay cool, sitting in the shade with iced lemonade, hand-held fans flapping. Striving. In the heat of summer, human beings once had to actively avoid overheating. Too much activity was simply difficult — more so for people whose station in life left them soft.
In that way, nature imposed a natural disadvantage on the contemplators versus the doers. The schemer could leave his temple to impose upon the field worker, but in the heat, the former would be in the territory of the latter. (He could hire muscle, of course, but somewhere on the fringes of consideration would always be the likelihood that the muscler had more in common with the musclee than with the boss.)
Let’s not be nostalgic for the discomforts of the past, but let’s spare some thoughts, from time to time, for the unintended benefits that discomforts might have had. Heat once set limits on economic activity, as it did on the operation of government, and it is good to push our limits. But maybe we need to set new ones. Real progress requires increased balance, not concentrated advantage.
Some of us live more in the heat of life than others, and society is imbalanced when that doesn’t confer some measure of leverage, or at least defense.