Wonderful Horrible Air Conditioning

Life without air conditioning was horrible. We used fans. Fans that would push the murky hot air around breathless rooms that felt like ovens with furniture. My dad was an engineer who said we should use box fans to push the hot air out of the house and open the windows to let the cooler air in. “More efficient,” he said. We would nod until he left the room and promptly turn the fan to blow air on us—duh.

Furniture would be sticky in the heat and humidity. Potato chips poured into a bowl would wilt into soggy, crunchless disks within seconds. Coasters were used to collect rivulets of condensation from lukewarm glasses of water onto sticky coffee tables, while sticky children sat on sticky couches in sticky sweaty clothes waiting for an oscillating fan to move the sticky air around the sticky room.
Now the air conditioning works so well, I spend most of the summer chilly. I wear a sport coat to most functions, not for fashion but for warmth. I walk out into the heat of summer for brief moments until I can get into an air-conditioned car. “Boy, it’s hot,” I’ll say, with no real emotion. Not like when I was a kid and said with real feeling, “Boy, it’s hot.”
Summer used to drag by on long, hot, breathless afternoons full of endless possibilities. Now it flits by as I observe it through thermal-paned windows. Could it be that the pain and suffering of summer was also part of the joy of summer? Weird, but some of the best water I have ever tasted was lukewarm and gushing out of a garden hose—big long gulps as friends waited impatiently for their turn.

This is a picture of my porch, common to houses of its era, where neighbors would sit panting in the heat, sharing news and gossip. Now I sit alone, my neighbors are mostly strangers and the only news they share is the drone of their air conditioners.
I often tell audiences that life is a mixture of beauty and pain. Everyone loves beauty; everyone hates pain. But maybe….maybe painful things contain a measure of beauty, as well.
A fussy, ornery baby that finally collapses in your arms and becomes a beautiful, sleeping angel.
The first savory, delicious bite of a meal that is served one hour later than promised to a growling, empty stomach.
The first day you don’t have to wear that stupid hospital gown.
Crashing into a pillow exhausted after a long hard day of tough physical labor.
And not just the daily small pains of life, either. I met a man who lives with chronic pain, spinal disks that are a constant shooting presence. Only after careful observation did I realize that many times his smile is a wince.
“Pain wakes me up every day,” he said, “But that’s all it is, is pain. So, I decided that since he’s around anyway, I’d make him my friend. I decided Pain is the one who keeps me present in each moment and Pain is the one who make me aware of each day and Pain reminds me that I am only given one day at a time and if I am to get something accomplished I better do it now.” He gave me a huge, wincing smile, “Pain is my buddy!”
As silly as it is, this comment contains a grain of wisdom I thought I would share on this wonderfully hot, sticky, humid summer day that you choose to spend inside in air conditioned comfort—if you wish. ?