The Heat

Honestly, I can't complain. Thus far, it's been my kind of summer, cool with lots of rain. And so when the thermometer ascended to reasonable, seasonable temperatures (mid-80s to you on Fahrenheit; top of the 20s for you Celsius types) for a couple of days there, I wasn't in any position to moan. At least now where anyone could hear me.

My friend Amanda was, however, delighted. The same weather perks her up that lays me low in a damp and miserable heap. Her idea of heaven is sitting out on a Florida beach in a heat wave in mid-August, being fried. If she weren't so pretty, I'd be forced to ask myself if she weren't, just possibly, half-lizard. But because we are friends, I am happy for her when it heats up, and she takes some comfort, when it's cool and damp, that I am enjoying the weather.

It struck me that this is one of those rare human differences that nobody can read anything into. Nobody can judge a person as a wuss for not being able to handle the heat. Even we Canadians don't look down on someone made miserable by the cold; it's understandable, perfectly reasonable. Moral judgment or opinion doesn't enter into one's idea of comfy climatic conditions. It's not like diurnal rhythms: I'm always getting needled by the lark-types for being a night-owl (because "early to bed, early to rise...."). And I suspect that some night-owls give lark-types a hard time for being too goodie-two-shoes for words.

It seems to be normal human nature to define the group opposite to yourself as somehow wanting or wrong. Most of us draw some of our sense of self-worth from fitting in with the prevailing decor: if that decor is turquoise, we may find it especially easy to be pro-turquoise and anti-hot-pink. From there, it becomes quite natural to find good reasons why hot pink is Bad, to find moral and philosophical reasons to condemn hot pink, and to look for scientific evidence that hot pink is an aberration, or at least sub-par.

And then we drag God into it. Since we are turquoise and turquoise is Good and hot pink is Bad, therefore God must love and esteem turquoise and condemn hot pink, except maybe for a few exceptional individuals. Example: I ran across an epigraph by one Caelius Sedulis on the Virgin Mary: "But alone of all her sex/ She pleased the Lord." Wait just a flippin' minute here. This guy is saying that the ONLY person of the female persuasion to please God was the Virgin Mary? I'm not denying her goodness, not in the least, but does he mean that God is not pleased with any other woman at all? Are we, by virtue of having a second X chromosome instead of a Y, automatically displeasant to God, regardless of what we've actually *done*, for purely philosophical reasons? Being a woman is not something I was given any choice about, after all. How would the guys like it if I said of Jesus that "alone of all men, he followed God's will"?

Who we are--male or female, heavily pigmented or pale, gentile or Jew, short or tall, fat or skinny, gay or straight, gifted or not--is not something we should have to answer for. It is profoundly unjust to hold a person accountable for something that the person had no choice about. What we do is another matter altogether, and for that we are accountable, and should be. What's astonishing is the strength of the human compulsion to judge others, and judge them with neither mercy nor justice, simply because they are different from oneself.

There's a second and nastier variation on this theme. Let's say that I decide that your hot pink is, by definition, inferior to my turquoise. So maybe I treat my hot-pink neighbours a little badly. Maybe I deny them some basic rights. Because I think hot pink is wrong, hot pink shouldn't have the vote. Actually, what's really going on here is that I'm afraid that hot pink dislikes me just as much as I dislike hot pink, so if the hot pinkers get the vote, my own turquoise interests may be threatened. But we won't talk about that.)

Nonetheless, I have to have some reason to give them (and myself) why hot pink shouldn't have the vote. Since not all hot-pinkers have actually done anything to forfeit, other than being hot pink, I have to prove to them that it's not what they've done, it's who they are that's the problem. The vote, I say, is not a right; it must be earned, and it's not something that hot pink can earn. This is because, as all civilized people know, hot pinkers are childlike, naive, impulsive, uneducable, prone to immorality and beastly excesses. The scientific proof: utopsies have shown that the hot pink brain is, on average, half a gram smaller than the turquoise brain, give or take a gram.

Or--much easier, because I don't have to find proof and can't be disproved--I can fall back on ontology: in God's great scheme of things, turquoise is clearly Good and hot pink is Bad, and here's a scripture verse to prove it. Eve was bad; therefore Eve's daughters are bad (one exception, Mary) and let's not notice that Eve had sons too; or maybe it's one of those sex-linked recessives. Therefore even when hot pink does exactly the same things that turquoise does, turquoise is still right and hot pink is still wrong, because hot pink is permanently stained by the ghostly, ineradicable flaw of hot pinkitude.

The worse I behave toward hot pinkers, the more I'm going to have to justify my behaviour by blaming them for it. Why? Because the only alternative is to face the fact that I have been behaving like a real jerk for no good reason--or more likely, for self-serving reasons--and that is something I do not want to admit to myself or anyone else. Especially God. So I make God just as judgmental as I am, just as hateful of hot pink, because that way, I'm off the hook. Permanently. This is why "hate the sin and love the sinner" simply doesn't work; we slide off sideways, like a car on glare ice, into loving the sin because it allows us all the self-indulgent fun of hating the sinner without having to feel bad about what we're doing. Very convenient.

But what I have forgotten in all this self-justification, this self-serving dishonesty, is that God created us all, hot pink and turquoise, and chrome yellow and magenta and mauve and every shade and variant of mankind. Yes, some of us are flawed and sick, but that'a a state of the individual, not of a class. When we judge each other without even seeing each other as individual and precious humans--when we dismiss other human beings as inherently unworthy, without even bothering to get to know them as people--then we disrespect God's love for them. And that is really disrespecting Godself--and that, if we're Christians at all, we know is both wrong and deeply, deeply stupid.

I have got to learn to love my enemy: that means, I have to sit down and accept that this person, who is not like me, with whom I disagree, who loves hot weather when cool weather is the only civilized climate, is also God's beloved child and is therefore fully worthy of my respect and attention--unless, of course, I claim to know better than God. And maybe this person is entitled to her spells of hot weather, even if they make me uncomfortable. Maybe this person has something to say that I should hear and ponder in my heart. Just possibly, this person may be more right than I am about one or two things.

It's messy, of course. In my middle age, I have decided that virtually everything that's spiritually right is messy, and that virtually everything that's extremely neat and orderly probably hasn't been kicked hard enough yet to show how messy it really is. Then again, I may just be trying to justify my own housekeeping...

Anyway. On my birthday, the temperature dropped back down to civilized levels and it promised to rain. Amanda is quite happy; she's had a taste of real summer heat, and there's still all of August to come.

Copyright © 2000 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sat, 29 Jul 2000
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