Fall has arrived here in Kentucky, and with it, relief from the hot humid, heavy, air of July and August. A heat index of 105 degrees Fahrenheit is not uncommon here.
Air conditioning (patented as “an apparatus for treating air”) was invented by Willis Carrier in 1902. By 1947 [according to the history of air conditioning, energy.gov] 43,000 homes had air conditioning systems. Neither my or my husband’s family was one of those homes.
Herb’s mother hung wet dish towels in open windows. Because the house lacked electricity, there were no fans. Relief was attained from an outdoor shower rigged from a horse tank atop a storm cellar. Tepid water was gravity fed through a pipe from the well on a hill above the homesite. Today Herb has a tolerance for heat that withers me.
My family lived in temperate San Mateo County, just south of San Francisco. When the heat rose, we cranked open windows to catch ocean breezes. I did, however, as a child, experience hot, humid summer air at my grandparents’ farm in Nebraska. We slept on cots on a screened-in side porch. A fan swung back and forth over the glistening bodies of my brothers and me as we drifted off, the sounds of crickets and cows sifting through the heavy night air.
In the past my husband and I have fled Kentucky in July and sometimes in August, to Appalachia or the Rockies. Under current pandemic circumstances, however, we are not going anywhere but the grocery store and occasionally Lowe’s.
In August our two air conditioners hum incessantly after ten in the morning until midnight while we work at living well within the comfort of home.
The truth is we are privileged. We aren’t worn out from the heat. We aren’t hanging dish towels in our windows or sleeping on a screened-in side porch. We aren’t struggling to earn a living or stay well in 100 degree heat. We indeed aren’t struggling in any remarkable way.
A different kind of heat has blown across our country. In August Federal troops descended upon the city of Portland ostensibly to protect the federal courthouse. This week in Louisville, Kentucky, protestors are incensed and angry over the indictment of wanton endangerment in a police shooting of Breonna Taylor, asleep in her bed, after a no knock warrant went awry. On September 12, a four hour stand off occurred between police and protestors in Rochester, NY.
A rising tide of people are pushing back against the country’s embedded system of racism. The largest body of demonstrators in the history of our country have decided they have seen and heard enough. How I wish the cooling rhetoric of peace and reason could have blown through the air of protest! What if walking arm in arm and chanting “I can’t breathe,” or shouting “Say her name!” had caused a pause in the system just long enough for some reasoned adjustments to the systemic racism in our country, especially in law enforcement and justice.
Instead we are witnessing the equivalent of raising the thermostat to 200 degrees when the temperature outside is 90.
Once the heat rises and shifts to rage, violence follows. Everyone becomes accountable for violence. Even I feel accountable in my comfortable spot in Bowling Green, where I feed birds, plant trees, and write.
I’ve been called out for being naive for speaking for mercy, peace, and love. I take the accusation as a compliment. I’d rather be naive than silent. If we have the collective ingenuity to invent air conditioning and cool millions of buildings, we have the means for addressing systemic racism and promoting peaceful solutions. We need to learn how to cool ourselves and our neighbors, together, not hidden apart, not accusing, not attacking.
It’s not always easy to remember simple ways to promote peace and justice. Here are some suggestions:
Strengthen your knowledge. Read nonfiction articles and books based on serious research.
Donate to food pantries.
Hire people—housekeepers, gardeners, carpenters.
Wear a mask.
Deliver food to shut ins.
Visit your neighbors.
Contribute to community equity movements.
Share vegetables from the garden.
Make supportive phone calls.
Write about mercy and love.
Speak out but with grace.
Pray for justice and mercy. Thank you, Martin Luther King.
And stop wondering why that guy with the dark brown complexion is driving a Mercedes.
I’d like to hear what my readers would add to this list.
Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12.