It slows us down, this combination of humidity and elevated temperatures. We plan to be indoors with air conditioning or insulation, or close to someplace otherwise refreshing (water of all kinds, like rives and bridges and pools and even showers), if possible. Yet it’s beautiful outside in so many other ways: still and sunny, bright and inviting.
The international service organization to which Chris, Sarah and I all belong – Rotary – has a local chapter. It’s the Ipswich Rotary Club to which I belong, because its goal is humanitarian service projects and international relationship-building, person by person. (Some people mistake its purpose for one of business-to-business marketing, like a Chamber of Commerce, but although the club has an amusing social component, we actually don’t talk about business at our gatherings … we focus on ways to help people locally, nationally and globally.)
One of our local Ipswich initiatives is to help our community’s seniors. They can call or sign up through the Council on Aging at 978-356-6650, and request help with small projects around the house. If our Club can help, we will do so.
Today – not surprisingly – we have three requests to install air conditioning units. Usually our own members, who are retired, have flexible schedules or are enjoying a seasonal break from work, will take on these projects. Today our town’s Public School Superintendent Rick Korb has been out to three homes, on behalf of our Rotary Club, to put AC units in place for elders who would otherwise suffer through this heat.
Me? I’m working in a cool house. Shades drawn. Trying not to wish too hard for a nap. I worked outside in the yard much earlier today, when we could move without suffering from the heat.
Of course, I peek at my drought-resistant plants … the ones in the side yard that bake in direct Southern exposure … and cross my fingers. Will they survive? This week will challenge them.
Imagine Chris and Sarah and our youth group, working further south in the steamy paved environs of Staten Island, working in soup kitchens, food pantries and other un-cooled surroundings. They’re there to help others, and although their service will make a difference, it will be done uncomfortably.
And yet, how uncomfortable are we really? I have known elders who wouldn’t call to ask for the AC unit to be put into a window, because the cost of running more electricity stretched a household budget too far, so it was a choice between food or power. Imagine those in NYC where Chris and Sarah are spending the week, or those much closer to home, who live without access to any kind of shelter or relief, exposed to whatever weather comes. It can be extreme heat or extreme cold … we struggle with both in New England and neighboring regions.
There are so many ways to ease a day like this. I can find ice in my freezer. Change into lighter layers. Pour a cold drink. Stand in a cool fall of water. Change into a bathing suit and go plunge into some chilly water nearby. Install the portable AC unit. Close the doors and rely on my insulated walls to mitigate the temperature swings.
I’m safe. Reasonably comfortable.
It’s easy to notice (and maybe complain) about extremes. But in so many ways, only those on the margins of our community are truly vulnerable to them. And so, Rotary members are out putting in air-conditioning units for seniors. It’s one small way to make life safer and better for own our neighbors.
In times like this, it’s a good idea to consider those quiet folks nearby who might need relief. Who might not ask.
Sometimes we have to intrude a little. Culturally, many people will turn down a polite offer of unspecific-help, or never act on a vague good intention such as, “Let me know if I can help.”
Sometimes we have to do a little more. Name a need and offer specific solutions. Be a little up-close-and-personal in our offer of companionship or support. Knock. Call. Check on a person who comes to mind. Offer a bottle of water, a tray of ice or an invite to come sit in a cool living room until the worst of the day’s heat abates.
I don’t know what the solution might be, but if someone pops into your head, I bet you have a good idea of what they might need and how you might offer some relief, without offending anyone’s dignity.
The weather will likely break with storms on Friday. But until then, it’s a good chance to appreciate the luxuries that make us safe and cool. To be aware that not everyone has such relief. And that we have the opportunity and capacity to take care of each other.
Do you know the saying, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” As far as I could learn, it was possibly a paraphrase of the 1st-century teachings of Rabbi Hillel the Elder, then was attributed to the Civil Rights activist John Lewis and also used by President Ronald Reagan.
Today, as we check on our neighbors and consider our own fortunes, it’s a state of mind we could focus on many matters, not just the heat.