For the last 9 years I have lived in a climate with glorious winters and summers that would make Dante add a 10th ring of hell. Oh but it's a dry heat, my friends from the east coast tell me. Yeah, but so is a blow dryer and I wouldn't want to sit under one of those for 3 months. My Irish skin sears like an ahi tuna in the desert heat. The only thing that is supposed to burn my people is whiskey on our throats as we laugh merrily at frigid winters.
People from southern California will tell you that this is the best climate in the world, but odds are, those people live much closer to the ocean than I do, where it's 75 and the living is easy. Here it's 105 from July through September, and if you crack an egg at noon on the sidewalk, it turns into a chicken. Who angrily pecks at you. And then explodes.
I don't know if there is such a thing as reverse seasonal affective disorder, but if not, someone needs to add it to a textbook with my sunburnt Irish face next to it. The Weather Channel will put up my picture, warning "If you see this man on a 100 degree day, use extreme caution. Unless he has a slurpee, then feel free to approach. If he drops his slurpee during your conversation, run far and run fast." I was perfectly normal when I lived in Seattle, when the low hanging winter clouds brought despair and The Shining-like homicidal cabin fever, and the summers returned hope and sanity to a blindingly pale people, until we reached that inevitable day, usually around July 6th, when the Mariners were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. But now a rainy day brings jubilation and a hot summer day makes me believe that there is no God.
That is me during a normal summer in this desert life. But I'll be honest: summer 2013 has been an unusually bad summer. I am inclined to call it the WORST.SUMMER.EVER, but I fear I am setting myself up for a future summer to trump this summer in its worstness. It has been a summer of disappointment, of heartache, and of loneliness, words that we all know barely scratch the surface of the feelings they try to describe.
I have been spending 3 days a week up north in the Santa Barbara area, but my wine country experiment has been a huge disappointment, and it now seems that Santa Ynez will just be a stop along the road rather than a destination. It has not offered me the sense of belonging that I hoped it would. Next week I start my 3rd winery job, in six months, and while I think this will be the best one yet, I do not anticipate a change of heart toward the area. It's just not home. I'm just not small town rural. If a place doesn't have a classical music station, or a jazz station, or NPR, then Adam is not long for that place. Wise people have often said that the only thing scarier than not realizing your dreams is realizing your dreams. I get that now. It's enough to make you stop dreaming.
I spent the last couple of days in Big Bear, in the mountains, hoping to find some flicker of hope in the dog days, and yesterday I wrote this tweet:
The air up here is crisp, the scarecrows look menacing, the birds are sharpening their wings for a long flight south. Suck it, Summer 2013.Even though I am now back down the mountain perspiring through another sweltering day, there are places in the world that are showing signs of fall. A new season is almost upon us.
— Adam S. McHugh (@adamsmchugh) August 27, 2013
I read somewhere that each person is built for a particular season of the year, and if that is true, then the season of my personality is autumn. Every year a thrill runs through my body as I notice that the days are getting shorter, the morning sun is heating the air a little slower, the sunset hues are slightly more somber. Even if summer was unbearable, there is still plentiful harvest. In wine country the grapes are being harvested, row by row, and there is reason to believe that vintage 2013 will be an exceptional one. Perhaps that is because the vines have had to struggle so much in the heat and strong winds. There was virtually no rain and so the roots have had to dig deep to find water and nutrients.
The change of seasons is inevitable. There is no summer too hot to keep autumn from coming. There is no winter that can prevent buds from breaking. No extreme can keep the earth from dancing and spinning to its ancient rhythm. No shackle can keep the unyielding redemption plan from going forward. No loneliness can change your status as beloved.
Perhaps this is a season to praise the virtue of relentlessness. Maybe your dreams of this season have been dashed and maybe you don't have a specific hope for the next one, but the seasons are relentless and for that reason I think we can be relentless too.
There is a moment in the film version of Return of the King that comes to mind. Aragorn addresses the men of Gondor who stand trembling at the Black Gates of Mordor as Frodo and Sam limp toward the fires of Mt. Doom:
I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day!
A day may come when I surrender to the barrenness of the desert life, when I stop anticipating a plentiful harvest and meals shared and wine poured around a grateful table. But it is not this day.
A day may come when I give up on dreaming big dreams, when I let disappointments deter me from hoping and believing and pushing forward. But it is not this day.
A day may come when I stop fighting for relationships that I treasure, when I let the obstacles and distances and problems win out and I forsake people I love. But it is not this day.
A day may come when I give up on rescue from exile, when I stop preparing the way of the Lord that will bring me home, lift up every valley, and bring low every mountain.
But it is not this day.
It is not this season.