The air came like heat waves from an oven. Only no chocolate chip cookies were baking… just me.
I was directly in front of my fan.
It was my first night home after a month of travel outside of this country, and my goal was to save air conditioning until I had finished unpacking. I’ve got to get used to only running it when I am sleeping, I told myself, remembering my housemates’ significant bill last summer. Sticky with sweat, I pulled a bag of individually-packaged peppermint patties from my suitcase. They had melted and then re-congealed into a brick of mint filling, chocolate, and silver wrapping.
On first moving into a stuffy basement apartment in a Middle Eastern desert, I made a vow: I will not talk about heat. I kept that vow for only three months. Now, on my first day back, my problem was not in talking about the heat; my problem was in not being able to think of anything else.
But I had a new promise to keep: Survive without additional air conditioning.
The next morning, I ate breakfast in my bedroom, also known as my “slightly-cooler-than-kitchen room.” With lights off. With curtains drawn. With the fan pointed on me. And for about 15 minutes, I was okay… but the apartment was baking as the sun moved higher. Now I just have to find a solution for the rest of the day.
I made plans to visit Sammi (her apartment is on the second floor– better air flow), and to meet another friend later for coffee (the coffee shop has air conditioning).
In between, I stayed in front of the fan. If I moved– even for five minutes– the fan moved with me. I’ve only got to do this for another three months, I told myself. Three months of trying to stay cool.
Of closing curtains to reduce the light.
Of hiding from my home whenever possible, as it is temporarily transmogrified into the belly of a dragon.
I moved slowly all day, attempting to be not hot… and doing laundry upstairs. On my last visit to the second story, one of my housemates stopped me. Since I’d been away so much the expense would already be less, he explained, and since they preferred for me to live through the summer: “We want you to run your air conditioning at all times.”
The statement liberated me from the promise I had made to myself. I laughed in relief as I felt the first gusts of cool air.
And then I made dinner. And thought through the next couple of days. And showered. All tasks that had seemed impossible earlier in my day.
Finding a way to survive the heat had become primary… but my promise to do so without any help had been smothering other important concerns.
Breaking a promise can feel sooooo good.
Unfortunately, this was not the first time I’ve pursued the wrong promises. Often vows of the type I am referencing are made in response to something, but stay below the surface of our awareness, influencing our lives yet trying to escape acknowledgement.
But at times those promises can knock us over, like sharks with a surfer earlier this week, attempting to drag us down and smother higher pursuits.
We can either punch them in the back, or be eaten alive by them. Couple of my “promises” that have attacked of late:
“I will not make people angry.”
“I will not hurt people.”
Impossible as these vows are, knowingly or unknowingly I have spent much of my life trying to keep them.
Failures push me to just try harder. And my fervent attempts to control others’ responses have led to– that’s right– anger and hurt. Other times, they have led to avoidance of things that needed to be talked about.
But love is stifled by an attempt to control another’s emotions. And love languishes in an atmosphere of avoidance.
Close friends sat with me on a porch at a Pennsylvania farmhouse last month, listening to me wrestle with these thoughts and promises. There were more: “It’s not okay to feel alone,” was one. When I ran dry of words, they were silent with me, watching the fireflies circle the cornfields until my eyes dried, also. Sometimes love looks like speech, and sometimes it looks like silence.
Sometimes we need to hear that it is okay to run A.C. at all times.
Sometimes, my Pennsylvania friends told me, breaking promises is the most faithful course of action.
What about you? What promises do you want to break?