The wind blows in a southerly direction, hot as always. It’s summer, after all. Or at least Spring with a thin veneer. Here in Texas, Spring is only a byword, a passing phase between the really hot and the sorta-hot. Winter: the hot goes to sleep, breathing out moisture and sweat. Fall: the heat yawns and bats its eyes repeatedly until the leaves descend like dreams into the defeated earth, summer having laid the ground barren in its annual game of cat-and-mouse.
In late April, the clouds hang balmily overhead, playing with the wind like a child with the snails. Sooner or later, the clouds will have enough of this sport and slaughter the wind, leaving only pregnant breaths that creep through the night sky bearing all heat, no flame. It’s hot already. And so, in mid-April, with the wind breathing clearly in the morning, we already know what’s coming. Summer here is nothing if not telegraphic.
My first days in Texas came in late August, in the middle of an unvarnished streak of 100-degree days that pulled the life out of the rocks. I pulled up in a U-Haul full of my life to the door of a 2
floor apartment on the hottest day I had ever felt in my life. And so began the first of many nights in the oven of my life. There were shrubs, short stocky plants fat enough to relive the glory days of the evolutionary chain. But nothing like the trees of my childhood or college years.
Over the course of that year, I fell for a girl that was too hot for Texas itself. I wrote short, pithy emails that waxed eloquently about my life and what I was thinking and reading, and too little about things that made any difference. I forgot my friends. I did a lot of dumb things that, four years later, I try to remember with any sense of dignity.
Like falling in love.
With the summer comes vacation, and so, needing a vacation from love and from the heat, I spent the next summer in the coldest place I could get to without having to learn a new language: the UK. In the early part of May, the UK still feigns rain three out of four days and reaches lows in the blustery 40s. There’s no snow, but enough wind and rain to fake your heart into thinking that summer doesn’t really exist—that in reality, there’s only the winter and a slightly sunnier version of winter.
Something about travel deludes you into thinking that leaving will solve everything, that somehow things will be fine with time. Only back in the sun of Texas did my eyes find out that yes, indeed, the summer is always hot, and that delusions kept frozen and fresh by a British summer wilt like popsicles back home in the sultry heat of real life. There’s nothing so refreshing as having your feet cooled off by melted dreams now puddling in the dirt.
In retrospect, I wish I could say that I had listened to the still small voice that was saying in no uncertain terms, “THIS IS A REALLY BAD IDEA.” Not bad on the level of putting our car into reverse in mid-traffic—more bad along the lines of attaching my hungry little heart to situations I knew would never answer my yearnings. Always obey these little impulses; they’re more than retrograde evolutionary leftovers—they are the pinprick of God, the still small voice and the fire in the bush. Ignore them at your own risk.
As Augustine points out, we do a lot of things for love, stupid and otherwise. But isn’t it just like God, Augustine says, to use the one thing we cherish, the one thing that burns us like terror, to draw us to God. We pursue and are pursued by God, out of love. We do it for love.
In his Confessions, Augustine reveals something very simple about this whole matter that levels my silliness about love: that, at the same time it is readily available, it is also the hardest thing to come by in all creation. Above all desires of the human heart, love renders us unable to speak about anything and everything. It levels the male verbally illiterate, a sponge with legs. From birth, we crawl towards it, toddle towards it, walk, run, stride, and hobble towards the one force in the universe that God compels all creation to respond by: love.
But here’s the trick: love, when it’s real, is hot as summer asphalt. It makes no promise to coddle or always reaffirm us. Rather, it makes the solemn oath to never leave and to burn the hell out of us— to make us real, to leave us without illusions about ourselves or the world.
In all their glory, all other forces in life are nothing more than the heat without the fire. They are the reflection of the sun off of the windowpane, inviting us to stick our dirty paws up to the glass, warming our hands, but come sundown, leaving us cold and wanting. And like dogs, we keep forgetting the trick and coming back every day, hoping that maybe this will be the day that the glass will be warmer, maybe warm enough to hold onto the heat through the night. But love, love burns bright enough to compel us, but hot enough to keep us humble, drawn to it in awe, but humbled by its magnitude. It makes no offers of safety; in fact, it offers to level us to the ground.
Singer David Wilcox has a beautiful theory on the whole situation: he postulates that people are drawn together for bigger reasons than they know, that people know what the other person needs, and furthermore, what they need will be the most difficult thing for us to give. And thus, the relationship emerges: two people drawn to the strengths in each other, challenged by their own weaknesses. It’s hard work, perhaps the hardest in the world because it demands more than simple need. Need is easy; all it wants is what anyone can give: a warm body and a dark night. Love is hard, because it asks only for everything, particularly the thing that you find it impossible to give.
But when you fall into it, when you find yourself in the irreversible state of being in love, know that you are in the center of creation. If you find yourself there once, twice, three times, three hundred times— no worries. Love and the relationships they forge are part of the process of God moving us towards God, melting our hearts into a shape bigger than lust, brighter than the sun. It’s work, but good work … if you can get it.[Myles Werntz is a freelance writer living in Waco, TX.]