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April 16, 2004
Hot? Cold? A Rose?

Sunny and warm today, they say, although it was brisk out there at five this morning. Sunny and warm tomorrow. Sunny and warm on Sunday. Downright hot on Monday. This could be it.

Time to plant a few polo shirts among Q's turtlenecks. Time to find my summer dresses in the basement and wash the musty smell out of them. Time to exchange the storm windows for screens. Time to put in the window fan that cools the whole house.

It doesn't cool the whole house, Mom, Anna gasps in the summer. It doesn't cool any of it It just pushes hot air around. She and Robert had a hard time house-sitting for us last year; they ended up barricaded in the India Room, the only one with an air conditioner.

Such suffering is real. But it doesn't afflict everyone, and it was not so long ago that everybody managed in the heat without air conditioning. You used to go to movie houses to experience it, emerging from the dank murk of the theater into the blast furnace of a summer afternoon, momentarily glad of the heat.

Well, what helps is that the air moves, you know, I say helpfully, but many people are unconvinced. Something about being hot highjacks people psychologically: they can't step away from their discomfort and, in a curious way, they won't. Won't do the sensible thing and step into a lukewarm bath for a few minutes. Won't have a cool drink and sit and rest. Must sit and fume about how hot it is. Actually make themselves hotter by doing so.

We think Hell is hot. Lakes of fire, we think. But the deepest circle of Dante's Hell was cold: an icy still point of betrayal and despair, a lake of ice "more like a sheet of glass than frozen water." Dante wrote in sunny Italy, one of the world's loveliest climates. I guess he didn't like winter.

And, in the center of Dante's heaven? A rose. All the hosts of heaven arrayed in enfolding ranks of beauty, like the folded petals of a white rose. Dante thought hell was cold and heaven was a rose.

Maybe we each imagine our own heaven and hell. Maybe they are what we think we need, the correctives to our lives here on the earth, the ways we find to reach for hope or continue to insist on our own doom. Hot? Cold? A rose?
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