ValueSpeak - A Weekly Column by Joseph Walker

HEAT WAVE HUMANITY

It was hot that summer in Yuma, Arizonia.

Which, admittedly, is a little like saying that it was cold at the North Pole. Or rainy in Seattle. Or dry in the Dust Bowl. Or wacky in Washington, D.C. Cited by no less an authority than the Guinness Book of World Records as the sunniest place on earth, Yuma regularly appears on national weather reports as the city with the highest temperature in the United States.

Still, it is worth noting that it was hot that summer in Yuma. Unusually hot even for Yuma. Oppressively hot. So hot that a local weather guy actually fried an egg on a sidewalk during a newscast. So hot that the perspiration was trickling down your back before you could get from your front door to the driveway. So hot that if you stood on the street for too long your rubber-soled shoes would melt into the pavement.

THAT hot.

And not just during the day. For a three-week period of time it didnt get below 100 degrees day or night. I dont know if that was a record or anything. I just know it was hot.

Constantly. Persistently. Incessantly.

Hot.

Part of my reason for being in Yuma that summer required that I spend a certain amount of time each day canvassing neighborhoods, knocking on doors and talking to people. Id been doing this for more than a year in cities throughout Southern California and Arizona, and Id grown pretty comfortable with rejection. Id had dogs turned loose on me, water sprayed on me, epithets hurled at me and on one occasion, a gun pointed at me. I figured Id seen just about everything you could see in the world of door-to-door contacting especially after that lady in Pacific Beach, Calif., answered her door . . . you know . . . naked but I wasnt prepared for what I saw in Yuma.

Ill never forget the first time it happened. It was a humble home in the southwestern part of town, and although it was still relatively early in the day the temperature was already approaching 110 degrees. The woman who answered the door wore an expression I was used to seeing: impatience mixed with slight agitation. I started to explain why I was there, but she cut me off with a wave of her hand.

I dont want to hear about it, she said.

I wasnt surprised, and I braced myself for the door slam that was sure to follow. But instead of slamming her door shut, she pushed it open wider.

Why dont you come in out of the heat, she said. Ill get you some water.

I hesitated for a moment. The only people who had ever invited me into their homes before were people who wanted to hear what I had to say. I wasnt exactly sure how to respond to someone who wanted to reject me and protect me all in the same breath.

Eventually I came to my senses enough to go into her home and enjoy a few minutes of her kind hospitality. We chatted as I sipped my water, and then she sent me on my way refreshed, both body and spirit, by her kindness. This same scenario played itself out numerous times during the following two weeks of intense heat. Nobody wanted to actually talk to me, but nobody wanted to watch me suffer. So I met a lot of nice people, and I drank a lot of water.

And then, when the temperatures started to cool, the doors started slamming again.

I learned a lot from the people of Yuma that summer a lot more than they learned from me, Im afraid. They didnt care about my message, but they did care about me. And they didnt allow their discomfort with my appearance on their doorstep to get in the way of their humanity. They knew it was hot, and that I needed water. At that moment, thats all that mattered.

I find myself remembering Yuma every time I hear about a heat wave somewhere. And I find myself hoping that there are still people who will care and share.

No matter how hot it gets.

Joseph Walker


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Check out Joseph Walkers Latest Books!

Look What Love Has Done:  Five-Minute Messages to Lift Your Spirit.

How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen?  Home Remedies for an Ailing World.

Christmas on Mill Street A Holiday Novel!

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