03 March 2008

Heat Kills

I have four rules for living. They're just general principles that can be applied in a variety of ways, and I've found them most useful in my middle school classrooms. Just a couple words, but with lots of meaning for baby teenagers to tuck away in their growing minds.

Rule #2: Heat kills.

In the summer of 1994, Mom and my Sister and I all traveled to Eastern Pennsylvania to visit some of Mom's growing-up landmarks. We saw the house where she grew up (and the tree where the neighbor boy rustygiffin tied her up and ran at her with a clothesline pole like a joust...she was six, and it really scared her). We saw the first-grade classroom where her naughty classmate jumped out the window and the teacher couldn't stop him because she had elephantitis. We saw the high school she attended. We saw the McDonald's where, when she was learning to drive, she had the car in Reverse instead of Drive and hit the trash can and then sped off. All of these places that we had heard about for years we finally saw. We also saw her grandmother's and great-grandmother's graves (I remember that odd chilling-backbone feeling of seeing her maiden name on a stranger's grave...that these were all real people!)

That same summer, we also went with Mom's Aunt J to Gettysburg Battlefield. It was sooooo hot that day! The radio newscaster was warning people to stay inside but what did we do? We went to a battlefield instead of doing something sensible like going to a movie or a mall or someplace air-conditioned.

The people working in the National Park Visitor's Center were handing out (cheaply copied) flyers that gave health safety tips for sightseeing in extreme heat, and we (Mom, Aunt J, Sister, and I) laughed ourselves silly that the first tip was "Heat Kills."

It's true that extreme heat does kill many people. That is not what we were laughing about: we were laughing about the irony of a 'health tip' being something so serious as "Heat Kills."


But think about it. Heat does kill--it can be the heat of a house fire or the heat of a heat wave, but what I like to point out to my students is that the heat of anger can kill. You may be familiar with the schoolyard chant "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me**;" what this Rule for Living says to my students and to me is that the opposite is true. Anger, passion, temper, and other 'hot' sins do burn and scar and scald and kill; therefore we must learn to manage our emotions and corral our passions. Just as we stayed in an air-conditioned car and drank SO MUCH water*** to manage the heat and take care that it didn't kill us, so we also need to take note days that are emotionally hotter than others and cool and soothe them, our emotions.


*Interestingly, it was also July 1. I remember that detail because the battle itself took place July 1-3, 1863; I pondered that the battle had taken place 134 years before exactly and those poor soldiers were probably sooooo hot too!

**I never, ever believed that schoolyard chant, and was relieved when a teacher or someone finally pointed out to me the fallaciousness of the little ditty.

***Having Mom and Aunt J together, in a heat wave, on a small road-trip gave rise to more reminiscings of some of the family car vacations they took when Mom was a little girl. One time they (Mom, Uncle A, Grandma, Slim [my grandfather], Mum [my great-grandmother, but not the same one in the grave I mentioned previously], and Aunt J) all drove from Eastern PA to Clearwater, Florida. Uncle A was going through his huge teenage growth spurt and his legs were so long and the car was so crowded that he stuck his legs out the window. Seriously.

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