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The year was 2006, the month August. My family was vacationing in Alabama,
hot humid Point Clear, Alabama. Even the Olympic-sized swimming pool and the cool
bay at the Grand Hotel could do nothing to ease the painful burn of the relentless sun.
It was a Sunday. We were faithful Catholics and we needed to attend mass. My
parents, who honeymooned at our very resort, wished to return to the small chapel they
had visited years before. Oh, how I would mourn the romantic reminiscence that drove
them to choose for mass that particular chapel!
My family fought over the bathroom that morning as we prepared for mass. When
I received my two-minute opportunity to change, I slipped into a sleeveless sundress.
Along with my family, I wished to dress as coolly as possible to escape the suffocating
nearness of clothes.
At last, we were all duly attired and ready to leave. We piled into our Chrysler
New Yorker of ’90; I will never know why my dad loved that car. We squeezed and
pushed and finally all six of us were in. My father drove a few miles down the road and
turned into a driveway surrounded by motionless trees: another sign of the
unbearable heat. We followed the gravel road until we found ourselves in a small
clearing in front of a chapel. I was excited at the sight of the parking lot, for I could not
wait to get out of the crowded blue Chrysler.
My father parked the car and turned the engine off. Ecstatically my three brothers
and I flew out of the car into stifling heat! The church bells were ringing, so we hurried
toward the building with two motives: to be on time and to escape the dreadful
As we marched up the church steps, the crisp rush of air we expected to feel was
missing. Instantaneously we knew the horrible truth: the chapel had no air condition
unit. If six people have ever covertly exchanged a glance of anguish, it was our family on
that humid day. We mentally prepared ourselves for this horror, and then crossed the
A man stood in the arched doorway, handing out paper fans. I accepted one
gratefully and followed my family into the building. Upon entering, I noticed a few
ceiling fans lazily rotating. They did not appear to contribute much to the air circulation
in the chapel.
I also saw what was almost impossible not to notice: about 200 hot people
crowded into a few wooden pews. I took a deep breath to brace myself for what boded to
be the longest hour of my life. But the breath did me no good, for the air in the church
was even closer than its space.
My mother walked forward and went into a pew on the right side of the chapel.
We followed her; and had just barely situated ourselves when the opening hymn began. I
grasped my fan, a piece of cardboard taped and glued to a Popsicle stick, and rose as the
priest proceeded up the aisle.
Despite the extreme heat, the first part of the mass went by fairly well. However,
when it came time to recite the “Our Father”, the warmth was beginning to affect me
more seriously. I felt strangely cold, which was odd in the severe temperature. I also felt
weak and shaky. My hands began to sweat profusely. People around me looked fuzzy.
Even the light from the small window above me seemed as if it was dulled. All these
sensations passed over me as the congregation said the prayer. Soon, though, the prayer
ended and it was time to exchange the sign of peace.
A man in his early twenties turned around and offered me his hand. By this time
he looked like a dark monster to me; luckily, I had presence of mind enough to realize he
was not one. I gave him my hand in return, which probably felt like a wet washcloth.
Then I plummeted straight into him!
When I regained consciousness, I found myself leaning on my mother while
evacuating the pew. Although everyone still appeared fuzzy to my glassy eyes, I knew
dozens of people were watching us walk down the side aisle to the back of the chapel. I
was embarrassed, but no emotion could stop me from getting air into my lungs!
After what seemed like an eternity, I stumbled out the door and seated myself on
the steps to the chapel. The concrete was hard, the heat near unbearable, the mosquitoes
loudly buzzing in my ears; yet those steps felt like the steps to paradise. I could finally
breathe free air! It was hot air, but fresh and sweet. At last, my dizziness ceased, my
humiliation somewhat subsided, my lungs were full, and I was ready to reenter the
The following day we returned home to Louisiana in the little blue Chrysler. The
car did not seem as crowded as before, nor did the temperature feel quite as high. I sat
almost comfortably in my backseat 12 inch space between the boys and our luggage.
True, it was not the ideal situation. But the experience I had suffered that Sunday
made me realize that the conditions can always be worse.