Protected by the long shadows of tall buildings, my virgin city skin hadn’t seen the sun in many months. Imagine its surprise when I arrived in Florida, stripped my shirt, and asked it to gradually toast from flour white to a light, golden brown. I know I should have given it more warning. If I had, maybe it wouldn’t have skipped brown, paused only briefly at pink, and committed itself to a stunning shade of red in less than two hours.
At the time, exposing my skin to the roasting sun didn’t seem like an unreasonable thing to do. After all, even at its hottest, a summer day in Florida is seldom hotter than 100°. Although 100° is undeniably hot, it’s not technically “scorching hot.” An average oven in an average kitchen doesn’t even offer 100° as an option. The dials on most ovens start at a “warm” (and basically useless) 250°. Chocolate chip cookies refuse to bake if offered anything less than 350°. The bread in your toaster expects at least 400° before it will properly toast.
Why, then, was a relatively cool 95° day able to thoroughly burn my skin in less than two hours?
The answer, of course, is concealed by my clever cooking metaphor. Everyone knows that playing in the Florida sun has become less like playing in a conventional oven and more like playing in a microwave oven. Thanks to teenagers spraying Aqua-Net in the 1980’s, soccer moms driving SUVs in the 1990’s, and armies burning oil wells in the 2000’s, Florida’s summer sun can now scorch your skin quicker than ever before.
You may ask, “Why did you let yourself get burned, Bryan? Haven’t you been listening to Al Gore? Haven’t you been paying attention to global warming, the greenhouse effect, the hole in the ozone layer, and the dangers of UV radiation? Don’t you know that an afternoon at the beach is practically as dangerous as smoking a cigarette or eating out of old Tupperware? Why didn’t you wear sun-screen?”
Well… I did.
Before my first day on the beach, I carefully applied suntan lotion to every inch of my exposed skin. I even lotioned a few places that weren’t currently exposed, but threatened to be. Because I knew each body part would receive a different amount of sun, I covered each with a different strength of lotion.
Ears/nose/shoulders: 70. Face/neck: 50. Chest/back/arms: 40. Legs: 35.
When I finally walked onto the beach, my collective SPF (sun protective factor) sounded like a Master Lock combination.
And yet, despite my diligence, by lunch-time my shoulders and arms were already the color of a perfectly cooked filet mignon. (For vegetarian readers who might not understand this reference, I basically just said that “my shoulders and arms were hot pink and warm to the touch.”)
I spent the rest of my vacation swimming in a t-shirt, hoping that wet cotton has an SPF of “impenetrable.”
Like the best vacation, the good parts of most days pass too quickly. And like the bright summer sun, even nice things sometimes cause unexpected pain. The worst of these hurts are the ones that surprise us – the ones that come without warning – the ones we didn’t know we needed to protect ourselves against.
Friends too quickly become former friends. Lovers too quickly become former lovers. Jobs too quickly become former jobs. It’s so easy to get burned. Nobody is impenetrable.
I recently got burned, and it hurt. But after the hurt healed – after the damaged layers peeled away and the red faded into tan – I realized that my new, deeper color makes me more interesting.
Of course, getting burned also contributes to wrinkles, leathery skin, weird moles, and premature aging – but that’s not the point.
The point is – I got burned, but it got better.