The Savannah summer: a metaphor

I’m a new Uber user. When I was in Savannah a couple of weeks ago, I took my second and third Uber rides ever using the service.

As an introvert—especially as an introvert who knows she’s spending the whole weekend talking nonstop—I often prefer to sit in the backseat and stare out the window. But I got talking with my drivers … and then I couldn’t stop.

I returned to the airport in a cheerful red Volkswagen with a driver whose temperament matched his happy little car. He and his wife had just passed their one-year anniversary of moving to Savannah, for semi-retirement. He told me about how they had taken a 3-day trip to the city years ago, fallen in love with it, and decided on the strength of only three days they wanted to live there, eventually.

They were from Columbus, and had dreamed for years of escaping northern life, especially the dreaded winter months. We talked about how their move came to pass; how the obstacles fell away, one by one. But he said the transition hadn’t been without its hiccups.

Savannah summers are brutal, he said. (After experiencing the humidity of a Savannah September I don’t doubt it!). That first June, they had a moment when they thought, WHAT HAVE WE DONE?

But they finally landed on a mental trick that made the summers more bearable. The Savannah summers were rough—so rough, in fact, they were awfully similar to their old Columbus winters, when all one wanted to do was hunker down inside, read books, and drink tea. In one city they escaped the cold, in the other, the heat, but the idea was the same.

Since I’ve returned home, my thoughts keep returning to my driver and his Savannah summers. I’ve noticed how easily I congratulate myself on smart decisions, or improved circumstances, and how unhappy I can be about the downsides to these very same things.

An example. For the past few years, we’ve carried low-premium health insurance (well, relatively speaking, because it’s still crazy expensive) with a higher deductible. We’ve been weirdly healthy these past few years, so our medical costs have been low. But this summer our doctor ordered a bunch of tests to investigate a potentially troubling issue, and they were pricey. I’ve been happy with the perks of our insurance arrangement, but I got whiny real fast when finally faced with the downside. That deductible is our Savannah summer: it benefits us in the long run, but sometimes it hurts.

Or this one. As I’ve mentioned in the blog and newsletter already, my family is traveling this week, again—and leaving town is a big fat pain. When things get crazy right before we go (and will surely get crazy again right when we come back), I start wondering if it’s worth it. Maybe we should just stay home. But the prep and recovery are our Savannah summer: of all the problems to have, travel-related hassles aren’t too terrible.

I’m reminded again of The Course of Love, a strong contender for my favorite book of the year. In it, author Alain de Botton tells the story of an ordinary marriage, using one particular fictional couple to explore what actually creates marital happiness. Life is a series of tradeoffs, he says. No one will make us perfectly happy; when choosing a life partner, our task isn’t to find the one person who will understand us 100% of the time; it’s to choose what particular brand of suffering we’re signing up for. Whose particular brand of craziness will we commit ourselves to for years to come?

You can have your dream city, but even your dream city is pretty unpleasant three months out of twelve.

It seems pessimistic to admit the downsides of having a dream come true—or even the downsides of a nice health insurance plan. But life is a series of trade-offs, and purposely seeing it as such is helping me to be much more easygoing about the not-so-great stuff I’m bound to face because it’s inextricably bound to the good stuff.

Do you relate to the idea of the trade-off? What’s your version of the Savannah summer?


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  1. Ginger says:

    Yup yup yup. My husband and I have been talking about that concept – what brand of suffering non-stop since I read Course of Love (and practically half of it out loud to him). I’m partial to my particular brand of suffering, but I have friends who absolutely cannot imagine how I bear moving every few years as a Navy wife. But I’m sure if I thought about it, I couldn’t bear a brand of suffering that’s been given to them (or chosen by them). It’s a trade-off. And it helps me remember to be grateful for the parts we do love, even in, especially in, the “humid summers” of life.

  2. Janet says:

    Savannah summers are brutal, but the rest of the year is wonderful. We retired here 13 years ago and still like it better than any place we’ve ever lived. And yes life is a series of trade-offs, for us living in the Savannah area is worth putting up with the summer.

  3. Jill Foley says:

    Yes…I live in Portland, OR and we are just heading into the gray, rainy season. It can be tough to have months of gray cloud cover and drizzle, but it’s what makes this place so beautiful and green and lush. It’s what makes the waterfalls flow abundantly and the forests look like rainforests.

  4. Maria D. says:

    This is really making me think – I have to admit that I come from a family of whiners – sigh – but I’m working really hard to try to look at the upside of everything and this is a great way to do it – the trade off – thanks so much!

  5. Cassie says:

    My 1 year old was a terrible sleeper. At 6 months old, I put her on a strick schedule and now she sleeps 11 hours straight with 2 1.5 hour naps. It is awesome! Buuut, it means I haven’t had any flexibility with that routine. I’ll take the sleep though.

  6. Erin in CA says:

    I’ve lived in Southern California for 17 years after growing up in Ohio. And yes, there are parts of summer that are definitely our winter! Temps over 100 and just brutal sun.

    And I’m dying to read Course of Love (I adored his essay), but my book club has it set for next spring. May have to read it now and just re-read then, huh?

  7. Terry says:

    This is definitely playing in my life as my husband looks at early retirement (though not totally by choice). Retirement for him means LOTS less income for us, but with part time jobs for the two of us, it is doable. It is easy, somehow, to focus on the downside – much tighter budget, much less gift giving – than it is to look for the upside in the situation. But I suspect that the pattern we fall into – less stress and travel time for him, more of him-time for me – will all make the budgetary downside a “suffering” that we will be, in the end, happy to make.

    It’s also part of a larger pattern of what we chose for our lives – I stayed home, we lived on one income and saved for retirement on that one income. That means that now that it is time to face that retirement, we probably don’t have the amounts saved that some of our 2 earner friends do. But we chose that and have never regretted the choice. And I still don’t, even when right now we’re facing the part that is not so fun. And in reality, I can see that it will all work for good for us. I just have to keep my eye on that while in the midst of the change.

  8. Cindy McMahon says:

    I moved from Texas to Washington state to be near my grandchildren while they are small, and yes, there is definitely the winter horror to deal with here, but the biggest trade-off is leaving my aging parents behind. I’m glad I get to see my grandchildren every week, but I live on faith and worry about my parents’ health.

  9. Patti says:

    In less that a week, our son will be marrying his love and two weeks after my husband and I will celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. I can absolutely agree that life and love are both a series of trade offs and now I must read this book and gift one to the newly-weds. I think our Savannah summer this year may be wedding planning and expense along with the necessity of a new driveway thus putting off an anniversary trip. Both are completely worth the trade!

  10. Danae says:

    I know I’m in the minority here, but I didn’t like The Course of Love! I actually abandoned it mid-way through because I found the constantly interjected “observations” so irritating and disruptive. It felt like I was watching a DVD with the director’s commentary accidentally turned on. I would have much preferred to interact with the narrative and themes on my own first, before hearing the author’s insights.

  11. Dana says:

    I can relate. We live in a thriving urban area just a few miles from center city. The upside is that within 2 miles we have numerous restaurants, brew pubs, shopping, art galleries, a lovely park/greenway for walking and so on. We are retirees but both have found many activities to be involved with based on our interests and passions. The downside is that we am starting to long for a quieter and less urban lifestyle involving a smaller house, but more land for gardening and perhaps a few chickens and goats, and just the peace of being surrounded by nature rather than traffic and construction noise. But, we would give up convenience and many of the things we like to do. For now we are staying put and making lots of day trips to the nearby mountains and foothills to get our “quiet quota”.

  12. Kari says:

    Isn’t it strange how complete strangers can sometimes teach you some of the best life lessons? I’ve experienced this quite a few times and I’ve chalked it up to the freedom to be honest. We don’t have much of that with people we know, people we know we’ll see again. But with strangers, we think “what they hell? I’ll never see them again?” I love that. I live in NYC and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to just spark a conversation with someone because they look like they’d have an interesting story.
    And of course, I agree with this post. They say you can’t appreciate light without darkness. Heroes are only so if they have a formidable opponent in the villain.

  13. Sandy Nawrot says:

    12 years ago, after much sacrifice and planning, I quit my corporate job to stay home with my babies. (I think the straw that broke my back was when, on 9/11, I had to sit in a conference room planning promotions that would promote patriotism and also would mean profits, instead of being home with my family.) About a week after I quit, Hurricane Charley hit us. We had to hire a Bobcat to remove all the debris from our yard. My job, for about a week straight, at home with two toddlers and no air conditioning, was to clean up what the Bobcat could not, including this black stinky sludge. All the while I kept muttering to myself “this is better than sitting in that conference room, this is better than sitting in that conference room”. So sludge = Savannah summer. LOL

  14. Theresa says:

    Yes, I think of the trade off in so many things. Recently my son has been doing projects that are strewn across the kitchen and living room. I hate stuff strewn across the rooms and the rooms untidy, but the pay off are the wonderful projects he is embarking on just for fun and completing. Messy room is my Savannah summer.

  15. Kathleen says:

    So was the couple’s mental trick realizing that there is a trade-off?

    I need to learn a mental trick for dealing with Houston summers that last much longer than 3 months. But since I’ve lived here most of my life, I don’t have much to compare it to! I do know that I prefer heat to cold, though.

  16. Kristina says:

    This reminds me of a part of “Essentialism” that really resonated with me: what problem do you want? We do ourselves a great disservice to think there aren’t trade-offs in life.
    I hadn’t ever thought that way, but it’s SO true! What problem do I want? A long grocery trip? Or cranky family/fast food because I didn’t plan? Both “cost” in different ways…I just get to pick which is rather deal with. ?

  17. On a literal level, Boston winters are totally my version of Savannah summers. (I’m from Texas and I was used to the heat – and I adore the other three seasons in Boston but really struggle with the cold and dark winters.)

    On a metaphorical level…hmmm. Lots of food for thought here!

  18. Sandy says:

    Interesting read. The only thing I would add is that GA summers start in early May and might, if you are lucky, be gone by Thanksgiving. Seriously! GA heat and humidity will try your patience!!!

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