The sun is a wondrous thing: a life-giving, warming, photosynthesis-inspiring ball of gas without which we would cease to exist.
The sun is also a terrible thing: a skin-burning, fire-starting celestial inferno that simultaneously brightens our day and singes our necks.
Last weekend, the sun tempted me to wear shorts and a T-shirt, lulling me into a false sense of security on a beautiful spring day, only to hold me under its grip and make me pay for my complacency.
The sun and I have a long and tumultuous history. As a person of Irish descent, my fair skin is not made for constant exposure to the sun. It is designed to live in the northern reaches of the planet, where fog and clouds are the constant and sunburns are infrequent.
Since my ancestors decided to make the trek across the Atlantic and then make the journey across the United States to California more than a century ago, I am forced to live in a beautiful place while waging a constant battle with the fiery orb above.
My family and I ventured – along with a couple hundred other Hollisterites – to Stanford University last Sunday to watch former San Benito High School pitcher Darrin Gillies pitch for Arizona State.
It was a gorgeous day on a gorgeous campus: A slight breeze and brilliant April skies making it easy to forget to protect oneself from the ravages of the sun’s rays.
Our bathroom pantry is usually stocked with sun block, since watching, coaching and playing sports keeps us outside most days from February through October. We’ve got sprays and mists and lotions and creams and balms and gels – all of which promise to protect us from sunburn.
Despite my many years of battling the sun, I still sometimes make poor choices when it comes to applying a protective coating on my white skin.
On game day, I wore a hat, which would shield my head from sunburn, but my clothing exposed my legs and arms. I had to plan ahead.
When we got to Stanford and got out of the car, I applied some sunscreen lotion to my face, ears and neck and put on my hat and sunglasses. Those were wise choices.
I then got either greedy or lazy and told myself that the Neutrogena cooling mist spray that claimed to contain sunscreen would protect my legs. As I would learn four hours later, that was not the case.
Our lower reserved seats at Sunken Diamond gave us a great view of the game and kept us in the direct line of fire from Mr. Sun. That was OK, I thought, because every few innings I reapplied the spray-on sunblock to my arms and legs in a swirling motion so that I could get complete coverage – or so I thought.
By the 7th inning the heat and relentless sun had gotten so unbearable that we had to abandon our seats to retreat to the upper reaches of the stadium, where the shadows from trees offered relief.
The sun is a sneaky thing. It warms you and burns you at the same time. The burn doesn’t show up, though, until you get away from the sun. My burn, in the squiggly shape of the spray that I applied to my legs, thinking I was getting full coverage, appeared in its full glory by the time we stopped to eat just south of Palo Alto.
I had been fooled again. Had I used lotion instead of an aerosol can, my legs wouldn’t look like a barber’s pole – with pink substituted for red. I would pay for letting my guard down. The pulling of the sheets up over my legs that night and the two nights after that reminded me of my mistake, with the stinging a painful flashback to my lazy Sunday.
I wasn’t burned enough to peel, which I guess is a good thing. It could also mean I was burned just enough so that my legs will keep the stripes of color and whiteness that tell the world how dumb I was. I guess I could try to balance the coloration out by applying sunscreen to the burned parts of my legs and hoping the white parts would get enough sun to make me look a bit less like a pink tiger.
But I’m sure that plan would go awry and I’d burn some other part of my body because I focused too much on protecting my legs. Darn you sun! You bright, warm, beautiful, terrible thing.
Adam Breen teaches newspaper and yearbook classes at San Benito High School and is a reporter for The Pinnacle. He is former editor of the Free Lance. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @AdamPBreen.