The last pumpkin went mushy over the weekend. It had been on the kitchen counter since before Halloween, one of six or eight lined up as reminders that fall does come to the desert.

One by one they got splotchy and had to be dispatched to the Big Pumpkin Farm in the Sky, each demise a marker on the march toward summer.

So when the final pumpkin bit the dust, so to speak, a couple of days ago, we knew. This is it. The furnace is upon us.

And so the new countdown to Pumpkin Farm has begun. It’s how the Gassen household measures the year — how long until we can head out, usually south to Agua Linda farm, to pick pumpkins and bring our new cucurbit friends home.

Some creatures thrive in the heat — I am not among them.

I turn bright red once the temperatures hit 100 degrees, and let’s just say tomato is not a good look.

Multiple sclerosis is also part of me. That means, for me anyway, because MS is a different adventure for everyone, that as the heat increases and the warmer I get, the more likely my limbs are to become less than enthusiastic about working. Not a complaint, just a fact that must be worked around.

So while Dorothy, our desert tortoise, is coming out of hibernation in the backyard, I am getting ready to withdraw into the necessarily icy confines of climate-controlled environs.

(As an aside, two excellent ways to cool off in a Tucson summer: the walk-in beer coolers at Circle K stores, and the produce departments at Costco. Brilliant inventions, both.)

Every one of us has stuff to deal with, and we all have ways we adjust to our particular circumstances. Nothing heroic, maybe nothing even particularly noteworthy, just living life the best way we can within our own parameters.

Pity can often creep in here, as we catch glimpses of others’ lives. It’s one of the most self-indulgent of human emotions. Energy wasted in wallowing. Oh, what life must be like for that poor fill-in-the-blank. Those poor dears.

Pity lets us feel better about ourselves without asking anything of us. Heck, we can even pity ourselves and garner the cultural permission to do so, at least for a little while. But what a drag that would be after a while — and a short while, at that.

I’m not talking about stiff upper lip and refusing to recognize that, frankly, sometimes things just stink and life is hard. Illness, accidents, bad decisions, misfortune, just plain bad luck — no call for Pollyanna here.

But there has to be somewhere between pity and condemnation, a midpoint where reality and empathy can co-exist. Where we can imagine ourselves in others’ perspectives, where we can come to understand that what is a choice for one person isn’t even a possibility for another.

In matters of public policy, pity gives politicians and others room to proclaim concern for those who need help, like hungry kids or adults with severe disabilities, without having to take them into account as full people.

Pity creates an object, but compassion demands a partner.

Objects don’t have real lives, they won’t feel real hunger when their food stamps are cut, they won’t become homeless when long-term unemployment assistance runs dry and they can’t pay the rent.

It’s not as simple, of course, as getting people to put themselves in each others’ shoes and voila, everything is fixed. But recognizing the invisible dividing lines that we create, often not out of malice but because we don’t even notice they’re there, is the first step in understanding how those emotions, like pity, can be misguided and misused.

Email Sarah Garrecht Gassen at and follow her on Facebook.