By Kathy Jeffers Smith
Yes, after 30 years, I decided to do some smoking again - cigarettes, that is. After all, I needed a break. My husband’s recovery has been slow in this latest hospital stay - it’s frustrating and discouraging to watch, sitting by his bed day after day. Then there are the multitude of things to do that are just piling up back at the farm, and the decisions to make that could profoundly impact both our lives.
So, yesterday as I escaped outside for a moment, the idea hit me - “I need a cigarette.”
I’d been watching those smokers sitting banished to their bare-bones smoking nook just outside the hospital. I envied their little community, their guilt-free retreat for the few minutes a cigarette lasts. Me, I felt awkward just standing around by the hospital visitors entrance (no benches there), so I kept looking at my watch and then up the road as if someone was expected to be coming. On top of that, I felt as if I was shirking my duty to aid and comfort my husband, being away from his bedside for no practical reason like eating or sleeping. “Okay, I give up!” I decided - while I was shirking anyway, I’d just drive over a couple of blocks to the drug store for a few items for home and a pack of cigarettes.
“No one knew me in this city anyway,” I rationalized, “No harm to my reputation.” So off I went with memories of those college independence-stretching days of occasional smoking. I decided on Virginia Slims - ultra light, of course, and ultra long - I always admired the look of the extra long Virginia Slims.
Waiting in line at Walgreens, lighter and as sundry items in hand, I told myself to look cool - not like an inexperienced beginner - wishing I could get a closer look at the variety of Virginia Slims selections stored behind the register clerk.
Then it was my turn.
“Virginia Slims Long, Ultra Light,” I said trying to sound routine. “No, not that one; yes, that one I think” - oops, shouldn’t have added that note of uncertainty. But it was done - I had cigarettes and was out the door and on my way back to the car when, suddenly, there was Sherry. As an impulsive reaction, I stopped her, said, “Hiiii!”, in that girl to girl high pitch voice. “It’s me - Kathy Smith!,” I had to explain to her bewildered then acknowledging look. I quickly admonished myself for speaking up at all as it was obvious I could have passed by unrecognized, but I was relieved she hadn’t witnessed my recent purchase at least. Sherry - I couldn’t believe I’d see someone I knew, here in this distant city, and we hadn’t even seen each other in nine or 10 years! We chatted a few moments, briefly catching up on our lives now, then went on our ways. I tucked the pack of Virginia Slims and lighter away in a neat made-for-cigarettes niche in my purse and went back to my husband’s bedside, feeling guilty again for being away that long.
It wasn’t until this afternoon that I left the room and headed out to the smokers’ nook - cigarettes, lighter, and Tic Tacs in hand. I took a seat at a nice round table in the shade that had a large, admittedly smelly, tin pan sitting in the middle as a communal ash tray. I pulled out one of those long, sleek Virginia Slims, lit it taking a few short puffs (guess I got it confused with a cigar), then one long draw. Ahhh!, there was the taste I remembered - the comfortable memory, the I’m-in-control-of-my-life taste. And of equal importance - the relaxing, leisurely time just blowing smoke rings, taping that long elegant cigarette on the ash tray edge, watching the ashes fall off, or skillfully flicking the filter end with my thumb while holding on with the index and middle finger, and watching the world go by as my Virginia Slim ebbed away. Yes, it was what I had remembered, what I had hoped for again. Mind you - like Mr. Clinton, I don’t inhale, never did - it’s always been about the encompassing experience. I don’t know if hard and fast smokers still contemplate the pleasures of smoking or, as with other addictions, just light up to stave off the craving. Too bad smoking is not healthy for us.
I sat there thinking I was glad Philip Morris still made Virginia Slims though. “Brightly colored porcelain ash trays on those tables would be a nice touch,” I also idly thought, as three CNAs came in and sat down commenting it was a shame they had to go “10 miles” out of their way to smoke.
If I had my way in what I’d call my perfect world, such a pleasure would be as innocent and acceptable as it seemed to be when we baby boomers were kids and all our dads, some moms, and many of our heros smoked.
In my perfect world, a 50-year-old woman wouldn’t have to feel like a sneaky teenager to indulge in a still legal, non-commandment-breaking smoke once in a while.
In my perfect world, dignified adults wouldn’t be treated like lepers - banished to undignified out-sheds to smoke - and referred to by people like me as “smokers.”
In my perfect world, our attitudes and actions would be kind and thoughtful to all folks as God intended, instead of swallowing the avalanches of media that tell us what to think - like smoking was bad for our health (okay, true), but also giving us the idea that people who smoked were bad people and it was alright to be rude to them.
In my perfect world, cancer, emphysema, and such would not exist to cause fear and pain and destruction in our lives.
In my perfect world, I would wholly lean on Jesus for perfect peace, and we wouldn’t have any trials of life.
But even as I grow in faith, strengthened by trusting God day upon day while sojourning in this imperfect world, I’ll still probably eat too much chocolate comfort food, have a few good cries, and yes, smoke a couple of more cigarettes - at least while my husband is here recovering. And I will thank God for His unconditional love and grace and ever abiding presence, even in the smokers’ nook outside the hospital.