Not long ago I wrote a column about smokers. Like much of my writing it was firmly tongue-in-cheek and was, in a round about way, a compliment on the resiliency of the people who still resolutely smoke despite weather and health concerns. For the most part I was complimented for this particular article. I concluded that when it came to smokers not a single one of them was likely to quit before they were ready and some may not be ready at all.
Being someone who has never been drunk and never been high and never tried smoking I am often looked at strangely. I can share some of this with one of my personal heroes, Penn Jilette. Penn is one half of the comedy/magician team of Penn & Teller. While Penn and I would completely and utterly disagree on matters of faith, religion and the human soul I think we could agree on much more. Penn is a lifelong teetotaler. That means he has never even had alcohol touch his lips. He has never even considered doing drugs. He too, has never been high.
Penn has a radio show and he recently talked about a dinner he went to with a friend of his: Lou Reed. At the dinner were David Bowie and Iggie Pop. Somehow the topic of Penn never having touched alcohol and never having been high came up. Apparently this statement was too much for Mr. Bowie and Mr. Pop. He stated on his show that he was repeatedly asked about it.
“You mean heroin, right?” One would ask.
“No, I mean, I have never touched alcohol or drugs of any kind,” he would reply.
“You mean you’ve done pot, though, right?” Another rocker would ask.
“No, I mean, I have never touched alcohol or drugs of any kind,” he would repeat.
I have run into similar situations just not ones with famous rock stars. People are baffled at the fact that I have never been drunk. Not even when you were a teenager? Nope. Not when you first turned twenty-one? Nah. You never have tried drugs? Not even pot? Weren’t you ever just curious? To answer quite frankly, the answer is no.
I did my homework. I was curious so I read about it. I was in high school and you can’t swing a dead cat in high school and not hit someone who has tried at least one of the major narcotics. I had a good friend my freshman year that used to tell me about injecting things into her thighs and I now realize she was telling me about doing heroin. She was miserable. I had another friend who told me she was worried she was doing so much coke she was wearing holes in her nose.
This did not sound like fun to me. Plus, I know myself. I know I have an addictive personality. I have little if any will power. I battle with food every day and often lose. Why, I figured, would I want to compound that with smoking and drugs? It just didn’t make any sense.
What surprised me was a message I got from someone who thought that I was not living life because I chose not to smoke. This person stated that she had known many people in her family who had died of cancer and she had learned, therefore, not to follow rules and not care and to live life as much as possible. This meant she, and I quote, “I smoke. I drink. I curse. I laugh. I dance. The monster may come. But I lived.” I was puzzled by this.
How very selfish, I thought.
See, to me hastening your death by engaging in addictive behavior is not “living life.” If you think you are free because you smoke or do anything addictive you are just kidding yourself. You are not free, you are subject to the addiction.
Plus, I have never bought the whole “well he/she died doing what he/she loved to do.” James Dean loved to race cars really fast. I am willing to bet, however, there is not a member of Dean’s family or one of his friends who would not have traded all of those great moments he had while racing for a chance to speak to him again right now. River Phoenix loved to do his drugs. During the 911 call placed by his brother the night he overdosed on a sidewalk his brother did not tell the operator, “well, hey, if he dies at leas the was doing what he loved.”
You can love life without taking things that harm you. Deliberately taking things that harm you just takes you out of the lives of the people who love you faster. That’s remarkably selfish of you. I don’t care how great smoking may feel for you the fact is it’s addictive, it makes your hair and clothes smell bad, your teeth yellow, your breath smell bad, your fingers yellow and it makes you hack and cough. Then, you get the joy of slowly dying of cancer or emphysema. I don’t know anyone who finds a haggard woman or man carrying and oxygen tank sexy.
I would think you would take control of your life and refuse to become addicted. You would strive to have as few chains around your life as possible. You would want to taste and smell everything. Smoking destroys both of those senses. I know, I asked my dad who is in his sixties and smoked since he was thirteen. A year after he quit the first thing he said was how great things tasted again. To me not having the weight of smoking or addiction would be the way to live life.
Jumping off of a building may be the greatest rush in the world right up until the point the ground gets in the way. If you play Russian Roulette with a six-barreled revolver you have a 5 – 1 shot in your favor of NOT shooting yourself. The odds are in your favor. Still, I don’t recommend doing it. Those who have played it and survived may have the greatest outlook on life over anyone else. I still am willing to bet it’s not worth the risk.
I asked some smokers I know. All of them agreed smoking was not a good thing and they wished they could quit. Not a single one felt it enhanced their lives. Every one said it sucked and was too expensive. Think of how much time you spend looking forward to the next smoke, standing around outside smoking, trying to get cigarettes, bumming cigarettes off of people and driving to get more cigarettes. Now think of all of the other things you could do with that time and money. I bet a lot of things that would more seriously qualify as “living.”
So, I say dance, curse, sing, drink in moderation and enjoy life. I do all of those things. Just do it without hacking and coughing and smelling like a bar. Do it without adding stones around your neck. Eventually the weight just drags you down. I would rather be ninety years old with ninety years of living than thirty and wishing I had more time while taking one more drag of one last cigarette.